‘Dune: Part Two’ Brings Box Office Joy, but Don’t Call It a Savior

Another year, another savior movie. “Dune: Part Two” opens Thursday, and there’s a real chance that its opening weekend will outrank the total domestic gross of any film that’s opened this year. However, this savior doesn’t travel solo: It’s one of four films in March that could pass $100 million in domestic gross — something that hasn’t happened since last July.

The new “Dune” should be the month’s top film, particularly with a March 1 debut, but “Kung Fu Panda 4” (Universal) on March 8 also looks strong. There’s also potential in fellow sequels “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Sony, March 22) and “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Warner Bros., March 29).

All told, it’s likely that March’s total will meet or exceed the approximately $650 million grossed last year for the same month. That’s essential to reverse the box office’s terrible start to 2024. Through February, grosses will be off more than 20 percent compared to last year. If all goes according to plan this month, the year to date would still be down 13 percent — but any improvement is welcome.

Schools will have spring breaks throughout the month, and Easter is March 31, attracting more films with greater potential. (So far, the year’s top performer is “Bob Marley: One Love,” which will get close to $100 million). That’s why there are so many top films jammed into the next five weeks, a stark contrast to the last two months.

With the potential of opening to more than $80 million, and grossing perhaps $200 million during the month, “Dune: Part Two” should be the biggest contributor to March’s bounty. However, “Kung Fu Panda 4” will address the post-Christmas dearth of family films for a hungry audience. (“Migration” was #5 over last weekend, and “Wonka” #7, even with parallel home availability.) The 2016 third “Kung Fu Panda” franchise installment grossed $143 million domestically (over $180 million at current ticket prices). If it draws as many patrons (many of whom pay kids’ prices, and without the premium screen boost of “Dune: Part Two”), it could sell more tickets.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire”

That would be a strong start of over $300 million, followed by the “Ghostbusters” and “Godzilla” sequels. Their predecessors each passed $100 million domestic, with their lead casts reprising their roles. Both were released in COVID-challenged 2021, and “Godzilla vs. Kong” became the biggest-grossing film since theaters closed. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” has a reported cost of $190 million; that makes it a riskier bet, although the nearly half-billion worldwide take for “Godzilla vs. Kong” suggested sufficient interest.

Each will test the 2023 lesson that new franchise entries must pass an audience-credibility test. These come late in the month, but a combined $150 million for March is possible.

The four top titles have the prospect of $450 million for the month. Add three lower-budget titles, each with sleeper potential, and they could add $100 million more.

Two come from Lionsgate with “Imaginary,” a horror film from Blumhouse (March 8), and family film “Arthur the King” with Mark Wahlberg (March 15). Both should do the bulk of their business during the month.

March 8 also brings Angel Studios’ “Cabrini,” from Alejandro Monteverde, the director of “Sound of Freedom.” The biopic about Italian immigrant Francesca Cabrini, who fought for the poor in late 1800s New York, might not have the same visceral draw as last summer’s surprise hit but should draw a similar audience.

If the films meet those targets (it’s possible some could even exceed), holdovers and other openings would need to add another $100 million to match March 2023. Specialized debuts will include the last three episodes of TV series “The Chosen,” which could gross $10 million; A24’s “Problemista” and “Love Lies Bleeding”; Focus Features’ “The American Society of Magical Negroes”; Neon’s “Immaculate”; and India’s “Gaami.” These should easily exceed $50 million total.

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