If you’re making a list of the worst comic book-based movies of all time, Judge Dredd probably isn’t in the #1 slot, but it’s almost certainly very close to the top.
Upon its release in June of 1995, the movie received critical reviews that could charitably be described as poor. Reaction from longtime Dredd fans wasn’t any better. The film even churned up a bit of controversy, due to the fact that the titular character removes his helmet during the course of the story — something he’d almost never do on the page. It was widely believed that the studio, the Disney-owned Hollywood Pictures, didn’t want to pay star Sylvester Stallone millions of dollars for a role that obscured his face from the audience.
Despite a general lack of quality, Judge Dredd proves to be an interesting case study in how the screen version of a popular comic book character can go off-track. We’ve gathered some intriguing trivia about the making of the movie. Some of these tidbits help to explain what went wrong. Others provide a glimpse of what Judge Dredd might have been like, for better or worse, if different creative choices had been made. All of them will help you understand this notorious misfire more fully.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About the Disastrous Judge Dredd Movie.
15. Stallone wanted Joe Pesci to co-star
Dredd’s sidekick, to the extent that anyone like Dredd can ever have a sidekick, is Herman “Fergee” Ferguson, a hacker he previously busted for destruction of property. They’re reunited on their way to a penal colony after Dredd is framed for a murder he did not commit. From that point on, fate conspires to throw them into an adventure together.
To play the role of Fergee, Stallone wanted Joe Pesci, who’d won an Oscar for Goodfellas a few years before and was also coming off the hit Home Alone movies, as well as My Cousin Vinny. Sci-fi really wasn’t Pesci’s forte, though, and he passed.
Instead, Stallone went to Rob Schneider, the Saturday Night Live comedian with whom he’d very briefly shared the screen in Demolition Man. He thought Schneider was funny and could add some effective comic relief to the film. Unlike Pesci, the comic accepted.
14. A world-famous designer’s costumes were rejected
Gianni Versace was one of the most famous designers in the world. Despite his death in 1997, his name continues to represent high-end fashion. The producers of Judge Dredd thought it would be a stroke of genius to have him do some costume designs for their movie.
The concept drawings Versace delivered were less than impressive to them, however. It appeared that he didn’t really understand the character or have much of an impression of how he looked on the page. Most are variations on the same idea, which is that Dredd wears what appears to be a skintight black leather leotard, combined with bulking codpiece, the likes of which would be ridiculed in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin two years later.
Versace’s designs were rejected by the production. The website Prop Bay put the design sheets up for auction in 2012, and you can see them for yourself right here.
13. Diane Lane refused to do a revealing scene for a surprising reason
Diane Lane plays Judge Hershey in the movie. By this point in her career, the actress had firmly established herself as a versatile talent, appearing in films as diverse as Streets of Fire, Rumble Fish, and Chaplin. She was also considered, as she is today, one of the most beautiful women working in cinema. Hollywood often tries to force talented actresses into “eye candy” roles, so it’s no surprise that she was asked to appear nude in Judge Dredd.
Lane said no, but for a surprising reason. She told Yahoo that she was intimidated by the prospect of having her naked rear end appearing alongside Stallone’s. “I had this phobia that they were going to get my [butt] onscreen at the same time as Sylvester Stallone’s [butt],” she explained. “I’m like Judge Bone and he’s got these cinder blocks for glutes. I cannot be on-camera the same time as him.”
12. A disappearing singer affected the soundtrack
Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh band that mixes alt-rock soundscapes with left-leaning political messages. They never really broke out into the American mainstream, although they have long had a devoted cult following. The Manics (as they’re often called) were asked to contribute a song to Judge Dredd‘s all-star soundtrack. They agreed to write and perform a number that would be called “Judge Yr Self.”
The tune never ended up on that album. Rhythm guitarist and co-lyricist Richey Edwards — who battled alcoholism, anorexia, and a compulsion to self-mutilate when depressed — disappeared in February 1995. The other members of the band were understandably upset about this, and certainly in no mood to record. They therefore abandoned the idea of contributing to the film.
11. Uncredited cameos
Judge Dredd has an impressive cast of name actors: Sylvester Stallone, Rob Schneider, Diane Lane, Max von Sydow, and Armand Assante. A few familiar names occupy supporting roles, too. Then there are the uncredited cameos. You may not have caught these, or even realized who you were seeing/hearing.
Long before he rose to conventional fame playing Hershel Greene on The Walking Dead, veteran character actor Scott Wilson had a bit part in Dredd. He plays “Pa Angel,” the patriarch of a cannibal group. While his screen time is brief, his character is often vividly remembered by viewers.
On a similar note, the voice of “Central,” the supercomputer that controls Mega-City One, is provided by Adrienne Barbeau. A ubiquitous TV presence in the ’70s, she transitioned to film in the ’80s, starring in Swamp Thing, as well as John Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape From New York.
10. Stallone feuded with the director
Sylvester Stallone has written and/or directed many of the films in which he’s starred. Even when he’s not taking on those roles, though, he has a lot of clout in the production. Apparently, he isn’t afraid to use that clout, either. He clashed with director Danny Cannon throughout the filming.
The heart of their feud was the movie’s tone. Stallone believed that it should be an action movie with some comedic overtones thrown in to enhance the fun. Cannon, on the other hand, wanted something dark and gritty. The two butted heads repeatedly over how to play individual scenes. In interviews over the years, Stallone has claimed that Cannon’s way of trying to assert his authority was to jump out of his director’s chair and yell that everyone should fear him.
9. Rob Schneider was injured on the set
Any movie with an excess amount of stuntwork can face the possibility of an accident or injury taking place. Sometimes a professional stuntman is hurt. Other times actors get hurt trying to do their own stunts. Then there are those rare occasions where an actor gets hurt doing something fairly routine. That’s what happened to Rob Schneider on the Judge Dredd set. The results could have been catastrophic.
The scene in question is simple. Fergee runs out of a building and descends a flight of stairs. About a quarter of the way down the steps, Schneider slipped. Attempting to regain his balance ended up throwing it off even more, sending him catapulting down the remainder of the staircase. He crashed with a thud, his face hitting the floor hard. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously injured, but the incident was certainly scary. You can watch a video of the mishap on YouTube.
8. Deleted scene where Dredd fights clones
As part of the ongoing struggle between the filmmakers and studio to agree on a tone for the movie, a few scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Some of these cuts were doubtlessly for the standard issues of length and pace. Others were for excessively violent content.
One of the excised moments actually sounds fairly interesting. Originally located during the movie’s big finale, it involves a horde of Judge clones, created by the villainous Rico, that attack our hero. Dredd opens fire, blasting them into gooey pieces. The specific reason why this particular bit was cut remains unknown. The final edit shows the clones waking up, yet somewhat ungracefully edits around the slaughter.
7. It was rated X… four times
One of the reasons why the movie was so unsatisfying was a basic discrepancy between what Stallone and Disney wanted and what director Danny Cannon wanted. The star and studio intended to make a PG-13 adventure. The latter favored a violent, R-rated approach. By all accounts, Cannon delivered a picture that was far more aggressive than anticipated.
Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza told the website Den of Geek that when Judge Dredd was submitted to the ratings board, it was given the dreaded X (now known as the NC-17) four times because of the violence level. One of the producers, Edward Pressman, managed to convince the board to give a slightly toned-down version one last look. This time, they granted the movie a more commercially desirable R.
6. The writer claims to have been blacklisted by Disney
Steven E. de Souza has written some of the most beloved action movies ever made, including Die Hard, Commando, and 48 Hrs. In the ’80s and ’90s, he was as hot as screenwriters come. There wasn’t a studio in town that wasn’t eager to work with him. Except Disney, that is – who de Souza says blacklisted him because of his association with Judge Dredd.
Mr. de Souza claims that he delivered a script for the Stallone picture that would have placed it at a PG-13 level, with the nastiest bits of violence suggested rather than shown. When director Danny Cannon put things on film that were far bloodier than what was on the page, the studio flipped out.
5. Judge Dredd’s creator has mixed feelings about the movie
Given its status as a notorious cinematic bomb, you might be curious to know what the creator of the Judge Dredd character thinks of it. Writer John Wagner has been asked for his opinion of the movie by interviewers. His reaction is mixed.
In 2012, Wagner told the Los Angeles Times that “they told the wrong story,” adding that “it didn’t have that much to do with Dredd the character as we know him.” That’s a substantial criticism. However, he does give the film a few props. “I don’t think Stallone was a bad Dredd,” Wagner continues. “He was just Dredd in the wrong story.” He went on to praise the big-budget look, the CGI work, and the recreation of the Angel Gang as positive qualities.
4. It lost the box office race to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Being a high-profile, heavily-hyped movie that flops is embarrassing. The only thing that can make being a flop worse is getting whooped at the box office by a film that, according to conventional logic, should not have beaten you.
Judge Dredd opened to poor reviews on June 30, 1995. It opened against Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which predictably nabbed the top spot for the weekend. No surprise there. The other wide release debuting in theaters that day was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which was essentially just a 90-minute version of the popular TV kids’ show, complete with cheesy effects and a no-name cast.
When the final numbers came in, Power Rangers made more than Judge Dredd did in their shared opening weekend. The former earned $13.1 million, while the latter came in with a hugely disappointing $12.2 million. Nobody saw that one coming.
3. The Saturn Awards inexplicably loved it
Given its legacy as an epic misfire, you might expect that Judge Dredd would have been a target of the Razzie Awards, honoring the worst in motion pictures over the course of a year. Astonishingly, they gave it just one nomination, putting Stallone in the Worst Actor category. Then again, 1995 was the year of Showgirls and Waterworld, so competition was stiff. Needless to say, there was no recognition from the Oscars.
However, one group was actually pretty fond of the movie. The Saturn Awards are given every year to recognize excellence in genre filmmaking. They thought Judge Dredd was sufficiently good to merit a nomination as Best Science-Fiction Film. Three other nominations were also bestowed upon the Stallone turkey — Best Costumes, Best Make-up, and Best Special Effects. It didn’t win anything, but those noms were a form of validation, at least from the sci-fi crowd.
2. A legendary composer wrote a special piece of music for the trailer
Jerry Goldsmith composed some of the most memorable and atmospheric film scores of all time. Among them are Alien, Gremlins, and Basic Instinct. He was brought in to score Judge Dredd after the original composer, David Arnold, had to be replaced. Unfortunately, Goldsmith wasn’t able to complete his duties, due to repeated post-production delays that intruded upon his commitment to other projects. He had no choice but to leave, and Alan Silvestri was hired instead.
Before he departed, though, Goldsmith did write one short piece of music for the production — a dramatic 57-second musical cue. That piece was ultimately used in the movie’s trailers, as well as the TV advertising campaign. The music did such a great job of conveying action and adventure that it was later used in trailers for other movies as well, including Lost in Space.
1. Even Stallone acknowledges it’s not very good
If you found yourself disappointed in the overall quality level of Judge Dredd, you aren’t alone. The movie’s star agrees with you. That’s right — even Sly Stallone doesn’t think the film is very good. It’s an interesting acknowledgement, given that the actor has defended some of the other flops with which he’s been associated over the years.
In 2008, he told the British magazine Uncut that he initially had high hopes for what the picture could be, and that its failure to live up to those expectations was disappointing. He claimed the biggest problem was that “it just wasn’t balls to the wall.” Stallone added, “It didn’t live up to what it could have been. It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous and fun.”
He capped off his thoughts by calling Judge Dredd “a real missed opportunity.”
What do you think about Judge Dredd? Is it as bad as its reputation says, or does it have some merits? Tell us your feelings in the comments.
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