March 2024 box office preview: ‘Dune: Part Two’ will rule, and other franchise sequels will keep theaters thriving

After two down months at the box office – not a single movie has opened with $30 million or more over a single three-day weekend since “Wonka” – March promises a number of sequels and franchises to try to pull the box office up by its boot straps. There are a lot of new movies this month that range from ultra-wide releases to more moderate independent films, but there’s definitely something for everyone … and not a single superhero movie in the bunch. Read on for Gold Derby’s March 2024 box office preview.

“Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros. – March 1)

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When Denis Villeneuve‘s “Dune” opened in October 2021, it was surrounded by uncertainty since the box office hadn’t fully recovered from the pandemic, so Warner Bros. decided to release it at the same time on its relatively new streamer, HBO Max. It ended up opening with a not-bad $41 million and ended up grossing $434.8 million worldwide; months later, it won six Oscars, all in below-the-line categories. Because of that, “Dune: Part Two,” once again starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and more, is one of the year’s most anticipated movies. The fact that the cast is joined by Oscar nominees Austin Butler from “Elvis” and Florence Pugh just adds more to get moviegoers super-excited, as do the terrific reviews saying it’s even better than the first movie. We’ll have much more about “Dune: Part Two” in our regular weekend preview on Wednesday, so we’ll leave this one there.

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire
Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire

“Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire” (Warner Bros. – March 29)

Opening on the far side of the month is another anticipated sequel from Warner Bros., this one following up another 2021 movie that tried to help theaters reopen post-COVID, but also ended up streaming on HBO Max simultaneous with its theatrical release. Even so, “Godzilla vs. Kong” opened with $32.2 million and made $100 million domestically (same as “Dune”) and $468 million worldwide. Director Adam Wingard is back as is some of the same cast, including Rebecca Hall, Bryan Tyree Henry and Kaylee Hottle, joined by Dan Stevens. As with most of these movies, this one is still more about the popular giant “titans” including Godzilla, who should get an even bigger bump thanks to the success of the recent Japanese film, “Godzilla Minus One.” Expect this one to open with $45 to $50 million or more, similar to 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” as it dominates over Easter weekend.

Kung Fu Panda 4
Kung Fu Panda 4

“Kung Fu Panda 4” (Universal – March 8)

Jack Black returns to voice the title character of Po in one of DreamWorks Animation’s longer-running franchises to date, the first installment having come out in 2008 and the previous three movies having grossed $1.8 billion worldwide. It’s been eight years since “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which had the lowest opening with $41.3 million before making $143.5 million domestically. The fourth installment has a big advantage in that there hasn’t been a mainstream family animated release since “Migration” before Christmas, allowing that movie to have immense legs over the last two months. That should help “Kung Fu Panda 4” open in a similar $38 to $45 million range as the previous movies, as it offers counter-programming to the 2nd weekend of “Dune: Part 2.”

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Sony – March 22)

This is actually the third sequel of the month that follows up on a movie released during the pandemic, as the Jason Reitman-directed “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” did well enough to spawn this sequel, directed by Reitman’s long-time collaborator, Gil Kenan. It brings back most of the cast from the last movie, including Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim and Carrie Coon, and introduces new characters played by Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt. Of course, some of the vets from the ‘80s movies also return, including Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd and Annie Potts. The movie was supposed to be released last fall, but got delayed due to the limitations of the actors strike, and as with “Godzilla X Kong,” this franchise has a name-brand value that can get a wide-range of audiences into theaters, if only for the nostalgia of the comedy inherent in the premise. Expect this one to open in the $35 to $40 million range, which would definitely help boost the box office after two down months.

SEE 2023 box office hits: Every movie that made more than $100 million

“Imaginary” (Lionsgate – March 8)

The highest-profile straight-up horror film of the month is this high-concept film from Blumhouse, directed by Jeff Wadlow (“Truth or Dare,” “Fantasy Island”). It stars DeWanda Wise (“Jurassic World Dominion”) as a woman who returns to her childhood home to learn that her imaginary friend from childhood is angry about being abandoned by her. Even though this looks pretty scary, it has a similar PG-13 rating as the 2003 hit “M3GAN,” which could help it bring in a younger audience in the tough second weekend of “Dune: Part 2,” maybe even helping it open with $13 to 15 million or more.

“Arthur the King” (Lionsgate – March 15)

Mark Wahlberg, Nathaniel Emmanuel and Simu Liu star in this true-life inspirational drama, Wahlberg playing Mikael Lindnord, an “adventure racer” on his last big race in the Dominican Republican, where his team encounters a stray dog they name “Arthur,” who ends up following them on their journey. Although this is PG-13 vs. the PG rating of many family-friendly dog movies, this could find an audience due to its lovable canine star, though it’s doubtful it can do anywhere close to the success of Channing Tatum‘s “Dog” from 2022. At least opening in a slower weekend in the month might help it bring in $8 to $10 million that weekend.

“Cabrini” (Angel Studios – March 8)

Italian actress Cristiana Dell’Anna (“Gomorrah”) plays the film’s title character, the first woman to ever achieve sainthood for building orphanages and hospitals for New York’s immigrants in this inspirational biopic directed by Alejandro Monteverde, the filmmaker behind the monster 2023 hit, “Sound of Freedom.” With its proximity to Easter, this faith-based film will likely appeal to the country’s Catholic contingency, who may be familiar with Mother Cabrini’s legacy, but it’s hard to imagine it will find much of an audience outside that. It’s looking at possibly making $10 million or less its opening weekend, but it should have decent legs through the month.

“Love Lies Bleeding” (A24 – March 8 limited, March 22 wide)

Filmmaker Rose Glass‘ follow-up to 2020’s “Saint Maud” stars Kristen Stewart as Lou, a gym manager who falls for a bodybuilding vagrant, played by Katy O’Brian (“The Mandalorian”), their romance getting sidelined when Lou’s sister (Jena Malone) is beaten so bad by her husband (Dave Franco), the lovers feel they need to do something about him. The thriller also stars Ed Harris in a terrific antagonist role as Lou’s gun-toting father. With Stewart’s popularity and the raves this received out of Sundance, this could offer some interesting counter-programming for the month.

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” (Samuel Goldwyn Films – March 29)

Liam Neeson stars in yet another crime action-thriller, this one from Oscar-nominated film producer Robert Lorenz (“American Sniper”), taking place in an Irish village where a damaged father has to fight for redemption from his sins. The movie also stars Oscar nominee Kerry Condon from “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and two of the most ubiquitous Irish actors, Ciaran Hinds and Colm Meaney. It’s supposed to get a wide release over Easter weekend, but it might have trouble making much of a mark against Godzilla.

SEE Grab the popcorn and sound off in our movie forums

“One Life” (Bleecker Street – March 15)

Sir Anthony Hopkins stars in James Howes‘ drama, playing Sir Nicholas Winston, a London broker who in the months leading up to WWII saved 600 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Johnny Flynn (“Les Miserables”) plays the younger Winston, and the film also stars Helena Bonham Carter and Lena Olin. The film was well-received when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year, but I’m not expecting much from it, box office-wise.

“Problemista” (A24 – March 1 limited, March 22 wide)

Julio Torres wrote, directed and stars in this comedy, playing Alejandro, an El Salvador immigrant in New York City trying to get sponsored for a work visa. His “savior” (of sorts) comes in the form of Tilda Swinton‘s art critic Elizabeth, an out-of-control nightmare of a boss. This one is likely to do decently in its three weeks in limited release, but not sure it can make much of a mark nationwide.

“Luca” (Disney/Pixar Animation – March 22)

Disney will give a Pixar movie that was released straight to Disney+ its first nationwide theatrical release. Considering how poorly “Soul” and “Turning Red” did – I mean, they were available to stream literally for years! – it’ll be shocking if this does much better, especially with much stronger theatrical release this month.

Two other movies currently designated for limited release this month that could end up going wider are two movies that debuted at festivals.

“The American Society of Magical Negroes” (Focus Features – March 15)

Another Sundance premiere, Kobi Libil‘s directorial debut stars Justice Smith (“Jurassic World: Dominion”) as Aren, a young artist having trouble making ends meet until he encounters David Alan Grier, who wants to recruit Aren into a mysterious secret group of the film’s title. Their entire existence is to help white people feel less distressed by being around black people, and it’s sharp and wry social satire in the vein of Cord Jefferson‘s Oscar-nominated “American Fiction.”

“Immaculate” (NEON – March 22)

Sydney Sweeney stars in Michael Mohan‘s horror film, which will have its debut at the SXSW Film and TV Festival this month before its theatrical release. In it, she plays the devoutly faithful Cecilia, who is offered a role at an illustrious Italian convent only to learn of the horrors the place houses. This is scheduled to get a limited release on a weekend where it could act as counter-programming to “Ghostbusters.”

And then we have a couple of limited releases worth looking into, some of these also having potential to be released moderately wide.

“Accidental Texan” (Roadside Attractions – March 8)

Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) and Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”) star in Mark Lambert Bristol‘s dramedy about Erwin (Rudy Pankow from “Outer Banks”), a young man stranded in Texas who is taken under the wings of a bankrupt oil driller (Church).

“American Dreamer” (Vertical – March 8)

Peter Dinklage and Shirley MacLaine star in this film written by Ted Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) which premiered at Tribeca last year as two people who end up in each other’s circle by accident.

“Knox Goes Away” (Saban Films – March 15)

Michael Keaton directs and stars in this drama, which also premiered at TIFF last September, in which he plays an assassin who has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.

“Sleeping Dogs” (The Avenue – March 22)

Russell Crowe stars in this crime-thriller, co-starring Karen Gillan (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Crowe playing an ex-homicide detective with memory loss trying to solve a brutal murder while trying to avoid secrets from his own past. (There’s a good chance The Avenue might try to release this wider ala this past month’s “Land of Bad.”)

“Wicked Little Letters” (Sony Classics – March 29)

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley – both Oscar-nominated for playing the same character “The Lost Daughter” in 2022 – reunite (sort of) for Thea (“Me Before You”) Sharrock‘s crime-comedy about a small British town that begins receiving letters full of profanities, with Irish migrant Rose (Buckley) being blamed.

“La chimera” (NEON – March 29)

This new Italian adventure-comedy from Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”), starring Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”) and Isabella Rossellini, centers around a group of archeological thieves and O’Connor’s Arthur who wants to find the woman he lost.

“DogMan” (Briarcliff – March 29; expands on April 5)

French filmmaker Luc Besson returns with this crime-drama starring Caleb Landry Jones (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) as a trouble man who finds salvation through the love for his dogs.

That’s it for this month, and you can read more about all the above movies in the weekend preview every Wednesday.

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