Why we never got to see a Dredd sequel

The 2012 film Dredd was surprisingly great. There's just one problem—pretty much nobody watched it.

Starring Karl Urban (Star Trek, Almost Human) as the iconic comic character Judge Dredd, who serves as judge, jury and executioner in the future-set world of Mega-City One, it tells a small story about overwhelming odds with a ton of blood-spattering action. "Certified Fresh" with a general consensus of awesomeness at Rotten Tomatoes, it's a taut, white-knuckle thriller that only scratched the surface of a fascinating world full of stories left to tell. Why have Dredd fans been left wishing for a sequel? Let's dig in.

The last movie was a box office bomb

In Hollywood, it always comes down to dollar signs. Sadly for fans of Dredd, the movie didn't generate very many: it earned a paltry $13.4 million in the United States, and a mere $35.6 million worldwide. Considering it cost the studio around $50 million to make the film (then at least a few more million to market it), it was one heck of a little write-off. Pretty much every studio and distributor involved lost money, and just looking at the raw numbers, funding a sequel would make little financial sense. There's often a law of diminishing returns with sequels anyway, so making one off a box office bomb? Not the smartest move. In this case, the bottom line trumps the critical consensus.

Sly Stallone's version severely damaged the brand

Though it became a staple of afternoon cable reruns after awhile and you've probably seen it at least a dozen times, Sylvester Stallone's 1995 Judge Dredd film was pretty awful. For fans of the comics it was even worse, because it pretty much butchered everything that made the series great (Namely: Why did he have to keep taking off his mask?). It was a slapstick mess, with Rob Schneider riding shotgun for comic relief in a story that didn't need any. But that's just the half of it.

As Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman noted in his review, "Judge Dredd is serviceable low-grade entertainment. If I can't work up much enthusiasm for it, that's because the sets are so nifty and detailed, and Stallone pumps so many rounds of bullets into each one of them, that the movie, by the end, practically seems intent on destroying itself."

The only redeeming factor? James Earl Jones as the narrator.

Looking at the social and political climate, it might not be the best time for Judge Dredd

If you follow the news at all, you have certainly noticed the role of police in local communities is one of the hottest topics. Police shootings, protests and riots have become almost daily headlines across the nation, and the issues show no sign of being resolved anytime soon. Enter Judge Dredd: A white cop with near-limitless discretion to serve as judge, jury and executioner on the mean streets. There are certainly some interesting stories that can be told through that lens (it's been happening for decades in the comics), but this might not be the most opportune time to bring them to the big screen.

The studio is scared of the source material

Before the script for Dredd was put together, the team behind the film pitched something much more ambitious: as co-creator John Wagner told Screen Geek, they conceived of a story that would've tackled the Judge Death storyline from the comics. Judge Death, leader of a group of undead Dark Judges from an alternate dimension, goes after the living because only they commit crimes. Sadly, the studio thought it was a bit too out there.

Here's how Wagner described it: "I wouldn't mind seeing [Judge Death]. That was actually the first script that Alex Garland did was a Judge Death script but Fox, who they were dealing with at the time, turned it down. They wanted more nuts and bolts before they went into the [metaphysical]." Oh, what could've been.

It'd work better as a TV show anyway

Aside from the fact that the studio isn't very keen to make it, there's a reason you haven't heard much about a a big-screen Dredd sequel—pretty much everyone involved (fans included) would rather see the franchise make the jump to Netflix or Amazon Prime as a limited TV series instead. Star Karl Urban has not been shy about his desire to see the film adapted into a series, and even the comic's publisher, Rebellion, has launched an official petition aimed at generating some buzz from streaming services to take a chance on the franchise.

It's an unorthodox move, but here's the pitch Rebellion posted (which makes a lot of sense): "With the success of series such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and The Man in the High Castle, the clamour of the growing fanbase for more from the incredible world of the 2012 Dredd movie cannot be ignored. We call on TV and movie producers to step up to the plate and give us more, either through a pay-to-view TV series or a new movie!"

C'mon, Netflix. Wanna take a chance?

Even the screenwriter thinks it's dead

Despite the fans (and the unflappable Urban) holding out hope against unshakeable hope, the first film's screenwriter, Alex Garland, has pretty much given up on actually getting to work on a follow-up. In a chat with Collider, Garland said he greatly appreciates the support of fans who have latched onto the film and want to see more of their vision of Mega-City One. But even if they keep it alive in the zeitgeist, he still doesn't think it'll help.

"I also feel a sense of responsibility because I know there are these people who do this stuff like they've got money and they spend money on a DVD to try and up the chance of a sequel getting made," said Garland. "Because I don't have an online profile or persona or anything like that I can't speak to these people directly, but what I want to say is that's so good of you, and thank you, but keep your money because the people who make the decisions don't get moved by that kind of thing. They're moved by other stuff, other equations, other algorithms."

The comic isn't from Marvel or DC

Just look at the numbers: There's no denying we live in the golden age of comic book movies. But look a little closer and you'll realize almost every single one of those box office juggernauts come from either Marvel or DC's stable. The Avengers, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man—those guys put butts in seats. But dig a little deeper and it gets pretty hard to find a comic book movie not from the Big Two. There are a few, but not many. It's largely just sheer numbers, since those two publishers control the vast majority of popular comic characters, it's tough to mount a successful comic adaptation that doesn't have that built-in fanbase. There are a lot of current attempts to expand into characters owned by other publishers, most notably with Valiant's stable of superheroes, but time will tell if they're successful.

Dredd didn't come from DC or Marvel, so the deck was stacked against it from the word jump.

It's really tricky to market it correctly

It's easy to blame the marketing campaign when a decent movie bombs (see John Carter as a case study), but it was certainly a factor in Dredd's lack of success. The first film was marketed fairly generically, and the campaign itself was relatively small (leading to a major lack of awareness when it opened). Star Karl Urban told Yahoo! he blames a lot of the film's failure on the marketing, because the few people who actually saw the movie really enjoyed it. "I saw the tracking of that film weeks before it came out and the fundamental problem was no one knew it was being released," he recalled. "Once it came out on DVD and it sold 750,000 copies in the first week alone in North America alone, it was very clear that the audience had discovered it."

Karl Urban has been hustling it for years, and it's still not happening

We've mentioned Karl Urban a lot up to this point, and there's a reason for that—the guy really enjoyed playing Judge Dredd and really wants to do it again. Though fans have obviously been working to keep the franchise alive in the public zeitgeist, it's Urban who's largely led the charge to make sure people keep talking about Dredd. He's asked about the series quite a lot during interviews, and he always uses the opportunity to hustle for a consideration. He's gone a bit too far in stoking the flames at times (like accidentally implying a sequel was in development while speaking at a comic convention), but his enthusiasm is infectious—just, you know, not infectious enough to actually get a movie made.

The original Judge Dredd canon is actually pretty weird

The 2000 AD comics that feature Judge Dredd have been rolling since 1977. Though casual fans probably know the basics—he's a future super cop with a license to kill—there's so much more than meets the eye. The franchise has dabbled in the supernatural, the silly, and even featured a future war between McDonald's and Burger King (seriously) at one point. The various writers to work on the franchise have used the set-up to explore a bevy of wild and crazy stories. When you're looking for an easy sell to Hollywood execs, it makes things a little tougher. We really would like to see that fast food war play out on the big screen, though.

It was actually a hit on DVD, but that's just not enough

Though pretty much nobody saw Dredd on the big screen, a whole lot of folks managed to find it on the small one. Once Dredd made it to DVD and Blu-ray, word of mouth finally generated enough buzz for fans to take a chance. The film debuted as the top home release once it hit shelves in early 2013, selling an eye-popping 650,000 units. For a movie that was a dud at the box office, those are huge numbers, and it generated some buzz that a sequel could be back in the cards, but it's been more than three years, and we still haven't seen anything. So don't buy a copy because you think it'll get a sequel going—just pick it up because it's good.

It works better as a smaller story, as Dredd proved

We've talked about just how big and wild the world of Mega-City One has become in the comics, and there is near limitless potential when it comes to stories Hollywood could draw from for inspiration. But there's a reason 2012's Dredd was so darn good—it was a self-contained story about two cops trying to overcome overwhelming odds. You didn't have to know the convoluted backstory or be familiar with the world-building to jump in and have a good time. That's not to say a story mining all that canon can't be good, but Dredd showed the franchise is certainly well-suited to a smaller story.

The problem? When it comes to comic book movies, or action movies in general, "small" isn't really part of the vocabulary. These films are generally seen as tentpole releases; bigger, bloodier and bolder is better. Dredd was so good because it was the story of one low-level villain in one building. Relatively low stakes, in a sense, but compelling nonetheless. Sadly, action and comic book films of that level are less and less common these days.

Dredd is really good, so just be glad we got it at all

There are a ton of reasons why we'll probably never get a sequel, and that's a shame—but it's easy to forget just how lucky we were to actually have 2012's Dredd in the first place. After Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd pretty much killed general interest in the '90s, it wouldn't have been much of a surprise if that had been the end of the character on the big screen. Second chances don't come around much in Hollywood (unless you're Spider-Man).

But Dredd got a second lease on life, and though the movie was a commercial failure, they still made one heck of a great film. So dig out the DVD and head back to Mega-City One—and just be glad the film exists at all.