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Dune: Part Two’s USD81.5M debut

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, foreground left, and Austin Butler in a scene from “Dune: Part Two.” PHOTO: WARNER BROS PICTURES VIA AP

(AP) — Movie theatres were looking for a saviour 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 USD81.5 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Internationally, it earned USD97 million, bringing its global debut to USD178.5 million.

“Denis made a really extraordinary and special film and it’s 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 USD100 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 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes) into a marketplace that was essentially free of competition. Warner Bros released it in 4,071 locations in the US 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 per cent of opening weekend ticket buyers and 64 per cent were over the age of 25. The sequel was primarily financed by Legendary and its production budget, previously reported to be in the USD122 million range, is closer to USD190 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 per cent of the opening weekend business. It marked a March record for IMAX, which made up USD18.5 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 USD81.5 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 realise the movie.”

“You don’t make movie stars any place other than theatres,” 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 theatres and on its streaming platform. And yet it still earned over USD40 million in its first weekend and went on to gross over USD400 million worldwide.

“Denis Villeneuve is up there with Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker whose name alone inspires people to go to the movie theatre,” 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 per cent 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 per cent.

“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 US and Canadian theatres, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Dune: Part Two,” USD81.5 million.
  2. “Bob Marley: One Love,” USD7.4 million.
  3. “Ordinary Angels,” USD3.9 million.
  4. “Madame Web,” USD3.2 million.
  5. “The Chosen: Season 4, Episodes 7-8,” USD3.2 million.
  6. “Migration, USD2.5 million.
  7. “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashi,” USD2.1 million.
  8. “Wonka,” USD1.7 million.
  9. “Argylle,” USD1.4 million.
  10. “The Beekeeper,” USD1.1 million.