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What Went Wrong? Vol. 13
September 24, 2012Posted by on
A long-awaited, heavily anticipated movie’s first weekend at the domestic box office was a complete disaster. Let’s just get right into this, shall we?
This past weekend, the Karl Urban/Alex Garland/Pete Travis take on the cult classic comic character Judge Dredd bombed at the box office, with a gross in the neighborhood of only six million dollars. Despite terrific reviews for a film of this type (77% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes) and an extremely positive viewing at San Diego Comic Con this past summer, the Dredd reboot failed to excite audiences. Opening on just over 2,500 screens, Dredd took in a very forgettable $2500 average per screen, putting it well off the lead of the weekend, End of Watch, which debuted with around $4700 per screen in around the same number of theaters. This is especially disconcerting because End of Watch didn’t even do that well, barely squeezing into the number one slot with around a 13 million dollar take this weekend. Let’s put it this way: Dredd, a comic book adaptation reboot with strong reviews and an interesting pedigree and premise, failed to out-gross the critically derided, largely-hated-by everyone-except-me, Sylvester Stallone-starring Judge Dredd on its opening weekend way back in 1995. So, what exactly went wrong?
It might be easy to pin the poor opening weekend of Dredd on negative feelings stemming from the aforementioned 1995 adaptation, but this is probably a bit unfair. First of all, 1995 was 17 long years ago. It’s been far too long for the bad memories of that film to negatively affect this 3D reboot in any tangible way, right? Look at the Batman film franchise for instance. Batman and Robin left an overwhelmingly negative taste in the mouths of moviegoers in 1997, but Batman Begins revived the franchise just seven years later, with decent box office numbers (people forget that Batman Begins wasn’t an outright astounding hit) and great critical acclaim. The same outcome theoretically should have been capable of Dredd. Yes, the first Judge Dredd movie was a critical and commercial abomination, perhaps one of the most hated films of the 90s. Batman and Robin was probably just as hated, if not more so. Yes, Batman Begins brought the pedigree of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. Dredd brought the pedigree of Alex Garland and Karl Urban, who are not on the same level but not exactly schlubs either (Garland wrote many of the Danny Boyle films whereas Urban starred in the Lord of the Rings franchise and the rebooted Star Trek from 2009).
It would be far more appropriate to level the opening weekend disaster of Dredd on a number of other factors, including market saturation and a weak time of year for the overall box office. Resident Evil: Retribution opened to 21 million dollars just one week ago, and competed directly with Dredd this very weekend. Both are 3D action flicks based on long-running cult franchises. Additionally, The Expendables 2, while not exactly drumming up great business now, was popular at the end of August into mid-September, filling a void of violent action flicks before Dredd hit screens. Additionally, internet chatter (which cannot be quantified, mind you) had Dredd pegged as a rip-off of this year’s The Raid: Redemption, even though Dredd was in production long before the internationally acclaimed martial arts film came out. There just wasn’t exactly a whole lot of wiggle room for a film like Dredd at this time of year either. September is usually one of the slowest months for box office receipts. The exception for this year and in years past has been horror films, of which there are a few doing well at the moment, including the recently-released House at the End of the Street (which just opened to 13 million) and The Possession (which will end its run with around 50 million domestically). The overall box office for this past weekend was down nearly 30% from last year and 17% from 2010 as well, according to tracking site Box Office Guru. Dredd was probably always going to be dead on arrival.
Despite all this, I fully expected Dredd to do fairly well at the box office, but failed to take into account just how much it had working against its favor. Though it received solid reviews and had decent behind-the-scenes credentials, Dredd failed to even crack the top five, a major league blunder for the 50 million dollar Lions Gate Films production. I know that people hate the first movie, but can the failing of Dredd really be placed on a 17 year old Stallone movie? I can imagine this film doing well overseas, somewhat making up for its disastrous release here, but this is not a guarantee either. Dredd’s failure is a bit of a shame, too. We’ve gotten a few interesting science fiction and/or action genre films this year (Lockout, Premium Rush, now Dredd) that have all failed to generate much excitement at the domestic box office. A successful Dredd reboot may have put even more of these films into production. I didn’t do my part – I was too busy to see the movie this past weekend. Now I only hope I can get out and see Dredd before it gets yanked from theaters like so many flops before it.