While James Bond has been known to terrify his reel-world detractors, he also seems to be scaring real-world competition — specifically AT&T Inc.'s (NYSE:T) Warner Bros., which has been hopscotching its release of “Dune” across Europe, Asia and the U.S. to avoid a direct confrontation with the long-awaited 007 epic “No Time to Die.”
What Happened: Both films have been on the shelf for extended periods — “No Time to Die” was originally planned for a November 2019 release and "Dune" was set to debut in November 2020 — and both have been among the most eagerly awaited titles for the fall theatrical release season.
But according to a Deadline report, Warner Bros. has intentionally positioned “Dune” in theaters to avoid direct competition with the “No Time to Die” release. Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the Frank Herbert science-fiction novel has already opened in 24 markets, grossing $36.8 million over the past weekend. “No Time to Die” is not scheduled to premiere in Europe until Sept. 29.
Across the Atlantic, “Dune” was planned for a U.S. premiere on Oct. 1, following its presentation at the New York Film Festival. But when MGM/United Artists Releasing moved “No Time to Die” to an Oct. 8 U.S. premiere, Warner Bros. abruptly shuffled the “Dune” U.S. opening to Oct. 22.
Why It Matters: Although advance reviews for “Dune” have been strong and audience response in its initial release has been vibrant — it has already broken COVID-19 pandemic-era box office records in 10 markets including France, Germany, Hong Kong and Russia — the film is burdened by an ongoing controversy involving Villeneuve’s loud complaints of having the U.S. theatrical premiere paired with a simultaneous presentation on HBO Max.
“Frankly, to watch ‘Dune’ on a television, the best way I can compare it is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub,” he said in an interview last month with Total Film. "For me, it's ridiculous. It's a movie that has been made as a tribute to the big-screen experience."
How much the HBO Max streaming presentation will cannibalize the theatrical release is unclear. Warner Bros.’ current release, Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho,” opened last weekend in the dual release and significantly underperformed in theaters. None of the international markets where “Dune” has opened has HBO Max.
Also, “No Time to Die” is coming to theaters with two years of buzz involving Daniel Craig’s final performance as James Bond and persistent rumors that Black British actress Lashana Lynch, whose character is assigned the 007 number following James Bond’s retirement, will inherit the series’ mantle. Craig further fueled speculation with a Radio Times interview where he rejected any precedent-breaking casting of the role.
“Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?” Craig said.
What Happens Next: One market where Warner Bros. cannot freely manipulate theatrical opening dates is China, where the government sets a quota on imported films and determines when they can play in theaters.
For the Chinese market, Warner Bros. does not have the luxury of spacing “Dune” away from “No Time to Die,” with the former film slated for an Oct. 22 release and the latter work pegged to hit local theaters on Oct. 29.
Photo: Lashana Lynch and Daniel Craig in "No Time to Die," courtesy Eon Productions.