Blade Runner 2049 Budget: Another “movie celebrity” has joined the cast of Legendary Entertainment’s Dune, as we learned yesterday (and now today).
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So far, Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgrd, and now Josh Brolin (and now Jason Momoa) have signed on for what is supposed to be a two-part film based on the first book in the series, barring any changes or variables.
Dune is a revolutionary work that influenced a lot of subsequent science fiction (including Star Wars).
The director of Prisoners, Enemy, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 is expected to offer a fantastic fantasy action film. Will the general public be interested?
There’s a lengthy history of movies that generated a lot of attention online but played to mostly empty theatres. Consider Kick-Ass ($98 million worldwide), Scott Pilgrim vs.
the World, Dredd, John Carter, Edge of Tomorrow ($370 million worldwide on a $175 million budget), or Blade Runner 2049.
Yes, come hell or high water, a major studio is throwing money at Villeneuve to make a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster based on a cult sci-fi concept whose previous film was a colossal disappointment.
Blade Runner 2049 was a critically acclaimed sequel to a cult flop that only made $259 million on a $150-$185 million budget (depending on who you ask).
Dune, directed by David Lynch, had dismal reviews and grossed only $31 million domestically on a $40 million budget in 1984. Adjusted for inflation, that would be roughly $81 million, however the budget for 2019 would be around $105 million.
This isn’t to say that Dune is doomed from the start, but the odds are stacked against it.
As we’ve seen with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Tomorrowland, Jupiter Ascending, and (barring a miracle) this week’s Alita: Battle Angel.
The mere prospect of a big-budget fantasy spectacular is no longer enough to entice moviegoers into theatres. It’s not enough to have cinematic stars like George Clooney and Channing Tatum if the audience has no idea who they’re playing.
Even Tom Cruise, who was only portraying “some man” who had to stop the title villain, couldn’t make The Mummy a hit. That massive cast, as spectacular as it is, isn’t made up of one-hit wonders.
Regardless of their ensemble value, they may only be worthwhile if the heroes and villains of Dune are even moderately well-known.
It’s not like The Paul Atreides Story has been in high demand. They didn’t give a damn about a Han Solo film with Star Wars slapped on the title (particularly overseas audiences).
That said, if it turns out to be visually appealing and halfway great (yeah, I’m the dolt who loathed Blade Runner 2049, but I can concede I’m in the minority), Legendary and (probably, given their recent reunion) Warner Bros.
will have a key to even prospective success.
There are two things that play a role in this. First and foremost, I am hopeful that Legendary will learn one important lesson and will not spend $155 million on this film.
Blade Runner 2049, an R-rated sci-fi drama aimed at adults, grossed $92 million in the United States and $259 million worldwide. On a $90 million budget, that would have been respectable (but not extraordinary), compared to the $160 million spent on the Ryan Gosling/Harrison Ford film.
On a $250 million budget, John Carter grossed $272 million worldwide. Tomorrowland made $209 million globally on a $190 million budget, whereas Valerian made $220 million worldwide on a $175 million budget.
Those films would have been significantly less devastating if they had been funded closer to $100m-$125m, assuming such a thing was even conceivable.
Although movie wasn’t nearly the same, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters earned well for a comedy ($229 million worldwide), but it cost $144 million to create, resulting in a $70 million loss for Sony.
The second factor, in terms of Sony, is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s specific lesson. That film went to great lengths in terms of casting (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan), concept (kids trapped in a video game), and marketing to ensure that it appealed to people who were unfamiliar with the Jumanji franchise.
Expect a domestic gross of $404 million and a worldwide gross of $962 million. Even if that is a far-fetched premise for any film, the cause-and-effect lesson still holds true.
The budget for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was low enough that it didn’t have to break any records. It was also built and sold without relying heavily on the IP as a selling point.
The purposefully obscure and spoiler-free marketing and pre-release campaign for Blade Runner 2049 (where critics were asked not to discuss narrative points that literally occurred in the first moments) had nothing to give but its ties to the 1982 Ridley Scott film.
The pitch was basically “Hey, it’s another Blade Runner!” because Harrison Ford hasn’t been much of a draw outside of Star Wars and Indiana Jones since 2000 and Ryan Gosling isn’t an opener.
To break even, it had to sell far more tickets than the first Blade Runner and become Ford’s largest non-Han Solo/Indy smash. This did not take place.
We don’t even know which studio will release the film, though I’m guessing Warner Bros. given the Dream Factory signed a partnership with Legendary (starting with Detective Pikachu) late last year.
However, whoever studio is in charge of this project, as well as any firms alongside Legendary are really producing it, should be aware that Dune is so far approximating the type of film that can no longer compete with the more popular character-specific superhero films.
If Dune is to have any chance of succeeding, let alone establishing a franchise, it needs to be cheap enough that even matching the global gross of John Carter or Blade Runner 2049 will qualify it as a hit.
Furthermore, it must approach its original material not as a surefire crutch, but as a springboard (if not outright impediment) to selling the film to general audiences.
Dune is replete with little-known characters and archetypes that will feel old hat thanks to the movies Dune inspired, so it can’t rely on IP (think John Carter syndrome).
It can’t rely on its ensemble cast, as they aren’t stand-alone openers and may not be enough to turn a wacky sci-fi fantasy into a must-see film.
It’s impossible to presume that the internet gushing reflects the wider public’s interest. Dune confronts a difficult uphill struggle, the severity of which will be determined by how much it costs.
That isn’t to argue that Dune is doomed; rather, the film’s conception and marketing will have to appeal to people who haven’t heard of or care about Dune.
You’ve already enlisted the support of the public. Preaching to the unconverted will be the focus of the next few years.