‘Dune: Part Two’ Got Delayed, and Now No Release Date Is Safe

Hollywood is at a critical juncture. For more than 100 days, the Writers Guild of America has been striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a marathon of a work stoppage that has already surpassed the duration of the 2007 writers strike. For more than 40 days, the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has led its own strike against the AMPTP as the two labor unions fight together for fair compensation and financial security in an evolving entertainment landscape that has been drastically transformed by the streaming era and the rise of artificial intelligence.

As the studios fail to offer contracts that meet the demands of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, it seems as if there is no end in sight for the negotiations. Productions have been put on hold across the film and TV industries, while actors and writers are restricted from promoting their projects with AMPTP studios on social media, during press junkets, or at premieres and film festivals. For now studios are rationing releases and trying to subsist on leftovers by parceling out completed projects from their dwindling inventories.

Last week, one of the most anticipated films of the year, Dune: Part Two, was delayed despite being ready for release. Warner Bros. announced that the follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 blockbuster, Dune, will be pushed back from its original November 3 theatrical release date to March 15, 2024. The joint decision by Warner Bros. Film Group and coproducer Legendary Entertainment, made a little more than two months before the film was due to premiere, suggests that the studios don’t anticipate a resolution anytime soon.

Dune: Part Two is not the first film to be postponed as a direct result of the work stoppages, and it surely won’t be the last—but it is the biggest title to move so far. The delay says a lot about the state of the industry, so let’s break down how we got here and what it might mean for the fall and winter release calendar, the box office, award races, and the Dune franchise.

The Dune Domino Effect

On August 11, more than 100 days after the start of the WGA strike, the AMPTP returned to the bargaining table with its first and (thus far) only counteroffer. The proposal failed to address many of the WGA’s concerns and fell well short of the union’s demands. Per a letter from the WGA negotiating committee to union members, a subsequent meeting with studio CEOs on August 22 yielded no more movement on the AMPTP’s part, leaving the talks at a standstill.

Less than a week after that August 22 meeting, Warner Bros. and Legendary decided they could no longer wait to make a call on Dune: Part Two’s debut. The delay adds to a trend: Films are slipping on the calendar because of studios’ concerns about box office margins without a promotional push from star talent. MGM Studios recently bumped the Zendaya-starring tennis romance, Challengers, from September to next April, while Sony has shifted a number of 2023 titles, including Kraven the Hunter and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, to 2024. Given that these studios will eventually run out of films to release due to the production shutdown, it’s possible that they’re also staking claims to less contested corners of box office real estate.

In contrast to the other projects that have moved to later dates, however, Dune: Part Two was one of the most anticipated films of 2023, and its fall release window had been locked in for more than a year. As early as October 2021, the sequel was slated for an October 2023 release, before it landed on its now-rescheduled November 3 launch date in late 2022. The first trailer for the film was released in May, with the second one following in late June; both promoted the film’s November release and garnered more than 20 million views on YouTube. As an IP-based sequel to an Oscar-winning film, and with Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken, and Léa Seydoux joining an already star-studded ensemble headlined by Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, Dune: Part Two was positioned to be one of the biggest box office hits of the year. If a tentpole like this can pick up stakes on the calendar less than three months before its premiere, it’s safe to say that nothing is nailed down as studios start feeling the pressure of sealed production pipelines.

With Dune: Part Two moving to March, Warner has shifted back other upcoming titles accordingly: Legendary’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire will move from March to April 12, and New Line’s animated feature Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim will vacate that April release slot in favor of December 13, 2024. For the time being, the studio has decided to stick with its releases scheduled for December, including Wonka (which also stars Chalamet), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and The Color Purple, which are supposedly still debuting on December 15, December 20, and December 25, respectively. It remains to be seen how other studios will react to Warner Bros.’ schedule reshuffle, but more blockbuster delays may follow.

The 2023 Fall and Winter Box Office

On the strength of Barbenheimer alone, the film industry has had a hugely successful summer at the box office. But movie theaters are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and desperately need audiences to keep flocking to multiplexes, especially as the existential threat of streaming looms ever larger. With Dune: Part Two delayed until the spring, one of the year’s expected top earners has suddenly dropped off the 2023 release calendar. And its absence may have significant effects on the outlook for the box office at large over the final two months of the year and beyond.

When Dune was released in October 2021, the film faced far higher financial hurdles than its sequel would have this November. The sci-fi epic earned $108 million domestically (and $402 million globally) against a reported budget of $165 million, providing a boost to movie theaters that had reopened earlier that year at limited capacities in major U.S. markets. But those numbers could have been significantly higher had Dune not debuted on the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max on the day of its theatrical release (and had the omicron variant surge in COVID cases at the end of 2021 not further discouraged moviegoing).

Given that Dune: Part Two was due to be released exclusively in theaters ahead of the holiday season, the sequel appeared to be in line for a much bigger haul. But without the tremendous star power of its cast to promote it, including Zendaya and her 185 million followers on Instagram alone, there’s no telling how close the film would have come to reaching its box office ceiling. Evidently, Warner Bros. wasn’t willing to find out. As such, the studio is now targeting a mid-March release date around spring break and ahead of the Easter holiday weekend.

A few highly anticipated films are (for now!) still slated to come out later this year, including Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla in October, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon in late November, and Michael Mann’s Ferrari on Christmas. However, these four films are all R-rated (or likely to be R-rated) projects with more modest financial outlooks than the PG-13-rated Dune: Part Two, and there aren’t many other potential blockbusters on the board.

The fall and winter slate looks more barren without Dune: Part Two, but some major releases may benefit from the film’s move. The biggest box office beneficiary appears to be The Marvels, Marvel Studios’ upcoming crossover film directed by Nia DaCosta. The Captain Marvel sequel is expected to be released in theaters on November 10, which would have put it in direct competition with Dune: Part Two had the latter film remained on the schedule. Now, The Marvels not only loses its fiercest box office competitor, but also gains the opportunity to play on IMAX screens after previously being shut out from the format altogether thanks to Dune: Part Two. The Marvels could even move up its release date a week earlier, which would give the film a longer runway ahead of the arrival of its next big competitor, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, on November 17. Captain Marvel grossed more than $1.1 billion in 2019, and the sequel will also feature key characters from the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel and WandaVision as it becomes the first crossover movie in Marvel Studios’ Phase 5.

With all that said, Marvel Studios is mired in its biggest slump to date on the heels of its worst-reviewed Disney+ series ever, Secret Invasion, a Nick Fury solo adventure that ties directly into the events of The Marvels. Earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania became one of the rare MCU films to fall short of breaking even, and superhero films are failing to draw audiences as consistently as they used to. Although the Hunger Games prequel isn’t a superhero flick, it doesn’t seem likely to be a massive hit, given that interest in the film franchise was already declining by the end of Katniss Everdeen’s saga in 2015.

Unless the labor disagreements are miraculously resolved by November and films like these have help from star-powered promotional tours, the fall and winter months may not be fruitful for movie theaters. Hopefully, the loss of one major blockbuster will at least afford a greater chance for independent and lower-budget films to succeed, especially with some A24- and Neon-produced projects—such as Priscilla and Ferrari, respectively—getting SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreements that will allow cast members to promote their films.

The Award Circuit

At the Academy Awards in 2022, Dune was nominated for 10 Oscars and won six of them. Every one of those wins came in technical categories, including Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Sound. With Dune: Part Two moving to March, the film will no longer be eligible for the 2024 award ceremony.

The shift creates easier paths to victory for the other films at the upcoming Oscars, particularly for Oppenheimer in the technical categories that Dune previously dominated. However, Dune: Part Two may have a harder time earning Oscar accolades, as almost a full year will elapse between its release and the following Academy Awards ceremony in 2025.

Of course, it’s hard to say what will happen to the 2024 Oscars amid the entrenched disputes; the Emmy Awards have already been pushed from September to January due to the strikes. Award shows don’t command the live audiences they used to, but awards themselves still carry real prestige. However, those honors mean very little compared to the stakes in the fight for the future of Hollywood—and for the future of creative work.

The Future of the Dune Franchise

As we near the end, let’s circle back to where we started: a delayed Dune sequel. In this case, the sequel to the sequel. Only the Kwisatz Haderach could divine the full effects that Dune: Part Two’s delay will have on the Dune franchise, but we know it will in turn postpone any subsequent big-screen installments.

In a recent interview with Empire, Villeneuve teased that “there are words on paper” for Dune: Part Three, a film that would be based on Dune Messiah, the second of six books in Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi series. Warner is still only in the early stages of building out its Dune cinematic universe, an endeavor that extends to streaming with the development of the spinoff Max series Dune: The Sisterhood. That series has faced issues of its own that led to a production halt even before the start of the strikes, as director Johan Renck and star Shirley Henderson exited the project amid a creative overhaul in February. Production will reportedly be able to continue in November due to U.K. anti-strike laws, though the series is filming in Hungary. (Another prominent Warner TV project, House of the Dragon Season 2, is proceeding for the same reason.)

There’s money to be made from the Dune name, so the cinematic spice must flow eventually. But at present, it’s stopped—and so has the supply of other spicy cinematic IP, such as Star Wars, the MCU, and Avatar. Hoarding the existing stockpile only delays the inevitable blockbuster slowdown, but with the studios still sticking to their stubborn stance in negotiations, Warner will kick that can down the road and live to Dune another day.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button