“I just received news from Legendary that we are officially moving forward with Dune: Part Two,” Villeneuve wrote. “It was a dream of mine to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune and I have the fans, the cast and crew, Legendary and Warner Bros. to thank for supporting this dream. This is only the beginning.”
Of course the question becomes why did Warners agree to give Dune: Part Two the exclusive theatrical window that Villeneuve craved for Part One but was denied? Well, beyond the surface level assumption that they’re anticipating the COVID pandemic will be much better managed (or somehow gone) in two years, there is the probability they needed to make this concession to keep Villeneuve onboard. The filmmaker just delivered their biggest hit on the HBO Max/theatrical model, and now he suddenly looks like a major contender at this year’s Oscars. If he were to walk away from Part Two after this it would be a bad look, particularly following Christopher Nolan’s infamous snubbing of WB on Oppenheimer after the WB/HBO Max announcement.
What is likely more influential, however, is that studios are seeing the limits of streaming models, at least at this point in time. When WB announced that their 2021 film slate was going to be a day-and-date experiment, the world was in a different place without a widely available vaccine. But there had also been long simmering speculation and expectations that studios were destined to dabble more aggressively in hybrid models and even possibly cut out cinema exhibitors all together in favor of a direct-to-consumer approach, as favored by Netflix.
WB was the first to put major 2021 blockbusters on streaming, but Disney soon followed suit with Cruella, Jungle Cruise, and Black Widow—all behind a luxuriant $30 paywall on top of their monthly subscription fees. But despite heavy hitters like that, or WB’s own The Suicide Squad and Godzilla vs. Kong, only Marvel Studios’ Black Widow was able to gross over $35 million in its opening weekend. Until Dune, WB hadn’t topped the $31.6 million earned by Godzilla vs. Kong’s opening way back in March, which due to its timing in the early days of the vaccine rollout was viewed as a relative success then.
Conversely, Black Widow’s $80 million opening—which Disney trumpeted was complemented by a $60 million gross in the same time period on Disney+’s Premier Access—was followed up by a stunning 67.8 percent stumble in its second weekend at the box office. This was unheard of for a Marvel release and was likely due not only to families staying home and watching it on Disney+, but also the instant availability the film had on piracy sites as a result of the day-and-date strategy. Scarlett Johansson certainly thought so.
Rather than announcing the viability of day-and-date strategies for blockbusters, WB and Disney’s experiments in hybrid releases showed the harsh ceiling on them. This became more apparent when movies like Shang-Chi and Venom: Let There Be Carnage overperformed in their opening weekends as exclusive theatrical releases.
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