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Dune opens to $40 million at the US box office; strong enough for a sequel?

STILL from the film Dune

LOS ANGELES — Dune, an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, opened to $40.1 million at the North American box office. It’s a respectable start given the ongoing pandemic and the film’s unconventional theatrical debut. In addition to playing in 4,125 domestic theaters, Dune (like all Warner Bros. movies in 2021) premiered simultaneously on HBO Max, which might have taken a chunk out of overall ticket sales.

In a milestone for the studio, Dune landed the biggest three-day tally for Warner Bros. since the company began its day-and-date strategy on HBO Max. Godzilla vs. Kong, which scored a then-pandemic record $31 million in April, previously held that high-water mark. In the months in between, anticipated movies such as The Suicide Squad, the LeBron James sports comedy Space Jam: A New Legacy, and the musical adaptation of In the Heights failed to live up to box office expectations while being offered concurrently on HBO Max.

“I’m smiling,” Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein said on Sunday morning. “Exhibitors are thrilled. The best part is, fans are loving what they’re seeing. They’re loving the big-screen experience. It’s been a winner of a weekend for movie-lovers.”

Directed by Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival) and starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Josh Brolin, Dune is the first chapter in an expected two-part saga. Mr. Villeneuve and the cast of the movie have said they would like to make the follow-up to complete the story about warring political dynasties that clash over access to a vital planet. The question now: will ticket sales to start be enough to justify a sequel? Given the film’s hefty $165 million price tag, including the millions spent to market it as a cinematic event, it’s unclear if box office revenues alone will be enough to warrant a return to the desert land of Arrakis. In that case, Dune will have to perform very well on HBO Max to convince the studio it should inject another $165 million to complete the star-studded interplanetary tale. Legendary Pictures co-financed Dune in addition to producing and developing the movie.

In an interview with Variety this week, WarnerMedia chair Ann Sarnoff said plans for the sequel will be based on “the entirety of what Dune can do for the company, including HBO Max.” She 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.”

Avid fans of Mr. Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel sought out Dune on the biggest screen possible, with premium formats such as Imax, Dolby and 4DX accounting for 50% of domestic ticket sales. Imax alone contributed $9 million, representing 22.5% of the market share, marking the company’s largest opening weekend since the pandemic. — Reuters

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