‘Dune’ is a Big Enough Box Office Hit to Warrant a ‘Dune: Part Two’ Greenlight

The new movie gave Denis Villeneuve his biggest opening ever, and it has proven to be a great financial success for Warner Bros. as well.
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Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we focus on the opening box office attendance numbers for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Also: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, and Ron’s Gone Wrong.

Denis Villeneuve hasn’t directed a ton of features, and he’s never been a huge box office favorite, but that doesn’t make his success with Dune and less significant. The filmmaker had his best opening weekend yet with the risky Frank Herbert adaptation: a gross of $41 million. That comes out to about 4.5 million people** who went to see the sci-fi film on the big screen. Villeneuve’s last movie, the sequel Blade Runner 2049, was his previous best at about 3.7 million tickets sold. It should be noted that both Sicario and Enemy debuted in very limited release, but they never went wide enough for me to highlight any attendance increase.

Dune is also Timothée Chalamet‘s best debut, but that’s not saying a lot since he hasn’t ever had a tentpole like this before (his previous best was for Little Women). What is most notable about the attendance being so high is that Dune was also available to stream at home, on HBO Max, at no additional cost to subscribers, simultaneous with the theatrical release. And as the best Warner Bros. opener of the year, Dune had the highest attendance for any of their day-and-date theatrical and streaming titles, finally beating Godzilla vs. Kong‘s record (3.5 million) from March.

For those wondering, yes Villeneuve’s Dune also opened with a higher attendance than David Lynch’s adaptation from 1984. That movie grossed $6 million in its first few days, on just 915 screens. Which is about 1.8 million tickets sold at an average cost of $3.36 apiece. The theatrical attendance for the new movie is also theoretically more than the 3 million households who tuned in for the first episode of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune miniseries of 2000. Of course, many of those households could have included multiple viewers. One story I found actually claimed the miniseries had 4.57 million viewers, about the same as saw the new movie in a theater.

Denis Villeneuve Movies Opening Weekend Box Office Attendance

RankMovie TitleOpening Weekend Box Office AttendanceDomestic Total Box Office Attendance
1Dune (2021)4.5 million4.5 million
2Blade Runner 2049 (2017)3.7 million10.3 million
3Arrival (2016)2.8 million11.6 million
4Prisoners (2013)2.6 million7.5 million
5Sicario (2015)0.05 million5.6 million
6Incendies (2010)0.006 million0.3 million
7Enemy (2013)0.002 million0.1 million
8Maelstrom (2000)N/A0.05 million

Dune Box Office vs. Expectations

While a certain success, Dune just barely exceeded its forecast box office figure. Last week, Box Office Pro posted the industry prediction as being $40 million. But that was centrally within a field that marked the opening for anywhere between $35 million and $45 million. That was the same spectrum given in the site’s long-range forecast at the beginning of October. However, one week ahead of its release, the site updated its scope to $42 million on the low end — above the actual result — and $52 million on the high end.

Reviews vs. Audience

Dune had the best box office opening for Denis Villeneuve, but reviews for the movie (see ours here) rank fifth or sixth for the filmmaker, depending on the aggregate site. At Rotten Tomatoes, its critic score is 83%. Behind career-best Arrival, Incendies, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, and Polytechnique. On Metacritic, the critic score is 75, behind all of those except Polytechnique.

For both sites, the audience scores are actually higher, showing that viewers love Dune even more than critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, the score is 91%, almost 10% more than the critic score. On Metacritic, it’s 8.3, which is similarly greater. Whether some of that audience voting included HBO Max streamers is unclear.

For moviegoers only, specifically those attending opening night, they gave Dune a grade of ‘A-‘ via polling conducted by Cinemascore. That’s promising in terms of satisfaction and potential word of mouth. Previously, Villeneuve also received A- grades for Blade Runner 2049 and Sicario. But his highly acclaimed and Oscar-worthy Arrival only received a ‘B’ grade. And Prisoners got a ‘B+’.

Is it enough for Dune Part 2?

The important question is now whether or not Warner sees this as a big enough opening for them to greenlight Dune: Part Two. Denis Villeneuve’s movie is widely considered an unfinished epic, and everyone who sees Dune: Part One is now dying to see how it concludes with Dune: Part Two. Compared to its $165 million budget, no the domestic debut for Dune is not much. But globally the movie has grossed more than it cost: $220.7 million. I think we’ll get to see the Dune sequel before too long.

The French Dispatch Box Office and More

Three more new releases debuted over the weekend to a lesser note. Wes Anderson‘s The French Dispatch released on only about 50 screens. While its $1.3 million gross (0.1 million attendance) was a bit higher than the $1 million expectation, that’s still lower than Anderson’s previous effort, Isle of Dogs, which opened on half as many screens. And while its per-screen average of $25,000 beat this year’s record (previously held by Venom: Let There By Carnage), that was also smaller than Isle of Dogs’ average.

Fellow Fox-turned-Disney title Ron’s Gone Wrong, which seemed to receive very little promotion ahead of its release, managed a fifth-place spot with an estimated $7.3 million. That’s about 800,000 tickets sold for the animated feature. Despite Disney not spending a lot to advertise the movie, it wound doing better than expected. And word of mouth could help Ron’s Gone Wrong‘s continued attendance given that it received an ‘A’ grade from first-night moviegoers via Cinemascore.

Finally, Becoming Cousteau, which received two Critics Choice Documentary Awards nominations, opened in 15th place with just $111,000 from just 319 locations. The nonfiction feature from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus shares a biographical look at the life and achievements of oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I like to imagine that Wes Anderson, whose The Life Aquatic pays homage to Cousteau, is one of the people who saw the doc over the weekend.

Box Office Attendance for October 22 - October 24, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen Average AttendanceTotal Domestic AttendanceStudio/Distributor
1Dune4.5 million1,0854.5 millionUniversal Pictures
2Halloween Kills1.6 million4238 millionMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
3No Time to Die1.3 million35013.1 millionSony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
4Venom: Let There Be Carnage1.02 million28319.9 millionUnited Artists Releasing
5Ron's Gone Wrong0.8 million2240.8 millionTwentieth Century Fox
6The Addams Family 20.5 million1695.3 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
7The Last Duel0.23 million740.9 millionN/A
8Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings0.22 million13824.1 million20th Century Studios
9The French Dispatch0.15 million2,8320.1 millionA24
10Honsla Rakh0.05 million7130.2 millionN/A

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures.

** Ticket sales and attendance figures are determined with each year’s average ticket prices. Currently, for 2021, that average is $9.16.

All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

Christopher Campbell: Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.