Why Dune Director Denis Villeneuve Had the Balls to Gamble on a Sequel


Movies are investments. For the big studios that fund them—we’re talking about the likes of Warner Bros. and Universal—every movie is a business move. Studios can pool up to $200 million into a big movie, betting on the film’s script, cast, director, and crew to pull off a massive success at the box office. Sometimes it pays off—just look at Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and sometimes it doesn’t—case in point, the DC Extended Universe. 

But that was all BP, or Before Pandemic. In those days, streaming was still up-and-coming, but after almost two years of this pandemic, streaming is now king. Cinemas are steadily reopening around the world, with countries like the U.S. leading the charge, but it will be years before we see box office numbers like those pre-pandemic. That means the stakes are even higher for films that were produced—and funded—pre-pandemic. The best example? Dune, Warner Bros’ and Legendary Pictures’ $165 million epic sci-fi film directed by Denis Villeneuve.

A sandworm on Arrakis
Photo by Warner Bros.

Dune finished filming in 2019, but the pandemic pushed back its release to 2021, and instead of just screening in cinemas, the massive film will also drop on HBO Max (and HBO Go in the Philippines) on the same day as its theatrical release. Critics and fans alike have commented that this could hurt the film’s financial success and chances at a sequel—because believe it or not, Villeneuve had the balls to create a giant film that even he calls “half a movie.” A sequel has not yet been confirmed. 

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According to Villeneuve, the “other half the movie” will only get the green light if it performs well at the box office and on HBO Max. The future of this potential trilogy hangs in the balance, much to the dismay of fans and even Villeneuve himself. 

"It's a very awkward position I'm in right now," said Villeneuve to CNET. "It's true that I did just half of a movie. It's a crazy way to do things ... It's like doing half of a painting or half of a symphony and saying, 'Wait, everybody, we'll continue in two years'... But those movies are very expensive to make, and I agreed with the deal to do the first part. It's a gamble.”

Director Denis Villeneuve with actor Javier Bardem as Stilgar shooting on set in Jordan
Photo by Warner Bros.

Dune is based on the first half of the book of the same name. At over 700 pages, the first book is a juggernaut, so it makes sense that Villeneuve envisioned two films to encompass the first book. There are six books in the entire series by Frank Herbert, but Villeneuve hopes to adapt only the first two into a trilogy akin to The Dark Knight trilogy. Anything beyond the second book will be in the hands of another director, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The second film hasn’t even been approved yet. 

The plot of the first book follows an entire galaxy with fictional cultures, planets, languages, and religions, and to combine the exposition of all of that with the plot would have only made the film impossible to follow. For those who have read the books, it’s clear Villeneuve made the right call to only make half a movie—even if it lasts over two hours long. Critics are raving, with many calling the movie “epic,” “majestic,” and plenty of other positive adjectives. It already has an 87 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so we’re hopeful that fans won’t be disappointed. 


But that doesn’t take away the fact that Villeneuve’s decision to make it only “half a movie” was, as he put it, crazy. 

For fans, it might be a while before the box office and streaming numbers are in, and even longer until Warner Bros. gives Dune: Part II the green light. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the numbers. For now, we can enjoy the film when it releases in cinemas and on HBO Go, and pray to the powers that be that we get the second half of the movie soon. 

Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat
Photo by Warner Bros.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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