Dredd Is About the Cyclical Nature of Punishment and Violence
This movie stands out a bit on this list because I've never actually met anyone who saw this and didn't enjoy it. But at the same time, no one really argues that it's smart -- it just seems like it's cool because it's a competent and understated action story. No overcomplicated plots, no flashy special effects, just extremely competent world building, slow-motion bullet wounds, Karl Urban, minigun fights, and Cersei Lannister biting a dude's dick off and becoming a drug lord.
Did I mention the minigun?
But most importantly for this article, it has the most thought provoking and intelligent depiction of the nature of crime that I can remember seeing in a movie.
The Secret Message
The good guys in this movie aren't actually the good guys. Right at the beginning, Dredd tells a rookie that the Hall of Justice only has the manpower to respond to 6 percent of crimes reported, meaning that the police has no more authority than the criminal organizations it's fighting against. He also causes every problem in the movie: An opening shootout with drug dealers happens because his appearance scares them so much that they panic, try to escape, and accidentally kill a pedestrian. Later, we learn that even totally innocent civilians hate the judges: A woman with a baby tells Dredd that she wants him as far away from her family as possible, because rather than providing protection, he just invites violence.
Meanwhile, the villain, Ma-Ma, is one of the more sympathetic characters we meet: She became a drug lord because her pimp tried to murder her, and fighting back was the only way to stay alive. Her biggest crime (in Dredd's eyes) is manufacturing "slo-mo," a chemical that "makes you feel like time is moving at 1 percent of normal speed." It's basically Bullet Time, the drug.
It's literally impossible to be a danger to society from your bubble bath.
I'm not saying that Dredd is the secret antagonist -- it's actually more complicated than that. Dredd wants peace, and order, and law, but the only way he knows how to solve problems is violence. Since he also has the biggest guns, that forces everyone else to resort to violence, too, and things have been this way for so long that no one character can turn it around. The best example is at the end, when Ma-Ma tells Dredd that she has rigged the apartment building with bombs, and if she dies, a device on her wrist will transmit a signal, blowing them all up. Dredd shoots her in the stomach and throws her off the balcony, hoping that the signal from the device won't be strong enough to make it through the concrete. He takes an irresponsibly huge gamble, putting all the innocent lives he fought to save in danger, based on no information, because he just doesn't know any way to solve problems other than "shoot at them until they go away."