If you ask most people what the greatest comic book movie of all time is, you’ll likely get 1 of 3 answers—The Dark Knight, Avengers: Endgame, or Black Panther. And while I love all 3 of those movies, I would have to shake my head and say, nope, try again. Because while The Dark Knight changed the whole landscape of comic book movies forever, Endgame was the biggest movie of all time, and Black Panther was the first comic book movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, I still don’t think any of them hold a candle to 2012’s Dredd.
And yes, I know. Nobody else on Earth thinks that Dredd is the greatest comic book movie of all time—I mean, the movie was an undeniable flop at the box office. But I actually have five reasons why I think the Karl Urban movie beats out all other comic book films. Now if we could only get that forever gestating Judge Dredd: Mega City One TV show, that would be great. Seriously, when’s it coming?
Dredd Doesn't Even Bother With An Origin Story
Batman Begins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Captain America: The First Avenger, the list goes on an on, but I would say that a majority of debut comic book films spend a great deal of time going over how the characters got their powers. And the problem is that many of these movies often do it with middling success. For every Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse there are several other origin stories—like The Amazing Spider-Man. Or even worse, Green Lantern—that don’t stick the landing. But you know what? Dredd is all like, naw. We’re not going to go that route, and that’s the beauty of the movie. It doesn’t need to.
From the very beginning, Karl Urban’s Dredd actually introduces the setting of Mega City One rather than himself. In this way, we get to learn more about who Dredd is and what he stands for from how other characters perceive him, which is a bold choice. No long, drawn-out training sequences here. Instead, we’re almost instantly dropped into the action through a badass motorcycle chase scene. I mean, seriously, why can’t all first movies in a (potential) series be like this?
It Has the Best Female Antagonist In Any Comic Book Movie Ever
Before there was Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, there was Ma-Ma in Dredd, played by Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey. And while she was certainly not the first female antagonist in a comic book movie ever—Catwoman rings a bell from Batman Returns—she’s definitely the best.
And that’s because she’s the main antagonist here. But here’s the thing, Ma-Ma doesn’t care about Dredd. In fact, he’s really just a nuisance to her and a potential foil to her drug operations. And I just love that about her character. She doesn’t have any grand schemes to take over the world. She doesn’t even have a grudge against Dredd. She’s simply a ruthless drug lord who’s content with skinning her victims and taking bubble baths while on the fictional narcotic, Slo-Mo. And that’s it. Also, the movie doesn’t make a grand point of her being a female villain in a comic book film. She just is, and I find that wonderful.
The World Is Grungy And It Feels So Alive
In a lot of ways, Mega City One is pretty much its own character. Yes, you could say the same about Gotham City or New York in the Marvel movies, but Mega City One especially feels like its own character, and that’s because all the characters act the way they do because of where they live. There’s great world-building in the beginning of the film where Dredd talks about “the cursed city” and how it’s “convulsing, choking, and breaking under its own weight” (as a word nerd, I get chills when I hear these lines).
In the original Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, the world feels a lot more futuristic—at least the parts within Mega City One. But this actually goes against the film since it makes an already silly film feel even sillier. The Mega City One in this movie however is literally falling apart, which fits the storyline perfectly. It also makes the universe feel all that more depressing, which in turn makes this dying city feel more alive. And that’s what makes it the best comic book movie setting ever, in my opinion. I literally feel dirty watching this movie, and I mean that in the best way.
Dredd Isn't Even The Main Protagonist
We could debate this all day, but I would argue that Judge Dredd isn’t even the main protagonist in his own movie. His partner, Cadet Judge Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby) is. But let me break it down like this. While yes, Dredd is the “main” character in Dredd, he doesn’t change throughout the entire film. In fact, he’s the same character in the very beginning of the movie as he is at the end, which makes sense since he’s the embodiment of the law in this society. And the law is firm.
So, no, he doesn’t change (unless you consider his opinion of Thirlby’s character a change, which I don’t), and in that way, he has no arc. But Judge Anderson changes a great deal throughout the movie, and change is ultimately what makes a main character the main character. Judge Anderson goes from a very wet behind the ears cadet to a ready and able Judge by the end of the movie. So really, Dredd is Judge Anderson’s story. And it’s really crazy to me that the title character in a comic book film isn’t even the main character. I find that incredibly bold and still groundbreaking, even today.
Dredd Is An Honest To Goodness "Day In The Life" Story Rather Than Some End Of The World Event
This might actually be my number 1 reason why Dredd is my favorite comic book movie, but I love how the events in this story are really just a day in the life of a character rather than some super major event. The whole conflict essentially takes place in one apartment complex called Peach Trees, and by the end of the film, his shift is over, and I love that.
The movie is similar in a lot of ways to the badass Indonesian movie, The Raid, in that Dredd has to get to the top of a building. But I think this makes for a thrilling action movie, and one where the stakes can still be super high for the characters, even if the story is relatively small. It’s all self-contained and it’s brilliant, and I really hate that we never got a sequel, because I would love to see where Dredd and Anderson’s stories could go from here.
I’m well aware that Dredd has become a cult film since it bombed at the box office, and that people love it now. But I honestly hold it in the same regards as something like the original Die Hard when it comes to action movies. But what do you think? Do you love Dredd as much as I do? Sound off in the comments.