Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Will Only Be a Trilogy — But Is There Hope for More?
The spice may not be flowing for that much longer.
Dune director Denis Villeneuve has always had a clear vision for his sci-fi epic. And so far, it seems to be paying off. Villeneuve made the risky choice to split Frank Herbert’s first novel into two films, and the success of Dune: Part One — released in 2021 to critical and commercial acclaim — has effectively ensured that the spice will continue to flow. Herbert’s Dune books are a sprawling saga unto itself: The story of Paul Atreides and his family would be enough to populate dozens of films, and keep any filmmaker occupied for decades.
Despite his clear affinity for the Dune novels, however, Villeneuve definitely doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life churning out adaptations. As mentioned, the director has a plan for his fledgling franchise, and it seems to end with Dune Messiah.
“If I succeed in making a trilogy, that would be the dream,” Villeneuve told Empire in 2023. Two films are already in the can, with Dune: Part Two set to (finally) bow in March. The film will adapt the second half of Herbert’s first novel, leaving its sequel to tackle the second book in the series, Dune Messiah. Thankfully, Messiah is a much quicker read than its 900-page predecessor — but it drives home Herbert’s arguments against imperialism and hero worship. It’s Messiah that makes all that set-up in Dune worthwhile.
“Dune Messiah was written in reaction to the fact that people perceived Paul Atreides as a hero,” Villeneuve explained. “Which is not what [Herbert] wanted to do. My adaptation [of Dune] is closer to his idea that it’s actually a warning.”
Paul’s adventures do, of course, continue beyond Messiah, but the novel feels like an appropriate place to conclude his story. If Villeneuve does get the go-ahead for the sequel, he’d happily adapt Messiah, but will likely stop there. “After that the books become more… esoteric.”
“Esoteric” is a kinder description for all that goes down in the Dune sequels. Herbert’s later books get pretty darn weird: Leto Atreides II (Paul’s son) becomes the next protagonist, and like his dad, he’s essentially driven mad by notions of immortality and clairvoyance. Also, he somehow turns into a sandworm. The bulk of that is covered in Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, the latter of which is two books removed from Messiah.
It makes perfect sense for Villeneuve to end his odyssey with Messiah, as that book toes an ideal line between grounded geopolitical conflict and truly out-there science fiction. But will the Dune films actually end with Villeneuve?
Another director could just as easily pick up where he eventually leaves off, a director with an appetite for Herbert’s truly gonzo ideas. With the books pivoting to new characters, there won’t be much need for Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, or Florence Pugh in future films. It all depends on audiences’ appetite for more Arrakis-set stories, and, of course, the success of Dune: Part Two.
Dune: Part Two hits theaters on March 1.
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