HBO Max Movie Plans In Trouble? ‘Dune’ Might Not go to Streaming

The plan for HBO Max to host every Warner Bros. film release in 2021 hasn’t gone down well with some people. Turns out, some of the parties who actually made and financed these films have a few objections to their work getting a digital release without their input.

Some of the more disgruntled parties in this sordid affair are those involved with Dune. Director Denis Villeneuve penned a letter for Variety arguing against the move, advocating for the communal cinema experience and worrying that a streaming release will kill the film’s planned sequels.

Less artfully-inclined is Legendary Pictures, the studio that financed roughly 75% of Dune. Word is that the well-known blockbuster producers are looking to sue Warner Bros. to prevent their films from going straight to HBO Max. And they might have already been successful.

‘Dune’ might be able to avoid HBO Max

Oscar Isaac in Dune
Oscar Isaac in ‘Dune.’ | Chiabella James/Warner Bros.

RELATED: HBO Max: How Theaters Might Try to Undercut Streaming Releases

The news about Dune came nestled into a Deadline interview with director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s latest film, The Little Things with Denzel Washington, will hit HBO Max and theaters on Jan. 29.

In it, Deadline mentions rumors coming from Warner Bros. that Dune might be reverting to a theatrical-only release model. This is said to be an effort to appease Legendary Pictures before any major legal action is undertaken.

The article notes that Dune‘s current release date, Oct. 1, is considered to be far enough out that movie theaters might be safer. With COVID-19 vaccines beginning to be distributed, fall 2021 is generally accepted as the point at which some sense of normalcy will return.

Keeping Dune in theaters would also allow it the chance to build a franchise, something Legendary and Villeneuve are strongly committed to. The film is based on the science fiction classic written by Frank Herbert. The book series spawned from the initial novel has seen well over a dozen releases since 1965 and has found a fiercely loyal fanbase.

The film stars Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, heir to a powerful family that controls Arakis, a desert planet where the most valuable substance in the universe, the Spice, is mined. The plot follows Paul as he becomes embroiled in the conflict between his family and the Fremen, the native people of Arakis.

Villeneuve has mounted a massive blockbuster adaptation of the beloved book, with a budget north of $160 million and an all-star cast. In addition to Chalamet, the film stars Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Jason Mamoa, Charlotte Rampling, and Javier Bardem. A spin-off television series, Dune: The Sisterhood, has also been in development at HBO Max.

It’s not just ‘Dune’ causing headaches for Warner Bros.

Godzilla with his head pointed up, roaring into the sky
Godzilla might still stomp onto HBO Max next year. | Warner Bros.

RELATED: Timothée Chalamet’s Brief Rap Career Included Lyrics About His Love For His High School Stats Teacher

Legendary Pictures also financed the epic kaiju crossover, Godzilla vs. Kong, which is set for release in May 2021. According to Deadline, the studio is more open to allowing the film to premiere on HBO Max if Warner Bros. ponies up enough cash. The film might also be less of a box office imperative for all parties involved compared to Dune, as the releases leading up to it have seen diminishing returns.

Warner Bros. will also need to find its way out of some sticky contractual obligations in order to keep this ambitious plan mostly intact. Will Smith‘s King Richard, a biopic centered on the father of Serena and Venus Williams, was sold to the studio with the provision that it would guarantee a theatrical release. This promise is what ultimately swayed the production away from a lucrative Netflix deal. The film is currently set for a Thanksgiving 2021 release.