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Critical Success, Financial Bomb: Why Dredd 3D Failed To Ignite At The Box Office

In just over a decade or so, the amount of comic book adaptations arriving on the silver screen has increased greatly in prevalence and prominence.  From large-scale Marvel and DC Comics blockbusters such as The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises respectively, to A History Of Violence and other far smaller affairs, these movies dominate our multiplexes.   Some are more effective than others in bringing the material to life, while many fail miserably.

Every last element of the comic book doesn’t need to be adhered to in order for the film to be deemed a triumph.   The principal consideration, instead, is retaining the spirit of the work.  Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Hellboy starring Ron Pearlman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, among others, all took liberties with the source, but were still critically and financially successful.

Dredd 3D was one such film to preserve the tenor and attitude of the 2000 AD comic book character perfectly.  Some alterations were present, however, with the movie being stylistically less futuristic than the comic.  It lacked, for instance, the flying vehicles (H-Wagons), elaborate fashions, and other more sci-fi components, instead opting for a slightly more ‘realistic’ feel.  Although electing to make some drastic changes, the core elements were still in place.  The sense of despair was present, along with the brooding malice, which is a key part of the story telling.  Furthermore, Mega-City One, where the comic is based and a character in its own right, felt genuine and authentic.

The movie’s main accomplishment was the establishing of the Judge Dredd character himself.  Karl Urban, with his constant lip curl and gravelly voice, inhabited the world’s most beloved totalitarian lawman flawlessly.  Moreover, consistent with the comic, he and screenwriter/producer Alex Garland both insisted that Dredd’s helmet never be removed, as showing the character’s face would be a distinct faux pas.   John Wagner, Judge Dredd’s creator, effectively gave his blessing also, by working on the script and collaborating on the project.

The film fell into difficulty during the post-production process, however.  It was well reported that Alex Garland disagreed strongly with director, Pete Travis, concerning the editing of the movie.  It was similarly rumoured that Garland threw the director out of the editing suite, instead cutting the project himself.  Conflicts during the movie-making process never bode particularly well for the finished product.  Thankfully, though, the end result was actually very good and didn’t suffer as a result.

Although retaining the feel of the comic book and being largely well received on a critical level, Dredd 3D nonetheless performed poorly at the box office.  It ended up making a paltry $32 million against an already relatively small budget of $50 million.  Why then did this particular film not capture people’s imaginations?

For starters, certified an R in the states and an 18 in the UK, the film maintained the extreme violence of the comic book source material.  This led to the film being far closer in tone to the character and the world he inhabits, but perhaps hurt its receipts at the cinema doors.  A movie such as this appeals mostly to the 14 to 30 year old male demographic.  Making it an 18, and not cutting it to reach a 15 certificate, therefore alienated some cinemagoers, though arguably made it a better Judge Dredd film.

Also, the movie didn’t seem to be marketed efficiently.  With large-scale comic book film releases, like The Amazing Spider-Man for example, the wealth of television and radio advertising spots, billboard ads and bus movie postering is usually colossally abundant.  The advertising for Dredd 3D seemed lacklustre at best, with a poorly constructed trailer and a dearth of other marketing.   This poor effort failed to gain a momentum for the film or attract an audience who didn’t already know of the movies existence.

To make matters worse, the movie was predominantly only in released in 3D.  Many moviegoers have largely been put off 3D, seeing it as a failed gimmick.  Dredd 3D, however, was only released in an extremely small amount of 2D screenings, taking the choice out of the hand’s of the audience.  3D films are also more expensive, which further dissuaded film fans.

Lastly, in the UK and US the movie was brought out in September which is always a bad sign.  It is true that a movie released in the ninth month of the year won’t have much competition, but for good reason.  September is notorious for being the weakest month for cinema takings.   This release date strongly suggests that distributors didn’t have much faith in their product.

It’s not all miserable news though as while it failed theatrically, Dredd 3D has been far more profitable since reaching retailers on Blu-ray and DVD.  The movie has secured sales of 650,000 units, and reached the number one spot on a multitude of retail charts.   Unfortunately, this still results in the project making a loss, but one on a much lesser scale.

Does this mean that we devotees will get our sequel, then?  Sadly, the fact that all the props from the film were auctioned off, from Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd uniform to assorted weapons and clothing, does not bode well.  At least we got one good outing, more in accordance with the spirit of  2000 AD’s main character, to put on our DVD shelves.   Finally, the sour taste left in our mouths all those years ago by Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd can dissipate!


About the author

Chris Spence

You can read more of Chris' work on his blog http://filmandmoviehotspot.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow him on Twitter @TheRetroSamurai

1 Comment

  • This movie was effing great. I was expecting trash, but it totally blew my hair back. I’m ashamed at myself for not seeing it at the theater. Really disappointed that this movie wasn’t better marketed. Hope there’s a sequel.