'Dune' Is Officially Getting a Sequel
The director took a gamble and split Frank Herbert's book into two, with a sequel not guaranteed ahead of its opening weekend.
This post contains spoilers for Dune.
On the posters for Dune, where Timothée Chalamet and the rest of the cast peer out at various angles, the title is simply Dune. But when you go to see Denis Villeneuve's film, the title that pops up clearly reads Dune: Part One, which fits with the ominous tagline "It begins." The phrase echoes the very last line of dialogue on screen, spoken by Zendaya's Chani, who the film's hero Paul Atreides (Chalamet) has just met, despite the fact that she has appeared in his visions. Looking back at the exiled son of a Duke, she says, "This is just the beginning."
Frank Herbert wrote six Dune novels. Villenueve's film only makes it through about half of the first. When we first published this story on Dune's official release day, October 22, Warner Bros. hadn't officially greenlit Dune: Part Two. But after its opening weekend, raking in $41 million at the domestic box office alongside it streaming on HBO Max, the studio announced the following Tuesday that Part Two is on its way and due out 2023 with a theater-exclusive release.
Moving ahead with Dune: Part Two is, honestly, a relief. There's still a hell of a lot of material for Villeneuve to cover—material that one can only assume he's eager to put on screen. Dune ends with Paul and his mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), being accepted by the desert-dwelling Fremen and taken to their Sietch, an underground home where they avoid the ravages of the sand.
Villeneuve treats the first movie as a political thriller with some mysticism thrown in. In the latter half of Herbert's novel, that mysticism takes a far more prominent spot in the narrative, and Villeneuve is likely itching to adapt the more mind-bending elements of the Dune saga. The next chapters follow Paul and Jessica living among the Fremen and taking part in hallucinogenic rituals. The director has also saved the introduction of Feyd-Rautha, the evil Baron Harkonnen's equally evil nephew, played by Sting (yes, the one and only) in David Lynch's 1984 adaptation.
Villeneuve has said that he wanted to make both parts of the film at the same time but elusively says that "for several reasons, it didn’t happen." (Dune cost roughly $165 million to make, so it's a lot of money we're talking about here.)
Box office forecasters had been wringing their hands about whether Dune is going to be the kind of hit that will guarantee a sequel. It opened well in overseas markets and had a strong Thursday night debut, but it was also made available on HBO Max as part of Warner's pandemic strategy to keep the stream of movies coming regardless of the spread of the virus. Villenueve was absolutely not happy about that plan when it was announced, even writing a scathing essay for Variety about his displeasure. "Even though 'Dune' is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street," he wrote. "With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention."
The state of filmgoing is in a much better place than it was when Warner Bros. announced that decision in December 2020. Halloween Kills, despite being released simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock, made $50 million last weekend. Except Dune is not Halloween Kills. Horror movies tend to do well in theaters; Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi experiments (see: Blade Runner 2049) do not. As previously mentioned, Dune's box office showing rivaled that of Halloween Kills' opening weekend—the fans came out to support their boy Paul Atreides—and the decision to have Dune: Part Two play only in theaters for its release will no doubt be a relief for the director.
Speaking with Variety, WarnerMedia Studio and Networks Group CEO Ann Sarnoff promised that Dune wouldn't be evaluated on box office returns alone and that the studio will look at "the entirety of what ‘Dune’ can do for the company, including HBO Max." Treating Dune like an advertisement for a streaming service was exactly what Villeneuve was pissed about, but, hey, it's the price we've paid to get us Part Two. Even before the greenlight announcement, Villeneuve himself was optimistic, telling Indiewire, "Frankly, I don’t doubt the fact that we will make the second one. It’s strongly a work in progress."
It's inaccurate to say that Dune: Part One doesn't stand alone as a great film all on its own. It serves as a perfect introduction to the vastness of Herbert's world and its messy, fascinating politics. And yet, it would have been a huge disappointment if Villeneuve was not able to finish what he started. He admits to Indiewire that he made sure he "would not be destroyed" if he didn't get to make Part Two, but he also structured his film in such a way that it demands a follow-up. It was a gamble, but one that is bringing us another jaw-dropping trip to Arrakis.