This past Saturday night, Cinepocalypse played host to a very special 25th-anniversary screening of Judgment Night, directed by Elm Street 5 and Predator 2‘s Stephen Hopkins.
The 1993 masterpiece, about four friends who get lost in the streets of Chicago on their way to a boxing match, boasted one of cinemas best ensembles: Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jeremy Piven, and Stephen Dorff, with Denis Leary making his feature debut as the film’s antagonist. This could have been extraordinarily different, Hopkins revealed to the audience during the film’s Q+A:
“[This was] Denis’ first film and actually before we cast Denis it was almost Kevin Spacey in that role,” said Hopkins, resulting in audible gasps from the audience. “I met him on Broadway, and he was so creepy and wonderful,” he added, which caused the theatre to erupt into laughter. He further explained that Leary was older when he finally became famous and had “lived an entire life” before his newfound fame. “In the end, Denis just had this anger.”
Gesturing to the recent allegations against Spacey, Hopkins also reminisced Piven’s performance: “I decided to watch the first bit of it again…I forgot how great Jeremy Piven is. He’s so unlikeable,” he recalls before sending the audience into cheers with the adding of, “When he’s thrown off that fucking roof…”
But that wasn’t the only bombshell revealed by Hopkins all of these years later. The director shared that they had originally wanted John Travolta for the lead role.
“Emilio is someone I knew for a while – it was almost John Travolta in that role, but no one thought [the audience would] go and see a John Travolta film. This was before Pulp [Fiction],” he clarifies.
“When he was younger, he did these edgy movies,” Hopkins added when someone joked that this film followed Mighty Ducks. “His father was an edgy, interesting actor. The great thing about Emilio is he’s a very smart guy and a really strong, real person. Emilio is a badass. He’s a really, really tough bloke in real life.”
Thankfully, fate found a way to bring together this perfect cast and has left us with one of the most underappreciated, yet exemplary thrillers in film history.