Box Office Potential of Dune

Epic Dune Poster by Jamie Stark

Dune has been officially delayed to early October 2021. This is not a sign of negativity for the movie. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Warner Bros delaying Dune is actually a sign of the studio’s confidence in the success of the Denis Villeneuve movie. That is at least according to industry analysts.

Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian compares the Dune situation to Lord of the Rings. This is in terms of its massive pressure to generate enough money to create an immediate profit as well as justify a sequel and the beginning of a massive franchise. This includes, but is not limited to: sequels, spin-offs and merchandises. We know that a new Dune video game and a spin-off TV show are already in development alongside some Funko Pops of Dune characters.

Sisterhood of Dune — Book Being Adapted for TV on HBO MAX

This is a huge brand with a major filmmaker backed by a very filmmaker-centric studio. Moving release dates doesn’t show a lack of confidence in theaters. It’s the opposite. It shows that Warner Bros. has confidence both in the long game and in the property as it would rather wait for theaters to return. — Paul Dergarabedian

Paul Dergarabedian believes that this delay will actually help Dune in the long term. The amount of time between now and the Dune release should actually build up anticipation of Dune and slowly allow the mainstream audience to familarise themselves with this science-fiction epic.

Interest is off the charts. This is a movie with the global potential of $1 billion. I can see this becoming that kind of film with worldwide appeal in the vein of James Bond. — Paul Dergarabedian

This situation is actually not too dissimilar to the scenario with the 2-part adaptation of the Stephen King novel IT, which was also distributed by Warner Bros:

  • Both are adaptations of a well-known book.
  • The film adaptation were separated into two parts.
  • Both materials are arguably adult-orientated.
  • The two IT movies together generated over a billion dollars with Dune itself possessing the same global potential.
IT by Stephen King (L) and Dune by Frank Herbert (R)

The chance of success for Dune is very real.

This is essential as science-fictions are typically difficult to sell to the mainstream audience. These types of movies are always a gamble, unless it’s Star Wars. For this reason, a gradual build-up in hype is essential to allow Dune to become commercially successful. Films such as 1982s Blade Runner, 2017s Blade Runner 2049 and 2019s Ad Astra were all considered as great films, but ultimately did not succeed. However, 2013s Gravity, 2014s Interstellar and 2015s The Martian were all in fact considered as a success. Some science-fictions work, some don’t. It’s always a gamble.

It’s no secret that WB wants its own Star Wars franchise. So, for starters, to be successful on that scale you need to have cross-promotions and partners that will invest in your product. Unfortunately, Dune is not Star Wars in that sense. Target and WalMart aren’t going to be selling action figures and sandworms aren’t going to make their way into McDonalds’ Happy Meals anytime soon. Unfortunately for WB, hardcore sci-fi, even when adored by critics as 2049 was, is largely ignored by the multiplex masses. — Paul Dergarabedian

1982s Blade Runner (L) & 2017s Blade Runner 2049 (R)

Denis Villeneuve himself has previously described Dune as “Star Wars for Adults”. It is obvious that Warner Bros are trying to create their own global phenomenon.

Denis Villeneuve has made masterpiece after masterpiece, with movies such 2013s Prisoners, 2016s Arrival and 2017s Blade Runner 2049. Blade Runner 2049 was a critical-hit and described as ‘one of the great sequels ever made’ by some. However, the movie itself wasn’t a box office success, even though it performed reasonably well internationally and it technically generated more revenue than its budget. It is estimated to have lost $80,000,000. It needed around $400,000,000 to break even.

The Senior Box Office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, Jeff Bock, believes Dune will need to generate a similar amount to become profitable:

In terms of real numbers, [Dune] probably needs to get closer to $500 million worldwide to be a success for everyone involved. And with the amount already invested in spin-off potential, the sequel will have to exceed that number, and not pull a Fantastic Beasts. That’s a huge ask for a dark sci-fi flick. This is a massive gamble for WB, but I suppose you have to go big, or go fortify your streaming content. — Jeff Bock

Blade Runner 2049 — Why Great Movies Fail — Anatomy Of A Failure

The delay should allow Warner Bros to slightly alter their marketing campaign. Entertainment Host John Campea believes that the primary reason Blade Runner 2049 did not succeed was due to the marketing strategy. People simply did not know what the movie was about and the studios overestimated the buzz of of the property:

The big glaring obvious reasons why this film is struggling despite the fact that it’s really good, the critics are liking it, the audience are liking it, is right there in front of our faces. And it’s simply this: The marketing and trailers for Blade Runner 2049 never told the consumers what it was they’d be getting if they bought a movie ticket. — John Campea

He had a similar reaction with the Dune Trailer:

I am not sure this is the type of trailer that is going to appeal to a lot of the general mass audience that hasn’t been looking forward for Dune. — John Campea

Renowned filmmaker Roberts Myers Burnett had a similar reaction in the same podcast. They both mention that the trailer does not convey the vastness of the Dune universe. The book readers will recognise and approve of the trailer, but newcomers do not actually know what the film is really about. There were no space scenes in the trailer either, so there can be a confusion of where the movie actually takes place.

Does Dune take place in Morocco? — Robert Myers Burnett

The delayed release of the film will allow Warner Bros to gain the opportunity to improve their marketing campaign to allow a mass market appeal of this beloved property.

As a follow-up re my opinion on new Dune based only on the footage I saw (since people are curious), I think this will blow people away the way LOTR did 20 years ago, the way Star Wars did 40 years ago. It’s not Jodorowsky or Lynch, but maybe Villeneuve has filmed the un-filmable. — Brian Clement

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 4K Steelbook Collection

Currently, a lot more people are talking about Dune than they did for Blade Runner 2049 before its release, which is a sign of its popularity and hence the potential success. As of 18/10/2020, the trailer of Dune has hit 26,910,296 views, compared to the The Batman DC FanDome Teaser at 24,313,062 and the Wonder Woman 1984 Official Main Trailer at 21,380,363.

In fact, the Dune book is already seeing a resurgence once again:

Frank Herbert’s DUNE is #1 on the current Washington Post mass market paperback bestseller list. More than 50 years after the novel’s 1st publication, and 34 years after my father passed away. He lives on through his incredible, beloved novel. — Brian Herbert (17/06/2020)

Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1 [Separate from the Mass Paperback Book]

The popularity of Dune is definitely real and significant. If the miniseries can be deemed a success and spawn a sequel, then so can this new adaptation.

Here is hoping for the adaptation of the rest of the series!

Ultimate Guide to Dune by Quinn’s Ideas of Ice and Fire

In the meantime, I am looking forward for Apple’s Foundation Adaption!


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Writer. Reader of Novels. Video Gamer. Documentary Watcher. Tech nerd.

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