By Rebecca Rubin
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “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. 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 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.
Also new to theaters this weekend, Disney’s animated adventure “Ron’s Gone Wrong” tanked with $7.3 million from 3,560 cinemas in North America. The family movie, centering on socially awkward middle schooler Barney and his malfunctioning robot friend (Zach Galifianakis), has been well received by audiences (it has an “A” CinemaScore), which could be a promising sign for its theatrical run. Despite playing only in theaters, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” placed fifth on box office charts behind holdover titles “Halloween Kills,” James Bond entry “No Time to Die” and comic book adaptation “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.”
In a distant second place, Universal’s slasher sequel “Halloween Kill” collected $14 million in its second weekend in theaters, plummeting 71% from its opening. It has generated $73 million in North America to date, a win for the $20 million-budgeted horror film. Already, the studio has announced that franchise star Jamie Lee Curtis will return for the follow-up “Halloween Ends,” scheduled for Oct. 14, 2022.
MGM’s “No Time to Die” landed at No. 3 with $11.8 million, boosting its domestic total to $120 million. Sony’s “Venom” sequel secured forth place, bringing in $9.1 million between Friday and Sunday. After four weeks, the anti-hero adventure, starring Tom Hardy, has made $181 million.