Why Dredd's Financial Failure Proves We Can't Have Nice, Gory Things

By Matt Hill on at

So it doesn't look like we'll be getting another Judge Dredd film, then – at least not following on from the bloody, druggy brilliant 2012 film Dredd, anyway. Financial reality has dawned on that nice dream some 2000AD and Raid fans were having and so cue public outcry and petitions. But seriously, who didn't see this coming?

The film's writer Alex Garland, the multi-talented Brit who wrote The Beach, 28 Days Later and also directed Ex Machina, seemed almost embarrassed when he had to explain it all today to saddened fans, putting it very starkly but eloquently:

"There isn't, as far as I can tell, going to be a Dredd sequel. The basic mechanics of film financing say that if you make a film that loses a tonne of money, you're not going to get a sequel. And that's basically what happened.

"I understand and appreciate the support the film has had, and the campaigns that have existed for it, and it's really genuinely gratifying — I love it in all respects except one, which is when I hear about people buying copies of the DVD in order to boost sales and to change the figures. And what I want to say to them is, "Don't do that. Keep your money." Because the people that are making the decisions are much colder and harder than that. And the graphs they're looking at are not really going to be sufficiently dented by that.

"So the support for the film is truly appreciated. But if there is going to be a sequel, it's not going to be me and the team of people who worked on the previous film, it's going to be another bunch of people. And good luck to them, and I hope it happens. I really do. I hope they do a better job than we did."

And that's about the size of it. The reality is that Dredd was relatively expensive to make for a small-ish film and didn't recoup its budget at the box office, precisely for the reasons we no doubt all liked it: it was gritty, uncompromising, faithful to the source material, violent as hell and the main man was played by a relative unknown so didn't have to keep taking his helmet off all the time.

I say we as an assumption: seriously, if you like action films and haven't seen Dredd, shame on you. It's one of those rare adult blockbusters that doesn't treat its audience like American schoolchildren, grabs you by the throat, punches hard and just doesn't let up, finds strong characters for men and women, has a style all of its own (3D that's not for kids!), but also gets the hell out of dodge after an hour and a half without trying to stroke its chin for hours.

It's basically like 1987 RoboCop, when those in charge of the rights no doubt want 2014 RoboCop. That's right, that confused, CGI-ridden, even-Michael-Keaton's-average-in-it mess more than doubled its budget with $243 million in international takings. Even the bloody Colin Farrell version of Total Recall made $199 million. What are people paying to watch?! And this is how major film studios finance films and why we get endless Transformer sequels and films that look like video-game cut scenes. There's nothing new about that, it's just a general sadness at how things are.

"But it's like The Raid, and that was really popular!" I hear said again and again. Yes, yes it is – in fact, it effectively mines the same central conceit as The Raid (although it actually wrapped before the Indonesian martial-arts flick began filming). But then The Raid cost a 40th of what Dredd did to make, which kind of helped its $9 million of box office receipts seem a surprise boon rather than actually a fairly niche minor hit. It was a massive "breakout" success, as they say, but it did really small numbers by Hollywood's standards.

Let's turn to our old friend Kids' Zone graphs to see exactly the difference we're talking about here, in box-office dollars:

Yeah, that's right, that awful Stallone effort made more in profit ($43m) than Dredd made in revenue ($41m) – and even that was considered a commercial failure.

Why is this? Because people on a large enough scale have terrible taste? Not always true. Guardians of the Galaxy is ace and made billions (well, $775 million, but give it time). It just seems that the 18-rated blockbuster that was so prevalent in the 80s no longer has a place in an industry almost laser-targeted on teenagers as cinema-going dwindles.

Of course, we're also now in a Face magazine situation, in that if everyone who claimed they loved it back in the day had actually bought a copy/ticket to see it at the cinema, it would still be going/have its bloody sequel. But they didn't, and there's no point in crying about it. Either someone puts forward a business plan to do a gritty Dredd sequel for half the money to make it commercially viable, or a-Transforming-Dreddin' we go.

That's film industry law – it's just balance sheets at the end of the day.