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Dune opens to US$40m at US box office: Is it strong enough for a sequel?

It's the biggest three-day tally for Warner Bros since the company began its day-and-date release strategy on streaming service HBO Max.

Dune opens to US$40m at US box office: Is it strong enough for a sequel?

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from "Dune." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Dune, an adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic, opened to US$40.1 million (S$54 million) at the North American box office. It's a respectable start given the ongoing pandemic and the film's unconventional theatrical debut. In addition to playing in 4,125 US theatres, Dune (like all Warner Bros movies in 2021) premiered simultaneously on HBO Max, which might have taken a chunk out of overall ticket sales.

In a milestone for the studio, Dune landed the biggest three-day tally for Warner Bros since the company began its day-and-date strategy on HBO Max. Godzilla Vs Kong, which scored a then-pandemic record US$31 million in April, previously held that high-water mark. In the months in between, anticipated movies such as The Suicide Squad, the LeBron James sports comedy Space Jam: A New Legacy and the musical adaptation of In The Heights failed to live up to box office expectations while being offered concurrently on HBO Max.

"I'm smiling," Warner Bros president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein said on Sunday morning. "Exhibitors are thrilled. The best part is, fans are loving what they're seeing. They're loving the big-screen experience. It's been a winner of a weekend for movie-lovers."

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Zendaya in a scene from "Dune." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Directed by Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival) and starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin, Dune is the first chapter in an expected two-part saga. Villeneuve and the cast of the movie have said they would like to make the follow-up to complete the story about warring political dynasties that clash over access to a vital planet. The question now: Will ticket sales to start be enough to justify a sequel? Given the film's hefty US$165 million price tag, including the millions spent to market it as a cinematic event, it's unclear if box office revenues alone will be enough to warrant a return to the desert land of Arrakis. In that case, Dune will have to perform very well on HBO Max to convince the studio it should inject another US$165 million to complete the star-studded interplanetary tale. Legendary Pictures co-financed Dune in addition to producing and developing the movie.

In an interview with Variety this week, WarnerMedia chair Ann Sarnoff said plans for the sequel will be based on "the entirety of what Dune can do for the company, including HBO Max." She added, "The story in itself sets up for a sequel. The production is so amazing and the storytelling is so compelling that it's not going to be judged on box office alone."

Avid fans of Herbert's seminal 1965 novel sought out Dune on the biggest screen possible, with premium formats such as Imax, Dolby and 4DX accounting for 50 per cent of domestic ticket sales. Imax alone contributed US$9 million, representing 22.5 per cent of the market share, marking the company's largest opening weekend since the pandemic.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows a scene from "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," releasing Oct. 1. (Sony Pictures Entertainment via AP)

Also new to theatres this weekend, Disney's animated adventure Ron's Gone Wrong tanked with US$7.3 million from 3,560 cinemas in North America. The family movie, centering on socially awkward middle schooler Barney and his malfunctioning robot friend (Zach Galifianakis), has been well received by audiences (it has an "A" CinemaScore), which could be a promising sign for its theatrical run. Despite playing only in theatres, Ron's Gone Wrong placed fifth on box office charts behind holdover titles Halloween Kills, James Bond entry No Time To Die and comic book adaptation Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

In a distant second place, Universal's slasher sequel Halloween Kills collected US$14 million in its second weekend in theatres, plummeting 71 per cent from its opening. It has generated US$73 million in North America to date, a win for the US$20 million-budgeted horror film. Already, the studio has announced that franchise star Jamie Lee Curtis will return for the follow-up Halloween Ends, scheduled for Oct 14, 2022.

MGM's No Time To Die landed at No 3 with US$11.8 million, boosting its domestic total to US$120 million. Sony's Venom sequel secured forth place, bringing in US$9.1 million between Friday and Sunday. After four weeks, the anti-hero adventure, starring Tom Hardy, has made US$181 million.

Source: Reuters/sr