Variety dropped a big feature linked to Denis Villeneuve Dune, which screened to positive reviews at the Venice Film Festival and begins its slow roll-out in theaters around the world from tomorrow ahead of its national debut on October 22. Buried in the article is the idea that the film could yet spawn a sequel (Dune part two, since the upcoming film is only the first half of Frank Hubert’s massive tome), even though it is disappointing at the box office. HBO Max’s audience will be counted alongside gross movie theater revenues. However, recent history shows that while Dune bombs in theaters, he will also suffer the same fate on HBO Max.
It’s no secret that I’m convinced / concerned that online interest in the $ 165 million sci-fi action fantasy isn’t indicative of mainstream interest. Dune could meet a fate similar to that of Villeneuve Blade runner 2049. This film received rave reviews and a domestic cinema of $ 90 million / $ 252 million worldwide. It would have been great if the 2.5-hour, R-rated, action-lite, star-less (Ryan Gosling isn’t an opener and Harrison Ford hasn’t been since What is below in 2000), the “difficult science fiction” film did not cost $ 155 million. It was… interesting to see the filmmaker get another budget of over $ 150 million to make another “strictly for fans” sci-fi adaptation of what is (in mainstream terms) cult property.
Either way, the idea that even a disappointing global box office could be saved by a high number of HBO Max viewers is… optimistic at best. Put simply, looking at the list of WB 2021 releases, the movies that have performed well enough on HBO Max are the same ones that have done well at the box office. Passing through the Samba TV opening weekend numbers (which are as good as we have until HBO Max starts being included in Nielsen lists), Godzilla vs. Kong won a $ 50 million opening weekend Wednesday-Monday Easter 2021 and registered 5.1 million homes in the first 17 days. Likewise, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It won 3 million homes, by which time it had brought in $ 53 million in domestic revenue from a first weekend of $ 24 million.
When In the heights crashed on opening weekend with just $ 11 million, everyone was hoping that just meant a lot of people were watching the famous musical directed by Jon M. Chu on the streaming platform Warner Media . I can’t speak for the long term, but the film was only seen by 696,000 households (out of the 28 million US “smart TVs” measured by Samba) during its opening weekend. Likewise, Smart opened with just $ 5.5 million domestically last weekend and registered just 753,000 households. It is less than Reminiscence (which opened with just $ 2 million last month) and 53% less than the 1.6 million who watched Conjuration 3 during its HBO Max opening weekend. Contrary to popular belief, people who don’t see Warner Bros. movies in theaters don’t watch them on HBO Max instead.
It also shows, again, that the topics and content that dominate entertainment-specific Twitter discourse (like In the heights, the suicide squad Where Smart) are not in the interest of the general public. It’s pretty easy to get something related to the SnyderVerse trend on Twitter, but Zack Snyder’s four-hour version Justice League only caught 3.2 million homes in the first 17 days, just between The Conjuration 3 and Wonder Woman 1984 (3.9 million at the end of 2020). The suicide squad did pretty well by HBO Max standards, grabbing 4.7 million households in the first 17 days. But money is money, and James Gunn’s $ 180 million movie only grossed $ 165 million worldwide.
The biggest movie premiere for HBO Max this year was, funny enough, Mortal combat. The R-rated video game reboot / rehab opened well with $ 23.3 million, but subsequently plunged with just $ 43 million in domestic revenue (and $ 88 million globally). To the extent that Mortal combat‘s strong (5.5 million households in the first 17 days) deserves a possible sequel, A) this could be justified as “proof” that the “Project Popcorn” plan did not bring all the big ones to their knees WB and B franchises) the movie alone cost $ 55 million. I wouldn’t say the film starring Lewis Tan was a commercial success, but its solid HBO Max numbers correlate with a pretty decent opening weekend.
I have not seen it yet Dune, and I hope I like it (Arrival and Sicario > Prisoners and Blade Runner 2049). I’m not an optimist, but I’ll gladly eat crow if people actually show up for the ambitious and the stars (Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Dave Bautista, etc.) in theaters and / or in streaming. But recent history suggests that the not good enough box office will then correlate with the not good enough HBO Max audience. And since the film will have opened in much of the world before its domestic debut (which will alleviate some piracy issues), we may already know if Dune is doomed to fail ahead of its premiere here on October 22.
Truth be told, the main motivation for a sequel, unless of course it’s a success, is the idea that having half a full story won’t have any long-term value for Warner Media. A first part without Dune part two won’t be of much use to Warner Bros. or Discovery, whether as a Tier A streaming attraction or something that can be released and re-released in a variety of physical media formats. The question is whether spending an additional $ 160 million will be worth it for Dune does not become the modern equivalent of Ralph Bakshi the Lord of the Rings (an animated adaptation that ended at note 2/3).
The notion of studios waiting to see how the first film performs before giving the green light to a sequel is still the way things work, although it sometimes seems the opposite due to the amount of pre-release chatter focused on future payments and possible benefits. Yes Dune is a success, it will have a sequel. If it doesn’t, then it probably won’t. The fact that such formulas are questionable shows how desperate the studios are to maintain the idea that date-and-date releases haven’t really hurt seemingly infallible theatrical franchise titles (Jungle Cruise, Wonder Woman 1984, etc.). Alas i am not sure Dune has always been “foolproof” in the first place.