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'Dune: Part Two' brings spice power to the box office with $81.5 million debut

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, foreground left, and Austin Butler in a scene from <em>Dune: Part Two</em>.
Niko Tavernise
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, foreground left, and Austin Butler in a scene from Dune: Part Two.

Movie theaters were looking for a savior and Dune: Part Two is delivering on the promise. Armed with sandworms, big screen spectacle and the star power of Timothée Chalamet, Denis Villeneuve 's science fiction epic stormed the North American box office this weekend earning $81.5 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Internationally, it earned $97 million, bringing its global debut to $178.5 million.

"Denis made a really extraordinary and special film and its been really exciting to see people respond," said Mary Parent, a producer on both Dune films and chairman of worldwide production at Legendary. "It was made for the big screen and it feels like it's being received as a cinematic event."

It's the first major hit of 2024, and one that was sorely needed by exhibitors. Although there have been holdovers from December that have continued to earn, like Warner Bros.' Wonka (also starring Chalamet) and Sony's romantic comedy Anyone But You, the box office is in a bit of a drought. In the first two months of 2024, no films have crossed $100 million domestically. The highest earning movies have been The Beekeeper, Bob Marley: One Love and Mean Girls.

Dune 2 rode a wave of great reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) into a marketplace that was essentially free of competition. Warner Bros. released it in 4,071 locations in the U.S. and Canada, where audiences across the board gave it the highest PostTrak marks and an A CinemaScore. According to exit data, men accounted for 59% of opening weekend ticket buyers and 64% were over the age of 25. The sequel was primarily financed by Legendary and its production budget, previously reported to be in the $122 million range, is closer to $190 million.

"It really captured the marketplace," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. "It's a cultural moment globally."

Premium large format screens like IMAX and 70mm accounted for 48% of the opening weekend business. It marked a March record for IMAX, which made up $18.5 million of the overall take. Villeneuve filmed the movie using IMAX cameras. Unlike Oppenheimer, it was shot on digital, but with the extra time with the strike delay they were able to make film prints as well and the film format is proving a popular draw for audiences.

"Our most iconic film locations are virtually sold out for weeks," said IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond.

The $81.5 million debut is also a record for its director Villeneuve, and stars Chalamet, Austin Butler and Rebecca Ferguson.

Originally planned for an October 2023 release, Warner Bros. bumped the movie to March amid the Hollywood strikes that would have prevented its starry cast from doing the promotional circuit. The global promo tour has been on hyperdrive for about a month, driving conversations with buzzy interviews, the viral sandworm-inspired popcorn bucket and eye-popping fashion moments from the stylish young cast – peaking with Zendaya's silver cyborg showstopper (vintage Mugler) in London. They've made stops in Mexico City, South Korea, Abu Dhabi and New York City.

"We worked very hard to be ready for that (original) date but we very much felt that, especially with this incredible cast, that it was worth waiting for," Parent said.

Goldstein added that there was "a lot of debate" over whether or not to release it during the strikes but they knew that they needed the cast to "fully realize the movie."

"You don't make movie stars any place other than theaters," Goldstein said. "Cinemas, on the big screen with the big sound and that shared experience makes a big star, or show the talent of a big star anyway."

The first Dune opened under complicated conditions in October 2021. It was one of the last films of Warner Bros.' divisive plan to simultaneously debut its major movies in theaters and on its streaming platform. And yet it still earned over $40 million in its first weekend and went on to gross over $400 million worldwide.

"Denis Villeneuve is up there with Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker whose name alone inspires people to go to the movie theater," said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore.

This weekend, he added, "moves the needle in a big way."

Going into the weekend the box office was down about 20% from the same point last year (when "Avatar: The Way of Water," a 2022 release, was lifting everything). The closest equivalent this year is "Wonka," still a hit, but not as big as "Avatar 2." After the "Dune" weekend, the deficit will be closer to 13%.

"It shows how important one movie can be to the overall health of the industry," Dergarabedian said. "But this is not a one-hit wonder for March. It's a momentum business. Now we're going to get the wind back in the sails as we head further into March, April and the summer movie season."

Warner Bros. is one of those studios that will be back in short order with another big film, in "Godzilla x Kong" at the end of March, followed by "Furiosa" in May, the "Beetlejuice" sequel in September and the "Joker" sequel in October.

"This is our year," Goldstein said. "Exhibitors are fighting for their lives but we can be clever and collaborative with them to keep our business relevant to audiences."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. Dune: Part Two, $81.5 million.

2. Bob Marley: One Love, $7.4 million.

3. Ordinary Angels, $3.9 million.

4. Madame Web, $3.2 million.

5. The Chosen: Season 4, Episodes 7-8, $3.2 million.

6. Migration, $2.5 million.

7. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashi, $2.1 million.

8. Wonka, $1.7 million.

9. Argylle, $1.4 million.

10. The Beekeeper, $1.1 million.

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The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]