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.