Understanding Why Dredd Failed


Dredd was one of my favorite films of the year, but it was one of the most dismal performers at the box office with a $6M opening weekend and a $32M global haul (on a $50M budget). Fortunately, there’s a bit of a silver lining at the end of the rainbow. Err, that’s not how that goes.

As it turns out, the film is selling quite well on Blu-ray and DVD, and very well may become a cult classic yet. Few movies have seen such viral word of mouth promotion after the fact from the few who saw and can’t stop talking about how surprisingly good it was.

But then why was Dredd so horribly received in theaters? The answer is that it was sort of a perfect storm of hard selling points, and below I explore how other films could learn from Dredd’s demographic and marketing mistakes.

Fans of the original thought a remake was stupid


There are few truly diehard fans of the original Judge Dredd, other than those who like it ironically because of the pulpy action and Sylvester Stallone’s absurd enunciation (or lack thereof). Therefore, there weren’t many fans of the film who really cared to see it remade with someone else wearing the helmet, particularly if they were taking it “seriously.”

Yes, there were likely some who might embrace a hard retelling of the original comic on which the first film was (loosely) based, but this is a very, very small amount of people relative to those who had seen the first movie.

Audiences fear remakes in general


Any reboot or remake these days is met with intense skepticism, and this was released around the time of Total Recall and it was easy to lump them together. So many films are being remade nowadays, it’s easy to just sigh when something like this is announced, and that’s what audiences did.

It’s hard to blame them either. How many remakes have actually been good? The percentages are pretty low, and so it stands to reason that Dredd would follow the trend. But it had a lot to do with the rest of these issues as well.

The hard R rating limited the audience even further


Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that the film should have been scaled back to PG-13 as the violence was fantastic in a genre where reboots usually tone things down to appeal to a wider audience (see the aforementioned Total Recall).

That said, it is yet another factor as to why the film didn’t do so well. R-rated movies earn far less than PG-13 movies, and with everything else working against the movie already, it was going to be an automatic 30-40% cut in revenue most likely. Again, I wouldn’t sacrifice the R, but it is undeniably a contributing factor into why it didn’t make much money.

It had a faceless protagonist played by an unknown actor


An unknown actor is one thing when it comes to leading a film, but an unknown actor whose face can’t be seen for the entire film? It’s not unheard of, and a film like V for Vendetta did quite well despite a similar rating and premise. But even if it was Hugo Weaving wearing the mask he A) talked a lot more than Dredd and B) also had Natalie Portman.

Well, Olivia Thirlby is no Natalie Portman, as only a few know her as “the friend from Juno” which doesn’t exactly make her a star as of yet. And Karl Urban was great in Star Trek and Red, but I have my doubts general audiences have any clue who he was, and it didn’t matter than he could frown like nobody’s business which helped make him perfect for the part.

There was hard promotion of 3D which seemed gimmicky


We shouldn’t forget that the movie was marketed as “Dredd 3D” (thankfully not “Dr3Dd”, though I’m sure someone suggested that). When has a movie ever looked cool when 3D was a main selling point? Never. At least not to me.

Furthermore, this is at the tail end of the 3D-influsion trend. Sure, movies are still marketed and released in 3D, but not nearly as much as they were a few years ago, when 3D was a selling point in every new blockbuster. But outright calling the film “Dredd 3D” in the marketing made it look dated. It didn’t matter if the 3D was cool, it didn’t help sell the film.

Its marketing campaign didn’t emphasize the film’s strengths.

Do you remember the Dredd trailer? No? Me neither, and that means it did a poor job of making an impact when the film itself was one of the most badass action flicks of the year. 300 was a good bloody action film with an even better trailer that generated a ton of hype for the film. Why couldn’t Dredd produce something similar?


Going back to watch it again, it’s just so all over the place. It spends half the trailer on the first five minutes of the movie, and doesn’t emphasize that the movie takes place entirely in one building where two stranded officers must fight their way to the top. The cuts are terrible and the music is atrocious, both of which any good trailer needs to succeed. It’s just not memorable, and I would love to see a fan recut the film to make a new one. Hell, if I knew anything about video editing, I bet I could do it myself and make one twice as cool. They hired a talented director, cast and crew, but not a good marketing department, and in the end, that’s what mattered most.


It’s a shame that the film didn’t do well at the box office because I’d actually love to see a sequel. And becoming a cult hit on DVD isn’t as easy as it used to be with physical media fading, so I don’t see much hope in that avenue either. Being $20M in the hole isn’t easy to come back form.

But I hope everyone involved can take pride knowing they made a great movie that many did appreciate when they finally ended up seeing it. The fact that it lost so much money when so many worse movies perform better is a tragedy, but the factors I’ve listed above all came together to cripple a movie that was a lot better than anyone expected. Reboot overdosing mixed with a completely unknown cast, gimmicky sounding 3D and a piss poor marketing campaign sunk the ship before it even left the harbor.




  • dolaction

    True Grit is the only remake I appreciated, but a lot of time passed between those two movies. Remaking movies from the nineties seems premature. Original films like Looper entice me, stuff with an unfamilar plot, great storytelling, and can’t be spoiled by a wikipedia search.

  • Caleb K

    Dude I’m so bummed this movie probably won’t get a sequel. The world they brought to life was so rad.

  • My boyfriend was a fan of the comic, and all he had to say about the movie was ‘it looks stupid’… So we haven’t watched it yet. I think it was the way it was marketed as 3D!!!!!!!! that turned us off.

    Do you know if this was made closer to the comics or more of a remake of the old film?

  • BallBag69

    You forgot a few:

    1. The first one was so terrible, why think this one would be any better?
    2. Who the fuck is Judge Dredd? It is a low-circulated comic character no one knows or cares about except geeks on the web.
    3. It looks dumb, the plot is dumb.
    4. No titties.

  • Frothy_Ham

    #Paul This too was one of my favorite movies of 2013, but I can agree with you on all your points of why it failed. Yet another promising IP mishandled by it’s studio/distributor.

    #Mandy I really think you and your BF should check it out. I can’t say I’m an expert of the comics but the tone of this movie is extremely different from the Sly movie of the 90’s. It’s a perfectly self-contained experiment in limited perspective world-building. By the end, you really have a feel of how the rules and laws of the terrifying world the film portrays work. It’s dirty, it’s ugly, it’s violent and scarily grounded in it’s set design and special effects.

    Check it out on the cheap, and if you like it please buy the DVD/Blu-ray to let the execs know we want more!

  • Jonathan

    I’m not sure it’s safe to call Karl Urban ‘unknown’ anymore. He’s had major roles in several pretty big films recently. The Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy, RED, Star Trek, LOTR: TT && ROTK…..just saying.

    • Mmm you ask 500 random people if you they know who Karl Urban is, I’d say 5 would say yes. You ask 500 Unreality readers and yeah, you’ll probably get at least 300 saying yes, but it’s not the same thing.

      If anything people may know his face, but not his name, but he’s wearing a helmet the whole time so…

  • Postal

    The only reason I saw this was based on your recommendation. I was pretty skeptical at first, but was pleasantly surprised. I agree its a real shame that about the chances for a sequel.

  • jimmy klok

    the old dredd is epic. stallone, asante, max von sydof… great movie. i have to see the new one to compare

  • Tonyctitan

    I was just telling one of my friends yesterday how great this movie was… He didn’t believe me.

  • kck

    I didn’t see this movie, because it looks like a straight-up action movie that is not particularly innovative visually, does not have an intriguing plot or any humor to it. Basically, 90-min of shooting. Can you name a successful movie that fits this description?

    These days action movies need something beside the “action” to do well at the box office. Matrix and 300 were visually innovative. Matrix had a great plot. Die Hard and Lethal Weapon movies have a ton of humor.

    • It’s just the type of gritty, bloody action film that you don’t see much of any more. Its style is pure brute force, not like Tarantino comical showers of blood. I really liked the universe they created, it’s just a shame they didn’t show more of it.

      And the slo-mo scenes were beautifully done, I thought. Slo-mo is the drug, but yes, it’s also in slo-mo.

      Perhaps a lot of the praise is based around “it was wayyyy better than anyone thought it would be,” but I do think it’s quite solid even viewed outside of that.

  • It’s absolutely solid aside from the lowered expectations bell-curve. Dredd is one of the best sci-fi actioners I’ve seen in a long time. I would totally put it on my best of 2012 list if I made one.

    Especially loved Lena Headey and Olivia Thirlby. Eff yeah female badasses, good and evil.

  • David R

    Your point about the marketing being off base rings truest to me.

    That said, my understanding is that Dredd has done exceptionally well so far on its home video release. Word of mouth does count for something.

  • Bryan

    I loved this movie. Really, I had no idea it would end up being one of my favorite movies of the year. Bloody, violent, and beautifully shot. The world was well realized, and the characters really felt like they were part of it. I ended up purchasing the 3D Blu-Ray and I’m thankful that I did. I rarely buy movies, but this was worth it. You really don’t see movies like these anymore these days. I really hope someone out there sees the merit in making a sequel with the same talent involved.

  • Steve2

    I’ve probably said it on this site before, and I’ll say it again: Dredd was a better 80’s action movie throwback than either of the Expendables movies.

  • I don’t know why it was seen as a reboot or remake. It was just a Judge Dredd movie. They did a whole new story than the first movie had.

    When they changed actors in James Bond movies, do they always call it remakes or reboots? (OK, the last couple movies don’t count I guess) No, they just called them James Bond movies.

    The fact that they called it a remake or reboot or re anything is terrible marketing.

  • nico

    Good movie was good. It was surprising how great the 3D was implemented too. The slo-mo scenes were fucking intense.

  • David R


    Why doesn’t Casino Royale count? Just because it doesn’t prove your point? I’m not coming down hard on you, but I think that CR was so vocally a reboot of the series is really relevant here.

    Much as I would love a world where movies were just judged based on their own merits, that’s not the one we live in now. We live in a world where, despite having about a 50/50 split of good and bad movies, M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster equals automatic ridicule. Where people are still ragging on every second of the Star Wars prequels every single day, TEN YEARS after release. Where Die Another Day still gets mocked any time Pierce Brosnan’s Bond movies are mentioned, despite him having done really well in at least two of his others.

    And just about every review I read paid lip service to the earlier Judge Dredd movie. Usually as a way to bolster this one, but still.

    The point I’m making is that the pop culture culture nowadays is pretty black & white in their judgement of things, and they have a LONG memory, thus, studios have to emphasize the split as well as the movie. Good? Bad? Certainly a thorny issue.

  • Agreed, sat down thinking I wouldn’t love, which made loving it even more awesome.

  • I’ve got another reason. Personally I looked at the director and the character and decided this was going to be great. However, I didn’t see it in the cinema. Why? Not simply because “Dredd 3D” sounds stupid, but because there were a VERY limited number of 2D showings (I like to call it the ‘headache free’ version) and none of them were anywhere near me.

    There was a lot of heavy promotion of 3D surrounding “Prometheus”, but I was still able to find a 2D showing of that, but Dredd? Not a chance!

    Here in the UK Dredd did pretty well actually (considering the limited number of cinema-goers in this one small country), but the point is that even amongst those cinema goers who were really excited to see the film, some were unable to check it out because there was no 2D option for them. (And no, going to see 3D instead was not an option. I don’t enjoy films in 3D because it always blurs during action scenes, it darkens the screen and then I leave the cinema with a headache. SO not worth it!)

  • P.

    I agree with everthing you said except for one thing:
    With everybody tired of remakes, reboots, prequels, sequels, whatever…
    why is there always discussion about sequels to good or great films, even on a site like this? Why not let the movie stand on it’s own and hope for the people involved to come up with something new? Yeah the endings was hinting at a possible sequel, but there are no questions to be answered, no backstory to the characters that needs further explanation, nothing. It stood perfetly on it’s own. Don’t be sad there probably won’t be a sequel, be sad that what the studio will take away from this is that all the things that made this film good are big money losers and someting to be avoided.

  • Wryly

    Reboot/remake? Pah!
    Judge Dredd is an icon, and unlike most comic-book characters, he’s never needed a makeover/re-imagining to make him palatable to an audience, he just keeps going. Not so much an anti-hero, they are usually flawed characters, or outsiders, Dredd is simply the unwavering, implacable face of a system that’s gone too far, yet you still root for him.
    The appalling Stallone vehicle was a half-arsed mess of a film, that was an insult to a comic-book institution, whereas Dredd was Dredd.
    Like a random issue from 2000AD it just took a day in the life of Dredd, albeit one that would also introduce Anderson too, and ran with it. Sadly the article has it about right on Dredd’s poor performance in the cinemas, although I think name checking the first aborted attempt at a movie was less of a factor, than articles mentioning it. Many of the target audience (ignoring the 30+/40+ action movie/2000AD fans) wouldn’t have read 2000AD, nor will too many of them remember the Stallone movie, but a ‘meh’ trailer & comparisons to a crap movie are far from selling points.
    As to any 2000AD fans who haven’t watched ‘Dredd’ yet because of it’s previous cinematic mauling, just go out & buy a copy, this was the Dredd film you always wanted to see, Urban’s Dredd is brutal, brawling and with an accidental deadpan wit.
    It would be great to see him get another outing, but if that never happens, at least we got one film that properly represents the character, and not many can say that.