The sandworm is not a flop. Despite hitting HBO Max simultaneously with its release in traditional movie theaters, box office receipts for Dune: Part One are solid so far.
Earning $40 million over its opening weekend in the United States, Dune: Part One is already the most financially successful film in director Denis Villeneuve’s career. Outside of the limitations imposed by a pandemic and day-and-date streaming bow, Villeneuve’s last sci-fi property, Blade Runner 2049, made $31.5 million in its opening weekend back in 2017. At the time, it was considered a bomb.
But not Dune! Villeneuve’s adaptation of roughly half of the first book is soaring in a less-than-stable marketplace.
How much money did Dune really make? How is it doing on HBO Max — and most importantly — does that translate to Dune: Part Two actually getting made? Here’s what we know right now. Mild spoilers ahead for Dune: Part One.
Is Dune: Part One a financial success?
Dune: Part One is doing slightly better than expected at the box office, and not just in the US. When international earnings are added together with its domestic total, Dune has raked in $220 million globally as of this article’s publication.
In a pre-pandemic world, that wouldn’t be much to write home about for a blockbuster. But given that this is an adaptation of Dune directed by a filmmaker of Denis Villeneuve’s caliber, these results are a pretty big deal.
This science-fiction franchise has enjoyed a notoriously insular reputation for decades. But Villeneuve told Inverse he wanted to avoid making a movie for “hardcore” fans and instead wanted the movie to be accessible. The super-famous cast, led by Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, probably didn’t hurt either. Whatever the reason, Villeneuve’s alchemy seems to be paying off with mainstream audiences.
Most industry estimates ballpark Dune: Part One’s total budget at $165 million, which would mean that earnings of $200 million would pull the movie out of the red, barely. Still, some pundits, like Scott Mendelson at Forbes have pointed out this success is still a “successful disappointment” and that the opening box office results are good “for now” in the eyes of Legendary and Warner Bros.
Mendelson’s take is that Dune still needs legs next week to make enough money to be considered a true success. That said, HBO Max isn’t transparent about how it’s measuring the success of streaming titles. Even if Dune doesn’t dominate at the box office, it could still be good news for the sequel if HBO Max subscriptions are spiking.
Will Dune: Part Two get made?
At this point, Warner Bros has released only enthusiastic statements about the public response to Dune: Part One, and it seems likely we’re no longer dealing with an “if” scenario for the sequel.
Warner Bros. executive Ann Sarnoff seemed bullish about a sequel a few weeks ago, saying:
“Will we have a sequel to Dune? If you watch the movie you see how it ends. I think you pretty much know the answer to that.”
And now that the movie is out and doing okay, Sarnoff has added:
“The story in itself sets up for a sequel. The production is so amazing and the storytelling is so compelling that it's not going to be judged on box office alone.”
But here’s the rub: Denis Villeneuve hasn’t really shot any of Dune: Part Two. He also wants to make a trilogy of films out of two books. In addition to Dune: Part Two (which would finish the first book), the filmmaker has stated his intention to complete Paul’s story by following the (relatively shorter) novel Dune Messiah. A few weeks back, Villeneuve told Ash Crossan at Screenrant he thought Dune: Part Two will have a slightly different feeling than Part One, saying:
“The difference is just that Dune: Part One, of course, is like an introduction to a world where we explain who is who, who is doing what, and what is the technology? What is the culture here? The second movie, I think, will be an opportunity to have much more fun. In a way, it will be more cinematic. That's what I can say.”
When will Dune: Part Two hit theaters?
Still, when will the sequel come out? Assuming Warner Bros formally announces the sequel — which could happen in the coming days or weeks — how many years are we looking at here before a return trip to Arrakis?
Oddly enough, Dune: Part One was filmed relatively quickly, from March to July of 2019. The only reason it didn’t come out a year later, in 2020, was because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, let’s just say Dune: Part Two gets the green light before the end of 2021.
Villeneuve will need to work out scheduling with Javier Bardem, Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and everyone else. If all those folks can start filming in 2022, we could be looking at Dune: Part Two as early as summer 2023. And assuming everything goes okay with that movie, perhaps Dune Messiah could be shot back-to-back and come out in 2024 or 2025.
That’s a lot of “ifs.” But, now that the spice is actually flowing, Dune: Part Two isn’t impossible. These sand-riders just need to get lucky a few more times.
Dune: Part One is playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max for the next 31 days.