‘Dune’ Starts Strong at International Box Office, But Will U.S. Audiences Embrace Denis Villeneuve’s Sci-Fi Epic?

Director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune” has collected promising ticket sales internationally, but will box office spice flow in North America?

The Warner Bros. film, a big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel, opens in 4,100 theaters in the U.S. and Canada on Friday and is projected to generate $30 million to $40 million in its first three days of release. It would be a solid start considering “Dune,” like the studio’s entire 2021 film slate, is landing simultaneously on HBO Max in the U.S. That pandemic-era strategy, one that has been controversially received, has contributed to depressed ticket sales for “The Suicide Squad,” the LeBron James sports comedy “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and Hugh Jackman’s sci-fi drama “Reminiscence,” among others. Box office experts predict that ticket sales for “Dune” may be especially strong on Thursday night (for previews) and Friday before slowing down on Saturday and Sunday because the property’s die-hard fans often show up in force on opening day.

“Dune,” which was co-financed by Legendary Pictures, cost $165 million to produce, not including substantial promotional fees. It has already racked up an impressive $129 million at the international box office, but it may struggle to achieve profitability in its theatrical run given the challenges facing the movie theater industry.

Pandemic notwithstanding, “Dune” wouldn’t have been a guaranteed box office success even with positive reviews and an A-list cast that includes Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya and Oscar Isaac. In recent years, audiences have tended to prioritize escapist superhero adventures rather than narratively sophisticated science fiction operas. “Dune,” in particular,” has been notoriously tricky to adapt, with David Lynch’s complex 1984 film garnering mixed reactions in initial release in addition to bombing at the box office. Villeneuve, whose 2017 movie “Blade Runner 2049” was a commercial disappointment despite earning stellar reviews, has been hailed for his daring take on “Dune.” Many film critics, including Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, have emphasized the story about warring political dynasties that clash over access to a vital planet is so dazzling, it demands to be seen on the big screen. Premium formats, like Imax, Dolby and 4DX screens, should account for a significant portion of overall ticket sales.

“Dune” will face competition from holdovers, such as “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” MGM’s James Bond sequel “No Time to Die,” and Universal’s slasher film “Halloween Kills.” The latter led box office charts last weekend with $50 million while premiering day-and-date on Peacock, the NBCUniversal-owned streaming service. In its sophomore outing, “Halloween Kills” should rake in $16 to $18 million, an estimated 65% decline from its opening. Since the film cost a modest $20 million to produce, it doesn’t need to replicate the $250 million global haul of its predecessor, 2018’s “Halloween,” to become profitable. Already, a follow-up “Halloween Ends” is scheduled for Oct. 14, 2022.

An exclusive theatrical release may not be enough to salvage “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” an animated adventure from Disney and 20th Century. The cartoon, sci-fi comedy is estimated to open to a muted $7 million to $10 million from 3,500 North American locations. Though it hails from Disney, arguably the gold-standard for family fare, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” isn’t based on existing IP, which may explain why it’s tracking for a softer start than recent kid friendly options like Paramount’s “Paw Patrol” ($13 million) and MGM’s “The Addams Family 2” ($17.3 million). “Ron’s Gone Wrong” takes place in the future and centers on Barney, a socially awkward middle schooler and his malfunctioning robot friend (Zach Galifianakis).

Elsewhere at the domestic box office, Timothee Chalamet fans will have a tough choice this weekend, having to decide between watching the “Call Me By Your Name” star as Paul Atreides, the heir of the powerful of House Atreides, in “Dune” or as a student revolutionary who rides shotgun on a motorcycle in “The French Dispatch.” (Double feature, anyone?) Wes Anderson’s comedic drama “The French Dispatch,” from Searchlight Pictures, opens on Friday in limited release and will play in 54 locations. The movie also premieres overseas in 12 international markets, where “The French Dispatch” is expected to bring in $2 million to $3 million. Along with Chalamet, the film features many Anderson regulars, such as Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton and Adrien Brody. Set in 20th century France, the well-reviewed movie brings to life a collection of fictional stories published in an international outpost of an American magazine.