The film was released on June 30, 1995. Upon release, the film was panned by critics and audiences for the lack of its script, originality, and faith to its source material, along with Stallone's excessive acting, but received praise for its visual style, effects, stunts and action sequences. The film is considered to be one of Stallone's worst films, grossing more than $113 million worldwide against budget of $90 million.
By the 2080s, much of Earth has become an uninhabitable wasteland. While some humans manage to survive in the barren "Cursed Earth", the majority of humanity resides in huge Mega-Cities with populations of tens of millions. To combat crime, the traditional justice system has been replaced by a corps of Judges whose role combines those of police officer, judge, jury, and executioner.
In Mega-City One, Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), one of the most dedicated "Street Judges", assists first-year Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) in ending a block war. Herman "Fergee" Ferguson (Rob Schneider), a hacker recently released from prison, is caught in the firefight and hides inside a food dispensing robot. Dredd arrests Herman for destruction of property, and sentences him to five years' imprisonment. Rico (Armand Assante), a former Judge, escapes from prison with the help of Judge Griffin (Jürgen Prochnow). He returns to Mega-City One and reclaims his uniform and "Lawgiver" gun. He also finds and reactivates a decommissioned ABC Warrior combat robot.
A news reporter (Mitchell Ryan) critical of Dredd is murdered, and he becomes the chief suspect. Dredd is taken to a trial before a tribunal of Council Judges including Griffin and Chief Justice Fargo (Max von Sydow), his mentor. Dredd is found guilty as his DNA is found on the bullets used to kill the reporter (a feature of the Lawgiver is imprinting the user's DNA on each bullet, a fact apparently unknown by most Judges). To save Dredd, Fargo steps down as Chief Justice and, for his last request, asks the Council to spare Dredd's life. Dredd is sentenced to life imprisonment while Fargo embarks on the "long walk", in which a retiring Judge ventures into the wasteland "to bring law to the lawless". Griffin, who freed Rico to frame Dredd for the murder, becomes Chief Justice and instructs Rico to cause chaos in the city.
Dredd is taken to the Aspen penal colony via airship, where he sits next to Herman. En route, the ship is shot down by the Angel Gang, a family of cannibalistic scavengers. They bring Dredd and Herman back to their cave. A squad of Judges investigate the crashed ship and get to the cave, intent on killing any survivors, not rescuing them. Fargo arrives in time to save Dredd's life, but is mortally wounded by Mean Machine Angel (Chris Adamson). A dying Fargo reveals that Dredd and Rico are the result of the Janus project, an experiment in genetic engineering intended to create the perfect Judge using DNA from Council Judges. Dredd deduces Rico framed him for the reporter's murder, using their identical DNA. Believing Griffin is trying to reactivate the Janus project, Fargo urges Dredd to stop him.
In Mega-City One, Rico terrorizes the city and assassinates Judges in various ways. Griffin uses the situation to convince the Council Judges to unlock the Janus files. He plans to create an army of Judges from his DNA. After the Council Judges unlock the file, Griffin has them killed. Dredd and Herman sneak back into the city and meet with Hershey, who had also discovered the Janus project by herself. They go to the Statue of Liberty where the Janus laboratories are. They encounter the ABC Warrior, which wounds Herman and captures Dredd and Hershey. Rico uses his own DNA as template for the Janus clones, then commands the ABC Warrior to kill Griffin. Herman, despite his wounds, disables the ABC Warrior as Dredd fights Rico, while Hershey fights his assistant, Dr. Ilsa Hayden (i.e. a stylish cat-fight,compared to the brutish mano-a-mano affair.) Rico activates his clones prematurely, but they fail to stop Dredd. Dredd pursues Rico to the top of the Statue of Liberty, and a final struggle sends Rico falling to his death.
Central, the city's controlling supercomputer, has recorded the entire event and broadcasts the information, clearing Dredd's name. The remaining Judges ask him to become the new Chief Justice, but Dredd refuses and remains a street judge.
James Earl Jones provides the narration to the film's opening text crawl. Bebe Neuwirth provides the voice of the Hall of Justice Central Computer. James Remar makes an uncredited appearance as the Block Warlord in the opening sequence.
Gianni Versace had submitted designs for Dredd's outfit, which were rejected.
Film composer David Arnold was originally set to score the film, having collaborated with director Danny Cannon on his previous film The Young Americans. Eventually, Arnold was replaced by film composing veteran Jerry Goldsmith, but as post-production dates fell further and further behind, Goldsmith was forced to drop out of the project as well, due to prior commitments to score other films (First Knight and Congo). Prior to leaving the project, Goldsmith composed and recorded a short piece of music that would eventually be used for the film's trailers and advertising campaigns. In the end, Alan Silvestri was selected as the new composer and would go on to score the final film. The end credits song for the film, "Dredd Song", was written and performed by the English alternative rock band The Cure. The song appears on disc three of their 2004 rarities box set Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978–2001 (The Fiction Years) as well as on the film's soundtrack album. The song "Judge Yr'self" by the Manic Street Preachers was originally going to be on the soundtrack. Their guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared in early 1995, and since the song was the last written with him in the band, it never made it to the final soundtrack listing. The song was not released until 2003, when the band released Lipstick Traces (A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers).
Prior to production, the producer Edward Pressman had the script rewritten by Walon Green, Rene Balcer, and Michael S. Chernuchin.
According to an interview with writer Steven E. de Souza, for the Den of Geek web site in December 2013, the original cut of Judge Dredd was rated NC-17, and had to be re-cut and submitted to the MPAA five times in order to get an R rating. This was before Stallone and the studio tried to cut the film even further to get a PG-13 rating. For example, the scene where Rico kills news reporter Hammond and his wife was originally longer, and showed them getting hit by bullets in slow-motion. The scene where the ABC Warrior robot kills Judge Griffin by ripping his arms and legs off while Griffin screams was also deleted for these reasons. This scene was not to be shown onscreen, but director Cannon wanted to make the film more and more violent (just like original comic was, which he was a fan of) despite the fact that studio and Stallone wanted a PG-13, with more focus on humour. Probably the most infamous deleted sequence is the one where Dredd fights and shoots clone Judges during the ending. This scene was deleted for unknown reasons, however, some promotional stills show parts of it, with clones waking up and Dredd shooting one of them. There was also a magazine article about this deleted sequence. Some of the other parts were cut out as well, by Stallone and the studio. Cannon was so disheartened over his constant creative disputes with Stallone that he swore he would never again work with another big-name actor. He also stated that the final version was completely different from the script, due to the changes Stallone demanded. In later interviews, Stallone said he felt the film was supposed to be an action comedy film, and demanded rewrites to make it even more comedic. The director and screenwriter, however, had intended a darker, more satirical approach, which led to many difficulties behind the scenes.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 18% based on reviews from 51 critics, with an average rating of 3.7/10; the site's critical consensus is "Judge Dredd wants to be both a legitimate violent action flick and a parody of one, but director Danny Cannon fails to find the necessary balance to make it work."
The film was considered to be a flop in the United States, as it grossed only $34.7 million in North American domestic box office receipts. It did better internationally, with over $78.8 million around the world, reaching a total of $113.5 million worldwide.
Judge Dredd earned a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Sylvester Stallone as Worst Actor.
Gene Siskel voted Judge Dredd one of the worst motion pictures of 1995 as part of his 'Worst of 1995' review on Siskel and Ebert.
Thirteen years after the release of Judge Dredd, Sylvester Stallone discussed his feelings about the movie in an issue of Uncut magazine in 2008:
I loved that property when I read it, because it took a genre that I love, what you could term the 'action morality film' and made it a bit more sophisticated. It had political overtones. It showed how if we don't curb the way we run our judicial system, the police may end up running our lives. It dealt with archaic governments; it dealt with cloning and all kinds of things that could happen in the future. It was also bigger than any film I've done in its physical stature and the way it was designed. All the people were dwarfed by the system and the architecture; it shows how insignificant human beings could be in the future. There's a lot of action in the movie and some great acting, too. It just wasn't balls to the wall. But I do look back on Judge Dredd as a real missed opportunity. It seemed that lots of fans had a problem with Dredd removing his helmet, because he never does in the comic books. But for me it is more about wasting such great potential there was in that idea; just think of all the opportunities there were to do interesting stuff with the Cursed Earth scenes. It didn't live up to what it could have been. It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous, and fun. What I learned out of that experience was that we shouldn't have tried to make it Hamlet; it's more Hamlet and Eggs.
He later elaborated:
From what I recall, the whole project was troubled from the beginning. The philosophy of the film was not set in stone – by that I mean “Is this going to be a serious drama or with comic overtones” like other science fiction films that were successful? So a lotta pieces just didn’t fit smoothly. It was sort of like a feathered fish. Some of the design work on it was fantastic and the sets were incredibly real, even standing two feet away, but there was just no communication. I knew we were in for a long shoot when, for no explainable reason Danny Cannon, who’s rather diminutive, jumped down from his director’s chair and yelled to everyone within earshot, “FEAR me! Everyone should FEAR me!” then jumped back up to his chair as if nothing happened. The British crew was taking bets on his life expectancy.
John Wagner, the creator of the comic character on which the film was based, said when interviewed by Empire in 2012: "the story had nothing to do with Judge Dredd, and Judge Dredd wasn’t really Judge Dredd even though Stallone was perfect for the part." He did however praise the production value and budget of the film.
In an interview with Total Film, he said that the film had "tried to do too much" and "told the wrong story".
Two novels and a graphic novel were based on the movie:Judge Dredd by Neal Barrett, Jr. (June 1995, 250 pages, St Martins, ISBN 0-312-95628-2)
Judge Dredd: The Junior Novelisation by Graham Marks (May 1995, 142 pages, Boxtree, ISBN 0-7522-0671-0)
Judge Dredd: Official Movie Adaptation by Andrew Helfer and Carlos Ezquerra (June 1995, 64 pages, DC Comics, ISBN 1-56389-245-6)
The trailer had specially composed music by Jerry Goldsmith, who had originally been attached to score the film; the film's music was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Initially recorded with the Sinfonia of London, following changes made to the film in post-production, Silvestri made extensive adjustments to the score that were recorded in Hollywood, although some of the music from the London sessions remains in the finished film.
The soundtrack album was released by Epic Records, featuring seven tracks from Silvestri's score (all performed by the Sinfonia of London, but most of which are not the versions used in the film) and songs by The Cure, The The, White Zombie, Cocteau Twins, Leftfield, and on the UK edition only Ryo Aska and Worldbeaters with Youssou N'Dour (only the first two songs are heard in the film over the end credits).
In 2015, Intrada Records issued a greatly-expanded two disc limited edition album, featuring all the music Silvestri recorded for the film. The album also includes Jerry Goldsmith's trailer music, conducted by the composer (a re-recording was previously released on the Varese Sarabande compilation Hollywood '95, conducted by Joel McNeely).