Bad Superhero Movie Showdown 1995: Batman Forever vs. Judge Dredd

Welcome to the Agony Booth’s first ever Bad Superhero Movie Showdown, in which we compare two justifiably reviled superhero movies to definitively answer the question of which one fails the most.

In 1992, director Tim Burton delivered Batman Returns to the world. But the Black Vomit-spewing Danny DeVito toy didn’t sell a lot of Happy Meals, so Warner Bros. began looking for a replacement. In 1995, they decided on Joel Schumacher, who would go on to create two movies that aren’t just considered bad in the grand scheme of superhero movies, but considered bad in the grand scheme of all things. As in, plague, famine, and Batman Forever.

In the same year, we got Judge Dredd, which featured Sylvester Stallone, Rob Schneider, and a wide variety of shoulder pads. While it would be great to look back at Judge Dredd and find an unsung classic of the 90s, that’s just not the case. Judge Dredd is a screaming, bumbling ode to a comic book character that no one making the film quite understood. But is it worse than the wretched neon afterbirth that Batman Forever? That’s what we’re about to find out.

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Round 1: Worse Hero

Between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, Stallone entered an era that can best be described as “uneven.” At his best, he exuded the feeling of an aging bad-ass, muscling his way through a world that was more about computers than fist fights. At his worst, he had all the range of that football-playing kid that gets roped into high school theater because not enough dudes tried out for Much Ado About Nothing: shouting, grumbling and delivering lines as if he’s still trying to work through in his head what exactly he’s saying. In Judge Dredd, he stares menacingly a lot and every sentence sounds like an alligator mating call. It’s okay though.

Stallone just realized his agent lied about this being a Demolition Man sequel.

With Batman Forever, goofy, lonely, intense Michael Keaton was replaced by Val “if I do more than two facial expressions, I’ll rupture my skull” Kilmer. There’s never been a more boring Batman or Bruce Wayne than Kilmer. He enters every scene like he’s surprised to find out he’s in a movie, and he never musters anything more than amused indifference to any conflict or plot turn.

Batman’s failed audition for Dancing With the Stars would make him the butt of many jokes around the Justice League HQ.

Loser: Kilmer.

I would watch Stallone do multisyllabic grunts forever as long as I never had to sit through Kilmer’s aimless Dark Knight again.

Round 2: Worse Sidekick

Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd is the ’90s comedy sidekick ideal. He doesn’t deliver jokes as much as he just complains about any situation that he’s in. There’s nothing witty or sympathetic about this character. He’s just here to whine about being Rob Schneider in the apocalypse.

“Is this for teasing you about not knowing how to use the shells?”

Chris O’Donnell shouldn’t be blamed for Robin’s shortcomings in Batman Forever. The people behind that movie desperately wanted to shove Robin into it in any way possible, without first asking, “Hey, what is a Robin, anyway?”


Loser: Schneider.

At least O’Donnell adds to the plot. Schneider exists in Judge Dredd to remind you that Rob Schnieder was a thing in 1995. You’d achieve the same effect by pausing Judge Dredd every four minutes to watch a 90-second clip from The Benchwarmers.

Round 3: Worse Villain

People get on Jack Nicholson for playing Jack Nicholson when he should’ve been playing the Joker in the first Batman, but that complaint is hogwash. Especially when you look at Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Jim Carrey turns up his ’90s Jim Carrey-ness 150% in Batman Forever, vomiting catchphrases from every orifice and collapsing in a puddle of his own charisma by the end. Tommy Lee Jones tries to keep up, but never leaves the range of “middle-aged man that just now wants to get into skateboarding.”

Alas, if only we could have seen what Billy Dee would have done in the role.

Armand Assante plays Rico Dredd like most people did most things in Judge Dredd: with no clue about what he’s supposed to be doing. Luckily, he never seems embarrassed about the role and hams it up whenever possible. He also says “law” like everyone should say “law.”

Loser: Jim Carrey, by a mile.

Just watch The Cable Guy instead.

Round 4: Worse World

Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One kind of reminds me of a less inspired version of Anton Furst’s design work on Batman. It’s nothing memorable, but at least it doesn’t grate on you.

It wouldn’t be the apocalypse without something terrible happening to the Statue of Liberty

Speaking of grating, the lack of cohesion in Batman Forever’s Gotham City is stunning. Neon signs and buildings clash with grim alleyways. I don’t know what Gotham’s city planning committee was going for, but it seems like someone said, “Glow stick juice and bricks,” and the everyone else applauded for ten hours.

What the hell, Batman Forever? You’re not even set in the apocalypse. Or New York.

Loser: Batman Forever.

The design drains atmosphere from the film, leaving you with nothing but a jarring, messy interpretation of Gotham. And every other part of the movie follows suit.

Definitive Answer:

Batman Forever.

Judge Dredd is the perfect representation of a “I caught it at 11 AM on TNT one Sunday morning” movie. Batman Forever kind of sticks with you. I can be in the middle of a work meeting or picking up stuff at the grocery store, and I’ll suddenly remember “Man, Batman Forever is kind of bad, isn’t it?” I’ll never forgive it for that.

Tag: Bad Superhero Movie Showdown

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  • Rocketboy1313

    I like both of these movies in the same way I like “Flash Gordon”, over the top and goofy.

    Only 1 category in which I disagree: Worse Villain
    Jim Carry does Frank Gorshin, and he does it well. If they were shooting for the manic Riddler than they won.
    Tommy Lee Jones is playing Cesar Romero’s Joker, when he should be playing Two Face. So if you are going to say anyone is the “loser” it should be Jones. Even though I still can’t tell you the bad guy’s name from “Judge Dredd” and I just read it… So that should probably equal a loss.

    • Mike Yamiolkoski

      I think that if we had never seen Jim Carrey before, his performance as the Riddler would have been called brilliant. Alas, we HAD seen it before, and we’ve seen it many times since. But one thing you can say about it: they hired Jim Carrey to be Jim Carrey, and by God, Jim Carrey delivered.

      Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand… you’re exactly right, he was totally channeling Cesar Romero, right down to the giggle. The Riddler has always been a rather silly sort of villain, but Two-Face was NEVER played for laughs, even during what could accurately be called Batman’s “Ridiculous Era.” It was a terribly mediocre acting job from someone who we KNOW is capable of much better. Furthermore, it was such a wasted opportunity; it would have been a much more interesting dynamic to see the manic Riddler playing against a dangerously angry Two-Face.

      And I hate to be this way, but… they really needed to cast someone prettier in the first place. Harvey Dent is supposed to be the kind of handsome that Michelangelo carves on a good day, which is part of what makes his disfigurement so shocking (in many versions, it’s that all by itself which drives him to madness and a life of crime). Tommy Lee Jones has the sort of face that you see on an old western sheriff: tough, sun-wrinkled, and leathery. It’s a face you could strike a match on. Honestly, if they hadn’t made the scars bright fuchsia pink, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell which side had been hit by the acid.

  • Wizkamridr

    Superman 3 vs Superman 4

    • Thomas Stockel

      Ah, before you yourself decide, take a look at Rick Bush’s video regarding his spirited and well reasoned defense of Superman III:

      As someone who hates that film with a passion, he almost convinced me.

      • Wizkamridr

        Superman 3 is a guilty pleasure of mine. As a kid I hated it because Pryor overshadowed Reeve, but now it doesn’t bother me as much. I like the fact that Lana treats Clark with respect, and likes him, unlike Lois. I’ve never liked Lois. Superman 3 could have been a good movie.

  • eloli

    The setting was the only thing Judge Dredd got right, and that’s what rubbed me the wrong way from Dredd: as much as this latter version was closer to the comic and Karl Urban’s take on the character is flawless, the city looked way too much like any present day city.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I have to respectfully disagree. I think that the producers of Dredd looked at Stallone’s film and saw visually and stylistically it was a lot like the comice; look at Sly’s shoulder pads. Instead they went for grim and gritty and you see that from Dredd’s uniform to his motorcycle to the setting. MC1 is supposed to look run down, like a world on it’s last legs, whereas the comic was more of a satire and so things were deliberately exaggerated, from the violence to the bikes to the uniforms.

      • eloli

        Yup, the comic’s original setting was basically a very exaggerated late 70s, early 80s London with a lot of flying cars and floating robots, Judge Dredd got that visually right, it was like seeing panels from the old comics come to life. True, the story sucked, and they got the character all wrong, I mean, Judge Dredd was the embodiment of a thinly disguised dystopian government, not some typical 80s, 90s honest cop, but at the same time, I think the grim and gritty look for the 2012 movie was wrong too, let’s not forget that satire and certain lightheartedness have always been key ingredients in the comic series, as important as social commentary, nihilism and carnage.

        • Thomas Stockel

          Valid points. I suppose the producers wanted to divorce themselves from Stallone’s movie as much as possible, hence the swinging of the tone needle all the way to grim and gritty.

          • joeybot

            The problem with Stallone’s Dredd is it swings too wildly into stupid comedy all the time. Yeah, they use some of the characters from the comics, but they ruin them every single time. Comics Rico was actually pretty cool. But they went for the big budget 90s aesthetic where everything has to be “comedy” and the hero must say a catchphrase before killing every person, and Schnider ruins ever scene he’s in. RoboCop is the perfect version of Dredd…hilariously funny, but wasn’t just stupid comedy…could be serious when it needed to, was violent. Stallone’s Dredd was like every other big movie in the 90s, ruined by constant cheese where you can tell no one is taking the material seriously at all…which doesn’t mean the movie has to BE serious, but it’s like they’re afraid to commit to a real tone that’s not aimed right at teenage mall kids.

        • Thomas Stockel

          As an addendum I was talking to a co-worker who owns just about every single Judge Dredd trade paperback. He said Stallone’s film actually borrows heavily from storylines and characters that appeared in several volumes. So maybe except for Rob Shneider and Sly not wearing the helmet all the time the film is pretty faithful to the source material. I didn’t know that.

          • eloli

            That’s correct, the script borrows heavily from two story arcs, The Return of Rico and The Day the Law Died, it also takes elements from Block Mania and the Angel family stories. Rob Schneider’s character’s just an amalgamation of a series of annoying, low level scoundrels that acted as Dredd’s informants or very low level antagonists, mainly on individual short stories. The main problem is Dredd’s character, it has nothing to do with the comics, and that’s what ruins the movie completely. In hindsight, some of the decisions taken by the production company make a lot of sense. By the films production, Sly wasn’t the box office juggernaut he was back in the 80s and had a couple of failures under his belt, but he was still an expensive actor with a high marquee value, it simply didn’t make any sense not showing his face, or being the larger than life, unfeeling embodiment of dystopian order. Thing is, the source material was way too dark for mid 90s audiences, who also didn’t buy the “dark 70s british sci fi comic heavily filtered through a generic late 80s hollywood action flick” the movie ended up delivering. The 2012, IMO, went too far in the opposite direction, trying to make a really dark, yet standard early 2010s comic big hero flick, using a story template (Dredd fights baddies that are pushing a drug that makes people crazy) that was used way too many times. True, this aesthetic sensibility was way more compatible with the source material, but it also failed to capture the comic’s thunder, or magic. Sorry for the rampant fanboyism here, but Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, or well, the whole 2,000 AD alumni are the only comics I really care about.

  • Ian Kacprzak

    For another version of this you should do BVS VS. Batman and Robin.

  • joeybot

    I’d flip almost all of these. Kilmer’s a decent Batman, Stallone just tries to be campy and sucks. Kilmer is playing things right, he’s taking it seriously. Schneider BLOWS, but Chris O’Donnell is whiny but he’s supposed to be heroic too…that doesn’t work. I think Assante does a great job as always, but Carrey as the Riddler is pretty damn good. There’s maybe three moments they should have cut where it got way too big, but he has some suitable menace in some scenes too. Jones is the one who ruins things, he needs to be the scary one, but he’s trying to be hammy and ruins everything.

  • Thanos6

    Unpopular opinion time:

    Batman Forever is my personal favorite Batman movie. Ever. Just barely edging out Batman ’89 for me. I think it strikes just the right “campy fun” notes, without going into full self-parody like the Adam West series. (And that’s not to say I hate the Adam West series, it’s great fun, but it’s not always what I’m in the mood for)

    Also, funny story. A couple years back, some good friends of mine were visiting, and–I don’t remember exactly how–we ended up watching Batman Forever. One of them had never seen the movie before, and spent most of its runtime MSTing and mocking it.

    Then in the climax, the Riddler gives his speech: “Soon my little Box will be on countless TVs around the world. Feeding me credit card numbers, bank codes, sexual fantasies, and little white lies. Into my head they’ll go. Victory is inevitable.”

    And my friend just went silent for a second, then said, “That’s–that’s actually a GREAT, intelligent, ahead-of-its-time villain plan! And it’s in THIS movie?!”