Box Office: ‘Dune’ Passes $300 Million Worldwide
Warner Bros. is reporting that WB and Legendary’s Dune has officially crossed $300 million at the worldwide box office. That includes $71 million in 11 days of domestic grosses and over $228 million in overseas earnings from its month of play. The Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi epic, part one of Frank Herbert’s 500-page 1965 novel, began its overseas roll-out in early October, which is when the film was supposed to open worldwide prior to being moved away from No Time to Die. It was also trying to avoid Hotel Transylvania: Transformania before the Sony sequel was sold to Amazon for $200 million. However, the choice to let it slowly roll out overseas first turned out to be a smart play, allowing the mostly positive reviews and decent foreign box office to shape the narrative heading into its release in both North America and China.
We can debate whether an under-$100 million domestic cume and under-$40 million Chinese cume is “good” for the $165 million movie, but the narrative of success was formed before the film opened here and there. Once the film slightly overperformed Covid-era projections with a $41 million domestic debut, a sequel was green-lit and now Dune part Two is opening October 20, 2023. A non-Marvel/DC flick passing $300 million worldwide, with comparatively little help from China no less, is always a net-positive. That it’s a mostly “new to you” adaptation (mainstream success was always going to depend on those who didn’t know about or care about Dune to show up) is even better news for a theatrical industry now cornered by a demand for nostalgic franchise revivals. Dune may not be the next Lord of the Rings, but at this point I’ll settle for the next Divergent.
History shows (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II, Avengers: Endgame, etc.) that if audiences show up to a “part one of two” and like the movie, they A) won’t feel cheated about ending on a cliffhanger and B) will show up in greater numbers for the next installment. Sure, At World’s End earned less than Dead Man’s Chest, but $964 million in 2007 versus $1.066 billion in 2006 isn’t exactly a tragedy (both films topped their respective years at the global box office. Right or wrong (and I say “Wrong, because they are great dammit!”), the overall word-of-mouth isn’t anywhere near as grim as The Matrix Reloaded ($742 million) which led to The Matrix Revolutions dive-bombing six months later to $428 million. Projections for Matrix Resurrections aside, two years between Dune movies is not quite six-months between Matrix sequels.
Moreover, the decent (on a Covid curve, even if we’re still talking about domestic numbers on par with, at best, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and likely global numbers on par with The Golden Compass on a similar budget to both) global grosses for Dune gives Warner Bros.’ narrative a shot in the arm. For as much grief as they’ve received, justified or not, for putting their 2021 slate on HBO Max concurrently with theaters, Godzilla Vs. Kong did earn $468 million worldwide (including $100 million domestic and $188 million in China) on a $165 million budget, justifying WB’s decision to buy out Legendary which wanted to sell the MonsterVerse movie to Netflix. The Conjuring 3 earned five times its $39 million budget and pushed The Conjuring Universe past $2 billion. We’ll see if Resurrections (December 22) makes Matrix the second R-rated $2 billion-plus franchise.
I absolutely mourn the failures of Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights (although the current $5 million ceiling for non-event movie openings makes its still lousy $11 million debut look almost impressive) and James Wan’s Malignant (I’d seriously consider late-night double-features with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom when the time comes, because why the hell not?), but I’d also argue that Those Who Wish Me Dead, Cry Macho, The Many Saints of Newark and The Little Things were never going to break out theatrically, and The Suicide Squad and Space Jam: A New Legacy were always, at best, commercial coin tosses. Frankly, I’d argue Godzilla Vs. Kong and Dune were coin tosses too. GvK overperformed pre-Covid expectations, and I’m wondering to what extent Dune might have too. Next up is Will Smith’s terrific sports biopic King Richard on November 19.
If that crowdpleaser, about the early rise of Serena and Venus Williams as tennis champions, clicks on a moderate level and/or wins Will Smith a Best Actor Oscar (I’d argue it’s his to lose at this point), and if Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss’ Matrix: Resurrections holds its own against Spider-Man: No Way Home over Christmas, well, the Dream Factory may be able to boast at least the perception of a successful end to their year-long “Project Popcorn” gimmick. They are promising to go back to 45-day windows next year as Warner Bros. becomes part of Discovery. If those three final films are perceived as successes, then it’ll be hard to argue that the release slate didn’t do what it was supposed to do, which was to give shelter to a questionable slate during uncertain times while doing minimal damage to the actual hits.
Even in non-Covid times, one might have pegged Godzilla Vs. Kong, Dune, Matrix Resurrections and maybe King Richard as likely breakouts, although I’d have absolutely pegged In the Heights and Malignant as potential hits too. Conversely, Tom & Jerry likely would have been doomed in any circumstance, making its $100 million global gross (on an $80 million budget) appear comparatively miraculous. I still don’t think Dune is a “hit” in the sense that it will make money in theatrical for the studio, but that’s a Dune part Two problem. We’ll see how WB’s last two 2021 biggies perform. If they are hits, then the 2021 calendar year will at least be perceived as ending on a high note. And once again, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman 1984 will go down as the surefire blockbuster sacrificed to the HBO Max gods, a genuine hero dying to save the world.