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Dune: Part Two” is riding those massive sandworms all the way to the top of box office charts.

Director Denis Villeneuve‘s big-budget sequel has collected $81.5 million in its domestic debut and delivered a mighty, necessary jolt for struggling movie theaters. It’s the biggest opening weekend of the year and the largest since last October’s Taylor Swift concert film “The Eras Tour” ($93 million).

Buoyed by positive reviews and glowing word-of-mouth (it has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and “A” CinemaScore), “Dune 2” seems to have expanded its fanbase beyond sci-fi buffs and arrived on the higher end of expectations. Heading into the weekend, Warner Bros., the studio behind the otherworldly epic, conservatively projected a $65 million start, though most box office prognosticators believed that revenues would surpass $80 million.

“Dune: Part Two” is especially popular in Imax and other premium large formats, with PLFs, as they are known in the industry, contributing a massive 48% of the film’s domestic tally. Imax alone accounted for $18.5 million of ticket sales, representing 23% of the marketshare. Demand to watch on 70mm film — the director’s format of choice — has been so high that some brave moviegoers have resorted to 3:15 a.m. showtimes. (Yes, a.m.)

With interest for those pricier PLF screens, “Part Two” looks like it’ll have the legs needed to justify its expensive return to the desert planet of Arrakis. The film, co-produced and co-financed by Legendary Entertainment, cost $190 million to produce and roughly $100 million more to promote to global audiences. Initial ticket sales for the sequel have far exceeded the original “Dune,” which opened in 2021 to $41 million while landing simultaneously on HBO Max. “Part One” ended its run with $402 million globally, making it one of the only financial wins from the studio’s pandemic-era hybrid release strategy.

The follow-up was originally slated to hit the big screen last fall, but it was delayed to spring because of the actors strike, which prevented stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Florence Pugh and the rest of the sprawling, buzzy cast from being able to promote the movie. On its new release date, the second “Dune” benefited from pent-up demand; there hasn’t been a blockbuster in weeks.

Opening grosses for “Dune 2,” on the heels of Warner’s fantasy musical “Wonka,” appear to confirm Chalamet as the rarest of species: a bankable leading man. And outsized commercial results might position Villeneuve, with the possible exception of Christopher Nolan, as the filmmaker best able to deliver the types of brainy big-screen spectacles that can appeal to wide audiences.

With “Dune: Part Two” taking up the majority of oxygen at multiplexes, other movies in theaters fought for scraps. In a distant second place, Paramount’s musical biopic “Bob Marley: One Love” added $7.4 million from 3,390 theaters. The film, starring Kingsley Ben-Adir as the music legend, has become a surprise box office success with $82.7 million in North America and $146 million globally.

Hilary Swank’s inspirational drama “Ordinary Angels” remained in third place with $3.8 million from 3,020 locations. After two weeks on the big screen, the Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company film has collected a mere $12 million. However, “Ordinary Angels” reportedly carries a modest budget in the low double digits, which could help to offset these lackluster grosses.

At the No. 4 spot, “Madame Web” continued to sputter with $3.2 million from 3,116 theaters. Sony’s “Spider-Man” spin-off, starring Dakota Johnson as a paramedic with psychic abilities, cost $80 million and has generated a paltry $40 million domestically and $50 million internationally to date.

Faith-based TV series “The Chosen” rounded out the top five with $3.1 million from 2,215 venues. Fathom Events has rolling out the show’s Season 4 exclusively in cinemas with two-week runs of episodes, and this weekend’s run included episodes seven and eight. Ticket sales were slightly behind episodes four through six, which brought in $3.5 million, They steeply declined from episodes one through three, which generated $6 million to start and $14 million during its run.

More to come…

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