‘Dune: Part Two’ Is Set to Become Denis Villeneuve’s Biggest Box Office Hit

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After more than a month of poor box office numbers, a drought-busting March has finally arrived for theaters, starting with Denis Villeneuve’s critically praised and highly anticipated “Dune: Part Two.”

In October 2021, amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 box office recovery period, “Dune: Part One” earned an opening weekend of $41 million. Now, “Part Two” is expected to do even better, with distributor Warner Bros. conservatively projecting $65 million while rival distributors predict an opening of $75 million or higher.

It’s a remarkable achievement for Warner Bros., production partner Legendary, and especially for Denis Villeneuve. A classic sci-fi novel notorious for being extremely difficult to adapt as a movie is set to become the biggest box office success for a filmmaker whose critical acclaim hadn’t translated into mass audience success the way it has for the likes of Christopher Nolan or Jordan Peele.

The unadaptable novel

“Dune,” written by Frank Herbert and first published in 1965, was a novel that some of the most famous directors who have ever lived struggled to wrangle onto the big screen. Arthur P. Jacobs of “Planet of the Apes” fame tried to make a film out of it, as did Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott. All failed.

Then, in 1984, David Lynch finally released an adaptation of “Dune” that, while becoming a cult favorite in some circles, was a critical and commercial bomb at the time that even Lynch disowned it.

Villeneuve, meanwhile, went from a hot name on the Canadian indie film scene to a star genre filmmaker thanks to acclaimed films like “Sicario,” “Arrival,” and “Blade Runner 2049.” The first two were modest box office hits, but “2049,” a Warner-distributed title, shared the same disappointing fate as the first “Blade Runner” with $259 million grossed against a $150 million budget.

But “2049” solidified the relationship between Villeneuve and Warner Bros. that they first forged on his well-received 2013 thriller “Prisoners,” and with Legendary holding the film rights to “Dune,” Villeneuve got the opportunity to adapt one of his favorite novels as a two-part cinematic epic. At a time when theaters were still emerging from the pandemic and the box office looked precarious, it wasn’t clear whether audiences who had never heard phrases like “Bene Gesserit” and “Kwisatz Haderach” would give “Dune: Part One” a shot.

Arrakis hits the big screen

It turns out they did. Lured by a stacked cast led by Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya and featuring stars like DC alum Jason Momoa, “Dune: Part One” successfully sold itself as a big screen event and grossed $108 million domestic and $433 million worldwide in 2021, a new career record for Villeneuve.

That’s especially impressive considering that “Dune,” like all of WB’s 2021 films, was released simultaneously on HBO Max to reach moviegoers still uncomfortable with returning to theaters due to COVID-19.

And while the box office still hasn’t fully returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, audiences have more than shown that they will turn out to a quality blockbuster, raising hopes that “Dune: Part Two” can outperform its predecessor not just on opening weekend but throughout its theatrical run.

Those hopes have gotten even stronger after the incredibly strong reception “Part Two” has received from critics, earning a spectacular 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 83% for “Part One.” Meanwhile, Fandango reports that presales for “Part Two” are outpacing those of “Part One.”

That’s not the only advantage “Dune” enjoys. With Chalamet riding high off the holiday success of “Wonka” and Zendaya enjoying huge popularity among the 18-35 crowd for her work on “Euphoria” and the MCU “Spider-Man” films, the two leads are key to drawing in audiences unfamiliar with “Dune.”

Any Zendaya fans disappointed that the actress’ screentime was limited in “Part One” will get all they can handle in “Part Two,” as Chani becomes the emotional core of the story watching Paul rise into a religious figure among the Fremen thanks to his mother’s manipulation.

Dune Part Two
Legendary/Warner Bros.

Chalamet, meanwhile, is the centerpiece of many of the film’s numerous and intense action set pieces as all the setup of “Part One” pays off. With an ensemble cast taking part in the sort of blockbuster spectacle that hasn’t been seen in theaters in a couple of months, “Dune: Part Two” will try to draw in a diverse audience with various selling points that can sustain grosses even against competition like Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (arriving March 22) and fellow WB/Legendary release “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (arriving March 29) later this month.

Getting caught up

Beyond opening weekend, the big question is whether Warner Bros. will be able to expand the audience for “Dune” beyond those who saw “Part One” in theaters.

Last year, we saw a successful attempt to expand a series’ audience with Sony’s animated sequel “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which grossed $690 million worldwide after its 2019 predecessor, “Into the Spider-Verse,” grossed $384 million. In the intervening years, strong word-of-mouth led to new viewers who missed that first installment in theaters discovering it on Netflix, building theatrical interest for the sequel.

Warner Bros. has put in the work to do the same with “Dune,” re-releasing “Part One” on Imax earlier this month and licensing the film out to stream on Netflix so that moviegoers looking to get caught up could do so even if they aren’t subscribed to the studio’s own service, Max.

And watching “Part One” is key for “Part Two” — the sequel picks up moments after “Part One” left off and is very much a continuation of the same story.

Drought buster

After a rough winter that was lifted only somewhat by hits like “Wonka,” movie theaters seriously need “Dune: Part Two” to be the start of renewed, consistent turnout from audiences. Ironically, the film is in this release slot because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, with Warner Bros. and Legendary agreeing to push the movie from its initial November 2023 release date in the hopes that the strike would end and allow the film’s starry cast to promote it.

Indeed, Chalamet, Zendaya, Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson and Anya Taylor-Joy have hit the red carpet circuit hard, so Warner Bros.’s decision to delay the film to allow cast participation looks to have paid off.

Now, the sequel can take advantage of the long tentpole drought and stand tall as the biggest event release in theaters over the next week. From there, the best case scenario for exhibitors is that strong, sustained turnout for the other sequels hitting theaters this month, along with support from “Bob Marley: One Love” as a feel-good alternative to all the flash and bang, can build momentum for a spring and early summer moviegoing period that won’t have the usual momentum from a Marvel movie to boost the market.

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