Hollywood has high hopes for ‘Dune’ at the box office, but Warner Bros. execs are also closely watching how it performs on HBO Max

A picture of Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin in 'Dune.'
Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin in ‘Dune.’ Warner Bros.
  • Warner Bros.’ big-budget “Dune” arrives in theaters and on HBO Max this weekend.
  • The movie enters a crowded month for new releases that’s had mixed results.
  • Meanwhile, Warner Bros. movies seem to be attracting new subscribers to Max.

“Dune,” the big-budget sci-fi epic from Warner Bros., arrives in US theaters and on HBO Max today, rounding out a month crowded with long-delayed new releases that has yielded mixed results at the box office.

Hollywood and movie theaters have high hopes for “Dune,” which cost $US165 ($AU220) million to produce before marketing expenses. The movie is already performing well in some international markets and has earned $US130 ($AU173) million so far. But as theaters in the US slowly recover from the pandemic, a tentpole like “Dune” can either be a sign of hope or a crushing disappointment.

In an early forecast, the Box Office Pro chief analyst Shawn Robbins projected the movie to open domestically with between $US35 ($AU47) million and $US45 ($AU60) million.

“‘Dune’ is opening in a very crowded October market,” Robbins wrote. “Only to be followed by a major Marvel Studios film, ‘Eternals,’ two weeks later on November 5. This is an unprecedented level of direct competition in a short window during the pandemic.”

The international box office would have to pick up a lot of slack if “Dune” opens on the low end of that spectrum (it also opens in China this weekend, which has surpassed the US as the world’s largest theatrical market thanks largely to the success of local productions).

After it arrives on Max Thursday evening, piracy could also be an issue, as it has been for other Warner Bros. movies this year.

“When a movie is released simultaneously to a streaming service, a pristine copy of that movie is made available day one that it’s in cinemas,” John Fithian, the CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told Insider in a recent interview.

Warner Bros. has had successes this year at the box office, like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” and failures like “The Suicide Squad,” which made just $US55 ($AU73) million domestically.

But executives have stood by the simultaneous “day-and-date” release strategy, noting that the box office isn’t the only way to gauge a movie’s success. In an interview with Deadline, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks chair Ann Sarnoff used the “Sopranos” prequel movie “The Many Saints of Newark” as an example, which has grossed just $US8 ($AU11) million in the US since opening October 1.

“You see ‘Sopranos’ pop into the top 10 of the most viewed series on the service,” Sarnoff said. “It’s given it an entirely new life. It’s literally lifted the ‘Sopranos’ franchise in a new way, so you can’t measure it in and of itself in the box office.”

WarnerMedia has yet to disclose viewership numbers for any Warner Bros. releases this year, though the movies seem to be attracting new subscribers to Max.

During WarnerMedia parent company AT&T’s earnings report on Thursday, the company said that HBO and Max took a subscriber hit in the US, dropping from 47 million to 45.2 million subscribers domestically, after HBO was removed from Amazon Channels and about 5 million customers lost access to the platform. But the combined total worldwide reached 69 million subscribers.

“Seeing total HBO/HBO Max domestic subs ONLY down 1.8 million sequentially is impressive – probably a combination of continued solid organic sub growth and recapturing subs fast,” LightShed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield tweeted.

Max offered a 50% discount last month to new subscribers in an effort to lure back customers who subscribed to HBO through Amazon. But Greenfield also attributed the subscriber numbers to WarnerMedia’s movie-release strategy.