‘Dune 2’ Box Office: 5 Takeaways From the Sequel’s Heroic Opening Weekend

Dune 2
Everett Collection

Not even the prophetic visions of Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, the messianic protagonist of “Dune,” could have predicted the commercial appeal of director Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious interplanetary epics.

After all, when the long-in-the-works adaptation finally gained momentum in 2017, it was superheroes, not cerebral stories, that ruled the box office. “Dune,” in particular, was notoriously difficult to translate to cinema, as Hollywood learned from director David Lynch’s disastrous 1984 version.

It wasn’t just sci-fi fans, but general audiences, too, who helped “Dune: Part Two” ride those massive sandworms to the top of box office charts. The big-budget sequel has collected a bigger-than-expected $82.5 million in North America and $182.5 million globally in its first weekend of release. It landed the biggest domestic opening of the year while helping to revive a barren box office. Initial ticket sales for the follow-up have far exceeded the original, 2021’s “Dune,” which opened to $41 million while landing simultaneously on HBO Max. It ended its theatrical run with $433 million worldwide, an impressive result that box office experts nonetheless felt would have been bigger with an exclusive theatrical release.

“Doubling the previous film’s box office debut, even when considering a hybrid release, is no small feat for a sequel in a genre that often has a tough barrier to entry,” says Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst of Boxoffice Pro. “Goodwill from the prior movie and the ability of its stars to promote the film helped bring out more than just die-hard fans this time around.”

“Dune: Part Two,” co-produced and co-financed by Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment, cost $190 million to produce and roughly $100 million more to promote to global audiences. It requires box office staying power (which analysts believe it’s primed to have) to justify those hefty price tags.

Here are five takeaways from its mighty box office debut:

A prophetic delay?

Theater owners were understandably disappointed that “Part Two,” originally slated to hit the big screen last fall, was delayed until this spring as a result of the actors’ strike. But the reality is that it may have been better positioned by escaping the busy holiday season and relocating to the wide open terrain of March. There hadn’t been a major release in weeks, so “Dune 2” benefitted from pent-up demand to watch a blockbuster on the big screen. Once Warner Bros. and Legendary had the stars at their disposal, they spared no expense in trotting the sprawling ensemble of Chalamet, Zendaya, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin across the world to promote the film. As a result, the movie was inescapable. “It’s really permeated the culture,” says “Dune” producer Mary Parent.

Power of Imax

Who can resist those colossal sandworms and epic fight scenes in Imax? As audiences ventured back to Arrakis, the desert planet where the action of “Dune” takes place, they chose to experience the journey on the biggest and best screens around. It’s a plus for studios because admission for those auditoriums costs more than the average ticket price. Premium large formats, like Imax and Dolby, contributed a massive 48% of the film’s tally. By comparison, Christopher Nolan’s juggernaut “Oppenheimer” saw 47% of initial ticket sales from PLFs. Demand to experience “Part Two” on 70mm film (the director’s format of choice) was so stratospheric, some daring moviegoers felt like they had no other choice but to spring for showing at 3: 15 a.m.

“Our most iconic film locations are virtually sold out for weeks,” says Imax CEO Rich Gelfond.

All hail Timothee Chalamet and Denis Villeneuve!

It’s a good weekend to be Chalamet and Villeneuve, the dynamic duo at the center of the film franchise. After the commercial success of last December’s fantasy musical “Wonka,” thanks in no part to the actor (Chalamet) who dons the top hat, “Dune” confirms that Timmy Tim is the rare leading man whose involvement in a project can compell people to go to theaters. And Villeneuve, who proved once again his prowess for making cinematic sense of Frank Herbert’s bold vision, is the kind of director who can turn brainy sci-fi stories into broadly appealing big-screen spectacles. It’s especially valuable at a time when once-tested IP (such as “Indiana Jones,” DC Comics and Marvel) has been falling short at the box office.

“This is a moment for Timothée Chalamet,” said Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein, who also worked on “Wonka.” “Audiences are responding to the combination of Denis Villeneuve’s ability to tell a story in an extraordinary way and the extraordinary cast.”

How much can the “Dune” franchise expand?

The sequel has cemented “Dune” as an important new film franchise, but if the producers stay true to the holy text, it may be difficult to maintain this level of interest from the masses. Nothing has been greenlit yet but Villeneuve has been vocal about wanting to complete a trilogy, with hopes to develop the third movie from Herbert’s follow-up novel, “Dune Messiah.” There are already plans to expand the “Dune” universe with the upcoming TV series “Dune: Prophecy,” which will focus on the powerful sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit. But as Disney is learning with its Marvel Cinematic Universe: Too much of a good thing does exist. Fans can grow tired of beloved properties if they feel like there’s too much to keep up with. Plus, “Dune” gets really, really weird the deeper you go into the books. Will audiences flock to key human characters transforming into sandworms or returning as gholas, “Dune”-speak for resurrected clones? If you think multiverses are narratively out there, just wait until they start adapting “Children of Dune.”

More movies, please!

Cinema operators could rejoice this weekend as cash registers were ringing loudly for the first time in a long time. A week ago, domestic box office revenues were 20% behind the same period in 2023. But “Dune 2” helped to shrink that gap to 13.5%, according to Comscore.

“What a difference a weekend makes,” said senior Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Better late than never.”

But the reality is that multiplexes still face a major content shortage after several tentpoles were shifted to 2025 and beyond because of Hollywood’s labor strikes. That’s a problem because theater owners require a steady flow of new movies to get people to cinemas — and buying popcorn. February was dire with two record-low weekends, and although March looks more promising… that’s a low bar. Will Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s family film “Kung Fu Panda 4” (March 8), Lionsgate’s Blumhouse thriller “Imaginary” (also March 8) and Sony’s sequel “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (March 22) be able to close the year-to-date gap? Mark Wahlberg’s “Arthur the King,” a feel-good story about a man who befriends a wounded stray dog, could surprise in the vein of “Marley and Me” or Channing Tatum’s road-trip adventure “Dog.” But it’s not expected to produce the kind of blockbuster numbers that raise the stock prices of movie theaters.

“‘Dune’ and next weekend’s “Kung Fu Panda 4″ should turn the page on 2024’s cold start,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “But overall, it’s going to take time to refill the pipeline and adjust to shifting tastes.”

From Variety US