What exactly is happening with DUNE: PART TWO?
For months, DUNE 2 has been a beacon—the first big film of 2024. The film has been earmarked as a jolt to wake theatrical from its winter doldrums. And boy, is it needed. This week, I.S.S. was the only new wide release, and no new films are scheduled to open this coming weekend. Aside from BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE, which has the makings of a modest breakout, February looks similarly bleak.
And so, all eyes are on DUNE 2, arriving on March 1st. With the weight of exhibition on its shoulders, can DUNE 2 deliver? First, some background. The first DUNE opened to $41M playing day-and-date on HBO MAX (now MAX) in late 2021 before theatrical had begun its recovery from the pandemic. It made only $108M domestically but performed especially well internationally, taking in over $400M worldwide against a reported budget of $165M.
The original was also a critical and awards darling, winning six Oscars, mostly in technical categories. And though it lost to CODA, it was also nominated for Best Picture.
On the surface, it would seem DUNE 2 is poised to perform better than the first simply because the sequel is getting a straight theatrical release, and the exhibition environment is much healthier today than in 2021.
But, as we noted last year, DUNE 2 faces some unique challenges. Frank Herbert’s Dune is considered one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, but it’s dense and can be unwieldy for casual fans. Many would argue the same is true for the 2021 film. And therein lies the problem.
While the improved theatrical environment will help, for DUNE 2 to fully break out, it will need the audience to expand. The problem is that few theatergoers are likely to see the sequel if they haven’t seen the first. And some who saw the first may have felt it was too challenging, meaning they will unlikely want to see the next chapter. More “inviting” franchises make sequels digestible for those new to the series. DUNE is not one of those.
With that in mind, how is DUNE 2 tracking? The film belongs to the Tentpole group, meaning it has a budget of over $100M. Other films in this group include NO TIME TO DIE, FAST X, and TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS. The average opening weekend for films in this group is $77M, while the median is $61M.
We will be using the latter two as comps. FAST opened to $68M, while TRANSFORMERS came in just below that at $61M. When we look at awareness, the first thing you notice is that DUNE 2 (dark yellow) is on the upswing. Awareness jumped three points this week. The second thing you notice is that, despite closing the gap, DUNE 2 is still trailing the two comps.
The biggest challenge for DUNE 2 is on the interest side. Again, the tracking is on the rise, but with 48% interest, it has a ways to go before it reaches FAST (light blue) and TRANSFORMERS (black).
How do we interpret these numbers? Well, the good news is that the numbers are improving. These gains in awareness and interest are impressive. At the same time, tracking paints a picture of a film struggling to reach the masses. Instead, a smaller, more passionate group of theatergoers is coalescing around the film.
We can see that in two non-traditional tracking metrics where DUNE 2 excels: unaided awareness (UA) and premium large format (PLF). UA measures the percentage of people who can name a film off the top of their head (you can read more about UA here and here). PLF measures the percentage of people who want to see the film in a large format screen. We consider both of these to be urgency metrics. If you can identify an upcoming release without the assistance of a list, chances are you want to see it. It’s the same for PLF. (Note, both of these metrics are available to subscribers.)
At the moment, UA for DUNE 2 sits at 5%. While that may seem small, it is the largest of any of the films currently being tracked by The Quorum, and it is an especially high number for a movie at six weeks out. Only one film over the past 12 months had a higher UA at six weeks out. That was BARBIE, which was at 8%.
As for PLF, 16% of people say they want to see DUNE 2 on a large format screen. That’s a relatively strong number. By comparison, 12% of people said they wanted to see OPPENHEIMER on a PLF screen at the same distance from release.
We know that the book has a very passionate fanbase. The same can be said for the films. The strength in unaided awareness and premium large format shows that this group is activated and ready to see DUNE 2. The relative softness of the broader awareness and interest metrics suggests that a wider audience is not yet fully engaged with the film. As we know, tracking reflects a moment in time. A week ago, the numbers for DUNE 2 were surprisingly low. Thanks to recent spikes, there is reason to be encouraged. Hopefully, the film will continue its upward path.