In 2012, the reboot Dredd brought violent sci-fi lawman Judge Dredd back to the big screen with Karl Urban in the title role. As good as Dredd was, not many people paid attention to it due to its studio's weak marketing. Still, Dredd became an all but instant cult classic.
As a loose adaptation of stories in which Judge Dredd keeps the peace as Mega City One's most hardcore law enforcer, Dredd did its source material all kinds of justice. But according to the character's co-creator John Wagner, Urban's version of Dredd almost reenacted a narrative arc ripped right out of the comics by incorporating Dredd's classic archenemy: Judge Death, the undead lawman who believes all life is a crime.
Death To Judge Death
Dredd originally appeared in English comics magazine 2000 AD. During the magazine's 200th issue celebration, Screen Geek chatted with prominent Judge Dredd writer John Wagner about what went on behind the scenes of Dredd. Wagner casually mentioned how fans of the character would love to see Judge Death in live-action form, which then led him to reveal how Judge Death was actually involved in the original plans for the Dredd reboot.
Wanger: I mean – everyone wants to see Judge Death, don’t they?... I wouldn’t mind seeing that. That was actually the first script that Alex Garland did was a Judge Death script but Fox, who they were dealing with at the time, turned it down. They wanted more nuts and bolts before they went into the [metaphysical].
Fox's concerns about introducing Dredd in a straightforward manner before adding any of the comics' signature social commentary may sound condescending, but the decision made sense. At the time, audiences were only familiar with the character of Judge Dredd thanks to Sylvester Stallone's questionable '90s adaptation -- and many wouldn't even know that film.
The goal of the Dredd reboot was to re-introduce the character and subsequently use its narrative as the stepping stones leading up to the source material's grander themes, and Dredd succeeded in accomplishing the former.
Judge Death And The Dark Judges
Judge Death is, in a sense, Judge Dredd's dark reflection. Death comes from an alternate dimension and leads a trio of Dark Judges (Judge Fear, Judge Fire, and Judge Mortis) in their self-imposed mission to eradicate all life. For Judge Death and his compatriots, all life is a crime punishable by death and therefore should be exterminated.
Introducing the character in Dredd may have would have garnered fan approval but the reboot would have jumped the gun. For character as important as Judge Death, saving he and his fellow Dark Judges for later was the better option. This was all but confirmed by scriptwriter Alex Garland, whose plans for a supposed Dredd trilogy would have been followed by an origin story for Mega City One before culminating with the cinematic version of the Dark Judges.
Garland: If they want to make sequels, I've got a story that goes from this one into the origins of Dredd and the city. Then the third one would have a strange, existential attack from the Dark Judges.
Judge Death does appear in the spin-off animated series Judge Dredd: Superfiend, where he's given a different origin story. All six episodes can be viewed online.
The Lawman's Future
Despite its weak box office performance, Dredd scored the trifecta of critical acclaim, fan adoration and a strong cult following. Some still hold on to the hope that Dredd could return to the big screen, even if all signs suggest otherwise.
Dredd star Karl Urban has confirmed that while there are plans and talks for a Dredd sequel film or TV series, any concrete plans for the character's live-action future have yet to be greenlit. Dredd's success in multiple post-theatrical formats helps arguments in favor of a sequel, but it's not enough to convince potential financiers and studios.
The hope for more Dredd is still alive and well despite the odds, and the mere mention of the scrapped live-action version of Judge Death is more than enough to excite fans even more. This has gotten to the point where fans launched an online petition for a Dredd series in the vein of Netflix's Daredevil and Jessica Jones, where fans hope that their voices will convince any major studio to take a gamble on more Judge Dredd projects.
There may currently be no word on any Judge Dredd related projects, but that's not to say that it's impossible. Due to the superhero movie craze, almost anything that once saw life as a comic book is now being tapped for the live-action treatment. There's a lot of potential stories and characters to choose from but if there's one name that deserves even more cinematic screen time, it's Judge Dredd.
Do you want to see Judge Death appear in a future Judge Dredd project?