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Dune 2 Delay Signals Entire Fall Film Slate Is in Doubt

So if WB is calculating the strike will drag into October and November, Disney CEO Bob Iger is probably looking at similar projections, and may worry about releasing The Marvels on Nov. 10 without Brie Larson available to go on The Tonight Show, just as WB clearly decided Dune 2 needed Chalamet and Zendaya to trip the light fantastic on the red carpet.

Dune 2 isn’t the first film to be delayed due to concerns about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. The Zendaya-starring Challengers also moved from this fall to April 26, 2024, and Sony’s Kraven the Hunter moved back nearly a year from October 2023 to Aug. 30, 2024, among others. However, the sci-fi epic is undoubtedly the highest profile film to thus far abandon 2023. That move thus seems likely to presage both other blockbuster events following suit, as well as smaller films that are dependent on familiar faces to draw attention to original ideas, such as Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls, which moved to February 2024 because the studio estimated Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Pedro Pascal doing interviews for the film was critical to achieving audience awareness.

Unfortunately, this is overall a grim calculation by the studios, and one that appears to be made as much at their own expense as it is the striking actors and writers, who Iger previously described in the press as not being “realistic.”

For instance, it is notable that the Dune 2 delay occurred the same week WGA representation announced the AMPTP’s latest offer was “not yet good enough” in regards to demands, including that writers receive fair compensation for shows and films that are successful on streaming, and that there are guarantees against writers being replaced by artificial intelligence. While the timing might be coincidental, the message of the Dune delay (intentional or otherwise) is that studios are prepared to let this drag into the holiday season, past Dune’s original Nov. 3 release date, and longer if it might end things in their favor.

To do this while the state of moviegoing is still incredibly fragile is extremely questionable. While the fate of theatrical distribution is far less of a priority for many of WBD’s fellow AMPTP negotiating partners, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Apple, it is vital for traditional movie studios like WBD, Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Sony Pictures. As WB’s previous flirtation with a year’s worth of day-and-date releases in 2021 proved, the bigger event-sized spectacles that underwrite a traditional movie studio’s fiscal year leave money on the table (if not lose it outright) when they pivot to a streaming or hybrid distribution model.

One of then-WarnerMedia’s few successes in that woeful experiment was Dune, which made $400 million worldwide despite being online for both HBO Max subscribers and streaming pirates the same day it opened. Which raises the question of how much it might’ve made without being kneecapped by its studio—it did, after all, open lower than Halloween Kills in October 2021.

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