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C'mon Hollywood: What does the failure of Dredd tell us?

09.25.2012

After its premiere at Comic Con this year, fans and critics alike raved about DREDD 3D, a reboot of the popular British comic book created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey.  Directed by Pete Travis, the ultraviolent, slick, and brutal pic was primed to be a solid hit in the hard-R action genre.  Sitting at 77% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and with most fan reaction being positive, DREDD 3D looked to have it in the bag.

Then, the numbers came in.  A paltry $6 million over a slow weekend in September, competing with the likes of a Clint Eastwood baseball movie, a cheesy horror flick, and a cop drama, DREDD 3D was buried, making only half of what its competition pulled in, which, aside for END OF WATCH, had negative reviews.  Audiences were loud and clear that they didn’t much care for what DREDD 3D had to offer or they simply didn’t know enough about it to give a shit.  Even with an aggressive campaign by Lionsgate, the trailers and TV spots did little to influence ticket sales.

So, just what the hell happened?  I left the theater feeling fully satiated by what I’d seen.  DREDD 3D felt like an issue of the comic brought to life, with all the character, blood, gore, brutality, and deadpan comedy one could ask for.  In my mind, it was one of the best comic adaptations I’d seen to date.  When I saw the numbers on Sunday I was floored.  HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET and TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE beat DREDD 3D?  They're sitting at 11% and 52% on Rotten Tomatoes! 

DREDD 3D’s failure brings up a number of questions: Are audiences tired of comic book flicks?  They’ve certainly been inundated with them recently (and will continue to be).  Are audiences playing it safe with go-to genres and established names?  Jennifer Lawrence is hot off THE HUNGER GAMES and Eastwood is hot off his RNC “chair” speech, so why not?  Are audiences “tamed” to PG-13 movies?  Have they simply learned to settle for less? Is the R-rated action genre dead?  In recent years, we’ve seen the R-rated action genre take a hit, while the comedy genre got a boost. Too many questions with no solid answers.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 originally was shooting for a PG-13 before an R, adding some CGI blood (with almost no profanity) to give the fans “what they want.”  Did it make that big of a difference to audiences in terms of ticket sales?  Well, it still hasn’t made back it’s $100 million budget, so there’s that. A PG-13 almost always adds a bigger tally, since it opens up to a wider audience.  That said, it’s always possible that HOUSE and CURVE are counting money that actually belongs to DREDD 3D, as kids will typically buy a ticket for a PG-13 movie and sneak into an R-rated one (I know I did).   I’ll give END OF WATCH its due credit as it earned the top spot with an R-rating and great reviews.  

I don’t think DREDD 3D could’ve been done properly without the R-rating.  Without the hardcore violence it would’ve lost all edge as the badass film that it is and robbed it completely of its source material integrity.  A PG-13 would’ve been a sell out.  However, that sell out may have been a prettier picture for Lionsgate’s returns.  So, who really wins?  Which brings me to my next train of thought; Are some movies destined to be cult films?  When you consider the box office of movies like THE EVIL DEAD, FIGHT CLUB, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, OFFICE SPACE, etc., one of the most common traits is their box office failure, with each of them carrying an R-rating.

To me, DREDD 3D seemed to have a wider appeal than cult status, but I’m biased as hell.  I’m a comic nerd/film geek, so my thoughts on the matter can be jaded.  The average moviegoer seeing a police-officer-guy-with-a-big-helmet-in-an-apocalyptic-future may view the concept as far too odd.  DREDD 3D, after all, isn’t a well-known comic in the U.S., at least not as much as THE AVENGERS or Batman.  As a character, he’s low on the totem pole in terms of popularity; so to sell him on the heels of his comic roots was always going to be tough.

Then, there’s the issue of the female audience.  Let’s face it; most women aren’t into blood-soaked action flicks.  Call me sexist, but it’s true.  I’m sure a poll in Cosmopolitan would reveal the truth.  Chicks want romance, love, and comedy for the most part (which isn’t to say they can’t appreciate some badass action) of which DREDD 3D has none.  There isn’t the slightest hint at romance, with Dredd playing it straight from start to finish.  Regardless, Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson is awesome, exuding strength, vulnerability, and perseverance in a role that easily could’ve been a cheesy annoyance.  In the ads, however, she’s played off as nothing more than a presence in the film, rather than a major player with a back-story. 

The disappointment of a good film is a hard thing to figure out and the consequences of that failure can be far-reaching.  I’m not upset about the loss of sequel potential as much as I am about an R-rated action flick done right being punished for doing so.  It’s a slap to the studio for taking the risk and a signal that audiences don’t want R-rated action movies, but PG-13 warmed over dogshit.  It’s harsh, but true.  The truth is in the numbers and unfortunately, when it all comes down to it, the numbers will determine what we’ll see next.  I’m hopeful that more filmmakers and studios will continue to take the risk in the future, but sadly, I think we’ll be seeing more trite PG-13 schlock than kick ass R-rated paragons, like DREDD 3D. 

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite box office black sheep? Mine is The Long Kiss Goodnight, which stands as one of my all-time favorite flicks.
Source: JoBlo.com

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