Sci-Fi Epic ‘Dune’ Arrives, Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’ To Heat Up Specialty Box Office
The month of October has shown strong box office returns for franchises, with Venom: Let There Be Carnage, No Time To Die, and Halloween Kills all opening above $50 million and boasting numbers that would have been respectable even in a pre-pandemic marketplace. The domestic launch of Dune this weekend will test whether the same level of success can come to a new property, which is a riskier proposition even in the best of times.

WB’s long-awaited sci-fi epic (and hopeful franchise starter), which is based on Frank Herbert’s novel, is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has proven himself to be adept at handling science fiction with the films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Among the large ensemble cast are Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.

Herbert’s seminal book was previously adapted for the big screen by David Lynch, whose 1984 film Dune befuddled both critics and audiences and totaled out at $30.9 million at the box office against a budget of $40 million. We’re looking at bigger numbers this time around, with a cost of $165 million and an opening weekend possibly topping the older film’s entire gross. It also has a much warmer response from critics (88% on Rotten Tomatoes), and audiences abroad have taken to the film.

Dune is debuting in 40 overseas markets this week, the biggest being China, Korea, U.K., Mexico, and Brazil, and it has already racked up $130 million from 37 overseas markets where it started its rollout around a month ahead of its domestic release. The response has been strong, and it is among the top grossing films of the year in many countries. In like-for-like markets it is 63% ahead of Shang-Chi and 69% ahead of Black Widow, to compare it to 2021’s top two domestic grossers. Its top market is France, where it is this year’s highest grossing film with $26.2 million.

We can’t expect Dune to have the same soaring success in the U.S. Even putting market differences aside, there is the major caveat that the film has thus far been a theatrical exclusive while it is getting a day-and-date HBO Max release in the U.S. The biggest opening yet for WB’s simul-releases is still Godzilla vs. Kong, which opened to $31.6 over Easter weekend. That’s below Blade Runner 2049’s $32.7 million opening in 2017, which was seen as a disappointment. Dune has the potential to top that, but its streaming availability may prevent it from reaching its box office potential.

Also opening wide is Ron's Gone Wrong, an animated film from 20th Century and the new U.K. based Locksmith Animation studio. Critics have praised the family film (86% on Rotten Tomatoes) which envisions a world where personal robots are all the rage and has a voice cast that includes Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ed Helms, Justice Smith, and Rob Delaney. It’s been a soft year for animated films, a genre that usually features heavily among the year’s top grossing films. The best grossing of the year’s animated films is The Boss Baby: Family Business which grossed $57.3 million and is only the 14th biggest grosser of the year overall. Ron’s Gone Wrong does not look to turn the trend around, but with little competition we could see solid legs on the film as we saw with The Addams Family 2, which was down only 41.6% and 30.2% in its second and third weekends.

In addition to the wide releases, this weekend sees perhaps the biggest specialty box office release so far this year. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is opening in 54 locations via Searchlight and buzz is high for the star auteur’s first live action film in seven years. The Grand Budapest Hotel was a surprising smash, grossing $173 million worldwide, and Anderson’s most recent film, the stop-motion animation Isle of Dogs, grossed $64.3 million worldwide. The Grand Budapest Hotel had a four theater opening before expanding to 66 theaters in its second weekend and grossing $3.6 million with a per theatre average of $55k. Even if The French Dispatch falls short of that, it is likely to bring relief to arthouse theaters who, despite some solid hits, have been thirsty for a specialty box office blockbuster.

The French Dispatch is an anthology film centered around a French outpost of an American newspaper, and the massive cast features many veterans from Wes Anderson’s films, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, and Léa Seydoux. Newcomers include Timothée Chalamet (who is having a busy weekend), Benicio Del Toro, Elisabeth Moss, Jeffrey Wright, and the list goes on. The film premiered at Cannes and as usual for Anderson has received critical acclaim (79% on Rotten Tomatoes).