Dune‘s theatrical release could be saved by a lawsuit from Legendary. The studio financed 75% of the film, and they also own the rights to the novel. When Warner Bros. announced that the film would be hitting HBO Max and theaters the same day, along with the rest of the studio’s 2021 slate, Legendary was less than pleased with the announcement. They’ve toyed with the idea of bringing a lawsuit forward but have yet to do so.
Legendary also has a huge stake in another Warner Bros. tentpole: Godzilla vs. Kong. The film is set to be released May 21, roughly four months before Dune‘s release. The studio had been previously shopping around for a buyer for Godzilla vs. Kong, but WarnerMedia blocked the $250 million sale. Legendary‘s biggest concern with having Dune hit HBO Max is that it could damage the viability of the potentially massive franchise.
Now, Deadline is reporting that Legendary‘s fight with Warner Bros. could potentially see Dune exclusively hitting theaters. Legendary feels confident that, with Dune‘s later release date, audiences will be more willing to go to theaters to see the film. By the time the film is released on October 1, herd immunity through vaccination could be achieved, leaving the door open for theaters to return to business as usual. Godzilla vs Kong would still hit both HBO Max and theaters in May.
One thing’s for sure: if Dune fails and Warner Bros. or Legendary decides not to make a sequel, the studio risks igniting the ire of many fans. With the film splitting the first book in half, the first film will only tell half the story. It’s clear Warner Bros. is banking on the film being a hit. Dune 2 is already being written, and so is a spinoff show for HBO Max. The studio has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the franchise, and while they may already be planning to take a hit because of their HBO Max decision, it looks like Legendary doesn’t want to risk it.
Still, even if Legendary preserves Dune‘s theatrical release, there is no guarantee that audiences will turn out in huge numbers. With no way of telling what percentage of the population will be vaccinated by October, the studio will likely have a hard time convincing those who aren’t vaccinated to leave their homes. Dune is arguably Warner Bros. biggest film of 2021. It will likely be a hit no matter what, barring any sort of unforeseen catastrophe. Warner Bros. may be more willing to play fast and loose with Dune‘s box office, but it’s clear Legendary is the much more cautious party. Reports are already indicating that Warner Bros. could potentially lose over $1 billion in box office grosses with their release model, and Legendary just isn’t willing to make that bet with those kinds of numbers.