WandaVision has premiered on Disney+ to critical acclaim, but not all superhero films have been a success for Disney. In 1995, Disney’s second adult themed movie label, Hollywood Pictures, was jumping into the comic book adaptation world with what seemed like a surefire hit. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Judge Dredd was based on a popular British comic book about a dystopian future of lawlessness and an elite group of judges who tried to bring order to the chaos. On paper, this film had all the ingredients of a blockbuster.
In the distant future, Earth is a wasteland. A few oversized mega cities hold most of the world’s population. In Mega City One crime is out of control and an elite group of law enforcers, the Judges, have the power to arrest, judge, and convict criminals on the spot.
One judge, Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), is legendary for his harsh judgments on law breakers. While he is awed and feared by fellow judges like Hershey (Diane Lane) and criminals like Fergie (Rob Schneider), Dredd has a secret.
Ten years ago, Dredd judged his only friend Rico (Armand Assante), a fellow judge whose penchant for brutality was too much for the system. Locked away in the Aspen prison colony Rico has plotted his revenge and frames Dredd for murder. Chief Justice Fargo (Max von Sydow) spares Dredd from execution by retiring, leaving Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow) to assume the mantle of leadership at the Hall of Justice. Fargo and Dredd don’t know that they have been duped by Griffin, who is allied with Rico.
Dredd and Fergie escape from their crashed prison transport and make their way back to Mega City One. Teaming up with Judge Hershey they learn that Rico has gained control of the Central Computer and plans to unleash a new batch of Judges from the defunct cloning program named Janus. It’s up to Dredd, Hershey, and Fergie to save Mega City One from Rico.
Rob Schneider is funny, and the perfect comic relief in the film. In many ways, Schneider’s Fergie is the voice of the audience who questions Dredd’s tone-deaf views on law and order, and proceeds to insult Dredd for being so clueless about the reality of life.
Where do I start? The biggest problem I have with this movie is that it tried to take a comic book property that is filled with blood and violence and tone it down to an action comedy. Dredd is not meant to be funny. It’s a dystopian look at Earth after societal and environmental collapse and how the people of the planet try to survive. The tone of this film is inconsistent, and to attempt a PG-13 rating hurts the legacy of the comic book. Earth is a nasty place, and to stem the tide of lawlessness we have these judges who can decide your fate on the spot.
Stallone is not a bad choice for Dredd. I like him in the role, but the second he takes off the helmet is when the power of Dredd is diminished. An audience will know that is Sylvester Stallone underneath the helmet, he didn’t need to take it off to show his face. As The Mandalorian and the reboot film Dredd with Karl Urban proves, the main character can wear a helmet for the whole production and not need to show his face to be a success. In the comic, Judge Dredd never takes his helmet off. It only takes the film a few minutes to abandon one of the core elements of the comic backstory.
The opening credits show the covers of multiple Judge Dredd comics. If the core material from the comic beginnings were going to be tossed away for this film, why use opening imagery of the comics to start the movie. Was it an attempt to trick fans, or to insult the audience of the source material?
The background setting and action for the movie is following the established pattern of other alternate reality/dystopian worlds of 1990’s action movies. Mega City One doesn’t look like a place of 60 million people. Rather, the streets Dredd patrols look eerily similar to what was seen in Super Mario Bros. when Mario and Lugi crossed over to Dinohattan, or the underground levels of Stallone’s 1993 action film Demolition Man (which I really enjoyed). Everything the audience sees doesn’t make sense with Judge Dredd. One can tell that there is probably a much darker alternate cut to the film waiting to be seen.
Diane Lane is wasted in the role of Judge Hershey. What started off as a tough judge, Hershey becomes fixated on Dredd. She spends more time trying to find the humanity in the ice-cold Dredd, that the film ends so unsatisfyingly with Hershey kissing Dredd as he returns to the streets to judge criminals. This last-minute romantic angle is so unnecessary and pointless that it’s the final thumb in the viewers eyes.
Fun Film Facts
- It’s been reported that director Danny Cannon blames Stallone for changes from the original script to what was on the screen. Cannon vowed to never work with Stallone again because of this personality clash.
- Stallone acknowledges his part in the changes to the film. In later interviews, Stallone talked about how he saw the film as an action comedy and demanded changes to make the film funnier from its darker content that the director and screenwriter wanted to make.
- The biggest controversy of the film is that Dredd removes his helmet often in the film. In the comics this would never happen.
- Rob Schneider has stated that he got the role of Fergie after first choice Joe Pesci turned the offer down. (Joe Pesci proves he has taste).
- Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the role of Dredd early on.
- Karl Urban’s reboot Dredd came out in 2012. The film was a modest box office success and had favorable reviews. Dredd was praised for following the roots of the comic book series, and Urban never once took his helmet off in the film.
- The original cut of Judge Dredd received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Director Danny Cannon was a fan of the comics and wanted to make a true depiction of the film on screen. Stallone and the production company wanted a PG-13 rating. Eventually the film had to settle for an R rating.
- Stallone elaborated in a 2008 interview with Uncut magazine that the film’s production was troubled from the beginning. To Stallone the tone of the film was not set in stone and left a lot to be debated about how the film was going to be made.
The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award
Judge Dredd is not a good film. It doesn’t even fall into the category of ‘it’s so bad that it’s good’. Rather, Judge Dredd is a classic case of micromanaging between the studio, the star, and the director, with a film that disappoints the audience because it ignores the source material. Had this been a serious adaptation of the comic material then the film could have been amazing. Instead it’s similar in scope and style to many of Stallone’s films from the 1990s that are forgettable.
I would love to rank it higher, but Judge Dredd gets a 1 Golden Popcorn Bucket rating. If there is nothing else on then you might enjoy the film, otherwise look elsewhere for entertainment.
If you are looking for a great film based on the Judge Dredd comics, then look up Karl Urban’s 2012 reboot Dredd. It’s a much better film on multiple levels. Urban, writer Alex Garland, and director Pete Travis show a respect for the source material, and create a masterpiece.
Next week we step back in time for a treasure hunt and one man’s quest to get revenge for being sent to prison unlawfully. The Count of Monte Cristo has everything in it, a prison break, revenge, buried treasure, and a hilarious role for Luis Guzman.
Directed by Danny Cannon
Produced by Hollywood Pictures/Cinergi Pictures
- Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd
- Diane Lane as Judge Hershey
- Rob Schneider as Fergie
- Armand Assante as Rico
- Joan Chen as Ilsa
- Max von Sydow as Judge Fargo
- Jurgen Prochnow as Judge Griffin
Release Date: June 30, 1995
Budget: $90 million
Box Office Gross
Worldwide Total: $113,493,481