“Dune: Part Two” aims to break box office dry spell with anticipated $80 million debut

Theater operators are banking on Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s “Dune: Part Two,” set to release in theaters Friday, to serve as a much-needed lifeline in a drought of blockbuster content.

“Since the start of the year, the domestic box office has tallied just $866.4 million in ticket sales through Sunday, a nearly 18% drop from the same period in 2023,” stated data from Comscore. A surge at the year’s onset could prove pivotal to a box office still striving to reach $10 billion in annual domestic ticket sales, a benchmark last achieved before the Covid pandemic.

“The arrival of ‘Dune: Part Two’ is coming at a point where the industry is looking for that momentum-igniting blockbuster,” remarked Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Thus far in 2024, no film has crossed the $100 million mark in box office receipts. While unexpected hits like Sony’s “Anyone But You” and Paramount’s “Mean Girls” and “Bob Marley: One Love” have contributed to theater attendance, the box office has lacked major holiday holdovers and new releases in the new year.

Last year, the first quarter benefited from $263 million in ticket sales from Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which premiered in December of the preceding year. Similarly, 2022 saw over $200 million in residual sales from Sony and Marvel’s 2021 blockbuster “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Cast of Dune
“Dune: Part Two” features a stellar cast including Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, and Florence Pugh. (Credit: @dunemovie /Instagram)

“We’re used to these peaks and valleys,” commented Bill Barstow, who oversees ACX Cinemas, a theater chain with six locations in five states. “And certainly, there’s no mystery to the last three years of the pandemic and then strikes and all the stuff that kind of kicks us. But, then along comes something like ‘Dune.’”

“It’s been a long slog of a winter at the box office, unsurprisingly so after numerous strike-induced delays crushed an already underwhelming studio slate in recent months,” remarked Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. ”‘Dune: Part Two’ represents the turn of the tide.”

While Warner Bros. is projecting a conservative $65 million debut for the much-anticipated sci-fi sequel, box office analysts foresee a haul between $70 million and $80 million. Especially, as moviegoers are likely to gravitate toward premium large-format screenings, which are pricier than regular tickets.

“We’ve had sold out ‘See It First’ showings in all of our IMAX locations and guest response is already extremely positive,” said Jeff Whipple, vice president of advertising, marketing, and public relations at Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres, which operates 15 locations, predominately in Utah.

“Utah movie fans know that ‘Dune: Part Two’ is a big movie that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible,” he noted, adding that Megaplex locations are seeing strong advanced ticket sales for premium auditoriums like IMAX, Dolby Atmos and D-Box motion screens.

The draw of these higher-priced tickets is leading some exhibitors to think the film could outperform projections.

“I think Warner Bros. has been conservative,” said Tim Handren, CEO at Santikos Entertainment, a regional cinema chain with 27 theaters in eight states. “Warner Bros. has done a fantastic job marketing this movie.”

Dune Part Two
Early ticket sales surpass “Oppenheimer,” though fall short of “Jurassic World Dominion.” (Credit: @dunemovie /Instagram)

“They are geniuses in marketing,” he added. “They just know how to build awareness.”

The film’s cast has been heavily promoting the film for weeks, participating in junkets, video interviews, and appearing on late-night shows. Even the stars’ premiere outfits have been making headlines, driving more awareness of the film’s release.

Alongside industry veterans like Christopher Walken, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Dave Bautista, “Dune: Part Two” features four of the biggest young stars in Hollywood — Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh and Austin Butler.

Early ticket sales for the weekend are ahead of Universal’s “Oppenheimer,” which opened at $82.4 million, but below “Jurassic World Dominion,” which debuted at around $145 million, according to data from Fandango.

Cinema operators, while focused on the film’s opening weekend haul, are, perhaps, more interested in the longevity of “Dune: Part Two” at the box office. “While there are a number of new releases in March, which will help pad the overall domestic box office haul, “April is not nearly as strong,” Handren pointed out.

Movies such as “Dune: Part Two” have a significant opportunity to sustain steady ticket sales week after week, thereby assisting in maintaining the box office’s stability until the onset of the summer movie season in early May.

Additionally, these films provide exhibitors with the opportunity to showcase previews of upcoming releases to audiences before the main feature begins. “I think ‘Dune’ opens up the entire world for us for summer,” remarked Barstow.

Sajda Parveen
Sajda Parveen
Sajda Praveen is a market expert. She has over 6 years of experience in the field and she shares her expertise with readers. You can reach out to her at [email protected]
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