Sci-Fi Epic ‘Dune’ Debut Spices Up Box Office With $40.1 Million First Place Finish
Warner Bros.’ big-budget sci-fi epic Dune spiced up the box office this weekend with a $40.1 million domestic debut. Topping predictions that had the star-studded spectacle opening in the $30-$35 million range, director Denis Villenueve’s eye-candy adventure easily snagged the top spot in North America (where it is also streaming on HBO Max) and continued to clean up overseas, where it has been playing for weeks. But with the movie’s hefty $165 million price tag, will Dune’s performance prove strong enough for the studio to green light its proposed sequel? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’s latest indie curio, The French Dispatch, got off to a hot start in the specialty market, where it earned the biggest per-screen average for any film—big or small—of 2021.

Dune’s first-place finish was a good sign for a film that was always going to be a tough sell to ticket buyers. Despite a starry cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem, the futuristic movie has a lengthy 155-minute running time and a knotty story about warring tribes fighting over a desert planet known for a priceless natural resource called “spice.” It was also an open question to what extent its simultaneous debut on the HBO Max streaming platform would cut into its theatrical ticket sales. But Dune’s $40.1 million haul surpassed early projections and handily toppled last week’s champ, Halloween Kills, for the top spot.

The PG-13-rated film, which was previously adapted by David Lynch in a confounding 1984 box-office dud, scored with audiences (where it earned an ‘A-‘ grade from CinemaScore) and critics (who gave it an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Dune earned a $9,721 per-screen average in 4,125 theaters and has now racked up $180.6 million overseas, where it opened several weeks ago. Its cumulative worldwide box office currently stands at $220.7 million. Dune’s release marked Warner Bros. best three-day tally since it began its day-and-date roll-out strategy with Godzilla vs. Kong in April. It also was a triumph for IMAX, which accounted for $9 million of the film’s domestic gross. The studio will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the film holds up on big screens going forward as well as its small-screen streaming numbers before deciding whether to pull the trigger on a follow-up.

Landing in the runner-up spot was Halloween Kills with $14.5 million. The latest installment in the seasonal slasher saga featuring masked bogeyman Michael Myers and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as victim-turned-avenger Laurie Strode. In its sophomore weekend, Universal’s R-rated horror sequel nosedived a precipitous -70.7% from the previous frame, scaring up a $3,890 per-screen average at 3,727 locations. After two weeks, Halloween Kills has pulled in $73.1 million in North America and just $17.8 million from overseas, bringing its two-week global cume to $90.9 million. The film is also available on the Peacock streaming platform. For comparison, the franchise’s most recent entry, 2018’s Halloween, ended its theatrical run with $255 million in global ticket sales.

In third place was MGM’s latest 007 chapter, No Time to Die, which added $11.9 million in its third weekend. The latest James Bond sequel (starring Daniel Craig in his last turn in the tux), dropped off -50% from the previous session, scoring $3,122 per-screen average in 3,807 theaters. The PG-13-rated action-adventure has now earned $120 million at the domestic box office and $405 million from abroad. Its combined worldwide box office is now $525.7 million and places the movie in the elite company of F9: The Fast Saga as the only two Hollywood films to surpass the $500 million global milestone this year. Better news yet for MGM is that No Time to Die will finally open in the 007-friedly Chinese market next weekend.

In fourth place was Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage. The PG-13-rated supervillain sequel starring Tom Hardy, slid -44.9% from the previous weekend, pulling in $9.1 million in North America. Unspooling in 3,513 theaters, Venom 2 scored a $2,590 per-screen average in its fourth session, putting its four-week domestic tally at $181.8 million. The film has tacked on another $170.6 million in foreign ticket sales, bringing its global box-office total to $352.4 million.

Rounding out the Top 5 was the weekend’s only other wide debut, 20th Century Studios' Ron's Gone Wrong. An animated tale which envisions a world where personal robots are all the rage and features the voices of Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, and Ed Helms had a sluggish $7.3 million bow (pre-weekend estimates had it pegged for a $10 million bow). The PG-rated family film had a 2,050 per-screen average in 3,560 theaters despite earning an ‘A’ grade from CinemaScore and an 80% fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Ron’s Gone Wrong added $10 million from overseas, bringing its first-week global cume to $17.3 million.

Finally, Wes Anderson’s latest indie release, The French Dispatch, debuted impressively in ninth place with $1.3 million. Rolling out in just 52 theaters, the R-rated comedy about the quirky staff of an even quirkier Gallic magazine (which clicked with critics on the festival circuit and whose chockablock cast includes Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, and Dune’s hard-working Timothée Chalamet) earned a whopping $25,000 per-screen average in arthouses, giving it the mightiest per-screen average of 2021. Searchlight’s little movie that could has not opened internationally yet.