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If ‘Dune’ Succeeds, ‘Dune Part Two’ Will Likely Be An Even Bigger Hit

Oddly enough, my IMAX showing of No Time to Die last night included the second Dune trailer, the one released in late July 2022, as opposed to this new pitch. I’m a little surprised that this wasn’t ready to rock in time for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, but it certainly makes sense to have a new general audiences pitch for the various moviegoers seeing the new James Bond flick this weekend. Aside from the subjective critical declaration from Collider that the film is indeed the next Star Wars/Lord of the Rings (subtext made text), this third trailer doesn’t deviate from the second pitch. The other bit is the very end, during which Zendaya offers up a grin and remarks to Timothée Chalamet that “This is only the beginning,” which should clue some folks into the notion that Dune won’t be a one-and-done narrative.

Even this $165 million Denis Villeneuve-directed opus is just the first half of Frank Herbert’s first Dune novel. How moviegoers react when the title Dune part One appears onscreen is unknown, although history shows that if they like the first part they’ll show up with bells on for the second part. Plenty of audience members walked into Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring not realizing that it was the first of a three-part story. Nonetheless, Fellowship of the Ring (which opened 20 years ago this December and remains my favorite of the series) earned rave reviews, a slew of Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and $313 million domestic/$880 million worldwide. The Two Towers grossed $974 million in 2002 and The Return of the King won Best Picture while becoming the second movie (at the time) to top $1 billion.

Conventional wisdom likes to suggest that audiences will be opposed to splitting the source material into more than just “one movie per story,” history suggests otherwise. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I grossed $712 million in 2011 while Breaking Dawn part II grossed $819 million in 2012. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I grossed $955 million in 2010 while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II grossed $1.34 billion (the third-biggest ever at the time) in 2011. Even Hunger Games’ last two movies earned $755 million in 2014 and $650 million in 2015. Even if that was a comedown, Lionsgate still got $1.405 billion on a combined $285 million budget. Ditto Dead Man’s Chest earning $1.066 billion and At World’s End earning $961 million to top the global box office in both 2006 and 2007. Double ditto Avengers: Infinity War ($2.048 billion in 2018) and Avengers: Endgame ($2.8 billion in 2019).

Yes, there are cases where it doesn’t quite work out. The Matrix Reloaded was a divisive blockbuster ($742 million in May 2003), which is partly why The Matrix Revolutions earned $427 million global in November 2003. Ironically, Dune would be considered a huge win, especially on a Covid curve and with the increased challenges of getting folks into theaters for “new to you” cinematic properties, at $427 million worldwide. Back to the Future part II grossed $331 million in November 1989 (not far off from the $344 million gross of the original in 1989 thanks to improved overseas box office). But Back to the Future III (my favorite of the series… fight me) earned “just” $244 million in May 1990, which was still quite successful on a $40 million budget. We will speak not of the lost Divergent: Allegiant part II.

Actually we should, because that’s a rare example of modern franchise-building where the “part one” of the final book bombed so badly ($172 million in 2016 versus $295 million in 2015 and $276 million in 2014) that we never got the second half of that book and thus the series ended on a cliffhanger. If Dune flames out globally, then we may end up in a similar situation. However, the reviews have thus far been pretty strong, and $104 million-and-counting overseas is not nothing in a world where even a $185 million overseas total would put it above Jupiter Ascending, Tomorrowland, Blade Runner 2049, Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets and Mortal Engines. If it’s a coin toss, then we may get Dune part Two just to make sure the two-part saga is of value for streaming and physical media down the road.

I still think Dune faces an uphill battle as it expands around the world over the next few weeks, not least of which because A) it’s going to face off against No Time to Die and Venom: Let There Be Carnage and B) audiences have been hesitant over the last five years to show up for “new to cinema” or “new to you” franchise flicks even if they were pretty good. But it’s thus-far creating the perception of success, which may matter almost as much (especially with HBO Max and Wall Street’s fondness for streaming-friendly content factored in) as raw rate-of-return if the narrative skews in the positive and those who show up like what they see. I don’t know if Dune will be successful enough to merit a sequel. But if it is, history shows that Dune 2 will be an even bigger hit.

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