Look, dude, I know. I’m not supposed to like the 1990s Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie. I’m only supposed to like the more recent, badass Karl Urban version. And, I do love that movie. In fact, Dredd is my favorite comic book movie of all time. Still, I can’t help but have a soft spot for the original Judge Dredd. I’m sorry, but I love that movie. It’s definitely up there in my Top 50. Maybe even in my Top 20.
Why, though, right? Why is a movie that is obviously trying way too hard to be cool—and definitely way too hard to be funny with Rob Schneider’s casting—up there with films like The Wizard of Oz and Spirited Away for me? Great question (which I just asked myself); and I really had to think about it, since I normally just sit and veg out whenever I watch it. But, I came to a conclusion as to why I love it. Five conclusions, actually. And, if you think that’s too many, I knew you’d say that.
It's A Great Time Capsule For What Comic Book Movies Were Like Back In The ‘90s
If you were actually born in the ‘90s, and your strongest reference point for comic book movies are from the MCU, then I can understand why you would think that Judge Dredd is a cheesy piece of garbage. I mean, I was born in the early ‘80s, and I know a number of people from my own generation who share that same sentiment. But as somebody who grew up voraciously reading comic books in my youth, my kid self definitely appreciated comic book movies that actually looked like the comic books they were based off of. While you may laugh at Sylvester Stallone in the platform boots and the silly outfit, I used to live for that stuff. Still do, actually. Seeing it in Judge Dredd definitely brings me right back to my childhood.
Look, I used to watch every comic book movie that came out. And I mean every single one. Judge Dredd came out in 1995, which was the same year as Tank Girl. It was also just one year before Barb Wire starring Pamela Anderson, and two years before the original Spawn. For a time in the early 2000s, comic book films seemed to shy away from being too comic-booky (See: The original X-Men movies). It’s only now that being “comic-booky” is actually in again. Judge Dredd was doing it way before it was cool. And that’s why I cherish it.
It Was One Of The Very First R-Rated Comic Book Movies, Setting The Groundwork For Other Future R-Rated Comic Book Films
Watch Judge Dredd today, and you’re sure to think: “Wait. This was rated-R?” In fact, when my dad took me to see it back in 1995, we both wondered the same thing. The film isn’t explicitly violent or anything like that, nor does it have tons of swearing or even nudity. In fact, it was nothing like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which my father also took me to see, back in 1991. I was shocked when I saw that movie, because characters were dropping F-bombs left and right. That movie actually felt rated-R. So did RoboCop, with its bodies being blown apart and cursing. Neither of those films were originally comic books, but both of them felt like they were, and they would both eventually become comic books later on, as well.
Judge Dredd, on the other hand, was adapted from a comic book, and it was rated-R, which was incredibly rare back then. Yes, you had movies like The Crow, Tank Girl and Timecop, but none of those films fully leaned into their comic book roots. Judge Dredd looks, feels, and even sounds like a comic book, and by openly embracing its roots, it paved the way for other rated-R comic book films like Deadpool and Logan in the process. Fascinating.
The Special Effects Are Still Pretty Cool
Judge Dredd might not be one of Sylvester Stallone’s most badass movies, but, alongside Demolition Man, it might be his most visually appealing. Looking like a cross between Blade Runner (for the Mega City One section) and, strangely enough, The Hills Have Eyes (for its Cursed Earth section), Judge Dredd is a mixture of styles that probably shouldn’t work, but ends up working all the same.
Then you have the awesome ABC Warriors, which were also from the 2000 AD series (which is a British comic outfit). Visually, Judge Dredd is just a really appealing, unique-looking film, and even if you don’t dig the story, I don’t see how you can’t appreciate those oh so ‘90s special effects. They’re perfect in their own way.
I Can Appreciate The Far Superior Karl Urban Dredd Even More Because Of It
Remember how I said that Dredd is my favorite comic book movie of all time? Well, I can mostly say that because I have something to compare it to. You might think this is an unfair comparison, but look at Joss Whedon’s Justice League and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The number one thing I hear people say when they applaud Zack Snyder’s Justice League is that “it was way better than the first movie.” But, what kind of metric is that? One film is good only because the other film is absolute crap? Is that how juxtaposition really works?
Thankfully, Judge Dredd isn’t crap. At least not to me, it isn’t. It’s different, sure—way different—from Dredd, but it isn’t crap. Judge Dredd’s tone is much more fun than Dredd’s. When Sly hams it up and bellows, “IT’S A LIE! The evidence has been falsified! It’s impossible. I never broke the law! I am the law!” it’s a lot more bombastic than when Karl Urban menacingly seethes, “Mama is not the law. I am the law,” in Dredd. But, having both versions of the character, I can appreciate and love them equally, which brings me to my last point.
It Was My Introduction To The Character
Lastly, if there was no Judge Dredd movie in the ‘90s, then I probably never would have gotten invested in the character in the first place. Back in the ‘90s, if it wasn’t Marvel, DC, or Image, I didn’t mess with it. So, I definitely never would have heard of 2000 AD. Sure, you may say I might have gotten into the character with the 2012 film, but I doubt it, because it’s hard to grab my attention these days. No, Judge Dredd hit me at just the right time. I was around 12 when it came out, which was just the right age to get me into the series.
And, besides, the 1995 movie is actually much closer to the comic than the 2012 version. Judge Dredd is actually kind of a satirical series, and the character is not supposed to be a good guy. He’s actually more of a fascist asshole who is pretty much the last cop you would want protecting you. So, more Sly Stallone’s Dredd than Karl Urban’s.
In the end, I’m well aware that most people don't like Sly Stallone's Judge Dredd, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. What do you think? Sound off in the poll below. For coverage of more modern, 2021 movies, check out our guide to new releases.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.