"Dune" wormed its way to the top of the North American box office over the weekend, grossing $40.1 million from 4,125 theaters, according to preliminary numbers — a solid debut given that the science fiction epic premiered simultaneously on HBO Max.
The stakes were high for the film's distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures: "Dune" is the first in a planned two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal 1965 novel, as well as the start of a potential new franchise. The 155-minute movie is estimated to have cost at least $165 million to produce.
"Dune" also delivered director Denis Villeneuve his career-best debut, exceeding the domestic opening weekend grosses for "Blade Runner 2049" ($32.7 million in 2017) and "Arrival" ($24 million in 2016), his two most recent projects.
"I think this shows that passionate moviegoers are supporting the big-screen experience," said Paul Dergarabedian, a media analyst at Comscore, which tracks box office data. "You could sit at home and press a button, or you could go to your local multiplex where this movie was intended to be seen.
"I also think this proves that the theater experience can stand up to any challenge, whether that challenge is the pandemic or the availability of a title at home on the same day," Dergarabedian added.
Warner Bros. is releasing all of its 2021 titles in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously. It’s a strategy that might help boost subscriptions to the streaming service, but some analysts have wondered whether it might cut into revenues at brick-and-mortar theaters.
"Dune," set thousands of years in the future in a world devastated by ecological collapse, stars Timothée Chalamet as a young man consumed by messianic visions that lead him on a voyage to the desert planet of Arrakis, where giant sandworms menace the local population.
Warner Bros. has not formally announced a sequel, but CEO Ann Sarnoff suggested in an interview with Deadline on Thursday that a follow-up was quite likely: "Will we have a sequel to 'Dune'? If you watch the movie you see how it ends. I think you pretty much know the answer to that."
"Halloween Kills," the 12th entry in the horror series, took the No. 2 position, with a weekend haul of $14.5 million, bringing its total earnings to just over $73 million. (NBC News and Universal Pictures, the distributor of "Halloween Kills," are units of NBCUniversal.)
"Ron's Gone Wrong," an animated family comedy featuring the voices of Zach Galifianakis and "The Crown" star Olivia Colman, launched its theatrical run with a relatively weak $7.3 million from 3,560 theaters.
"The French Dispatch," Wes Anderson's latest visual confection, opened to $1.3 million in just 52 locations for a robust per-theater average of $25,000. "Dispatch," Anderson's homage to journalism, stars an ensemble that includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Chalamet.
CORRECTION (Oct. 25, 2021, 5 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the planet on which "Dune" is set. It is Arrakis, not Arakkis.