Dune Director Slams Warner Bros. for HBO Max Release, Warns It May Doom the Franchise

Denis Villeneuve works with star Timothée Chalamet on the set of Dune.
Denis Villeneuve works with star Timothée Chalamet on the set of Dune.
Image: Warner Bros.

Fear might be the mind killer, but streaming could wind up killing Dune itself. Director Denis Villeneuve is speaking out against WarnerMedia’s recent decision to give all of next year’s movies simultaneous releases on HBO Max, warning that it could mean the end of the franchise before it’s even begun.

Advertisement

“Warner Bros.’ sudden reversal from being a legacy home for filmmakers to the new era of complete disregard draws a clear line for me,” Villeneuve said. “Filmmaking is a collaboration, reliant on the mutual trust of team work and Warner Bros. has declared they are no longer on the same team.”

In an op-ed published in Variety, Villeneuve blasted the decision to have all of next year’s movies come out in theaters and HBO Max at the same time—especially Dune, which he called “by far the best movie I’ve ever made.” This comes after Warner Bros. previously moved The Witches to HBO Max and chose to give Wonder Woman 1984 a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release.

Even though Wonder Woman 1984 hasn’t come out yet, it seems like Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T thought the move would be a success for the streaming platform. WarnerMedia announced the larger, and unexpected, schedule change earlier this month and has since received a wave of criticism from people in the industry, most notably Tenet director Christopher Nolan (for better or worse).

Unlike The Witches and Wonder Woman 1984, whose release changes were reportedly negotiated ahead of time, Villeneuve said he was not given advanced notice of the decision to put Dune on HBO Max, noting that he found out about it “in the news.” Reports have suggested Legendary Entertainment, which co-produced the film, was likewise not given much notice (Legendary declined to comment for this article). Villeneuve called the decision a selfish calculation on AT&T’s part to boost interest in HBO Max and ensure “the survival of a telecom mammoth,” rather than do what’s best for Dune and the other Warner Bros. movies set to come out in 2021. Actors Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa, who play Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho respectively, showed their support for Villeneuve on Instagram, encouraging their followers to read the “important article.”

Furthermore, Villeneuve warned that a streaming release for something as big as Dune could mean an increase in piracy and decrease in revenue, putting the future of the franchise in jeopardy. Dune covers the first half of the iconic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. There are plans to continue with at least one more film to wrap up the story—but some fans are hoping to see it continue beyond that with other books and stories in the saga.

Advertisement

“Streaming services are a positive and powerful addition to the movie and TV ecosystems. But I want the audience to understand that streaming alone can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before [covid-19]. Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune’s scope and scale,” Villeneuve wrote. “Warner Bros.’ decision means Dune won’t have the chance to perform financially in order to be viable and piracy will ultimately triumph. Warner Bros. might just have killed the Dune franchise. This one is for the fans. AT&T’s John Stankey said that the streaming horse left the barn. In truth, the horse left the barn for the slaughterhouse.”

Villeneuve added that he worked with Warner Bros. to move the original December release to October 2021, delaying the film by almost a year, as part of a good faith effort to make sure people could see it safely in the theaters. But now that point is moot. In his op-ed, the director called on AT&T to make changes to its upcoming schedule, “finding ways to enhance culture” instead of just thinking of the company’s shareholders. WarnerMedia declined to comment.

Advertisement

Dune is set to come out in theaters and on HBO Max on October 1, 2021.

Advertisement

For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

Advertisement

DISCUSSION

By
NoReallyButWait

People will not go to theaters in the numbers they have historically if they do not feel that they can be safe gathering in large numbers. Maybe a vaccine will change this, but that’s still half a year a way, at least, for most people in the US.

Studios cannot cling to the traditional theater model, at least not in the immediate future, if they want these movies to make any money. It looks like their choice is delay EVERY movie until 2022, or release the movies on the docket IN SOME FORM that people might actually watch, ie. streaming services. At the very least, it gives them a chance to recoup some of the lost theater revenue by way of increased streaming subscriptions.

It does suck that the studio made this decision without informing or discussing it with filmmakers first, but I doubt that would have changed their reactions.