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Dune Release Date, Cast And Story

In 2017, after successes like "Arrival" and "Blade Runner 2049," director Denis Villeneuve saw one of his greatest creative wishes granted — he was drafted by Legendary and Warner Bros. to direct "Dune." A new adaptation of Frank Herbert's legendary novel, first adapted in the 1980s by David Lynch, the film is a dream project for Villeneuve — and for many sci-fi fans, who have long hoped for a version of "Dune" that would do greater visual and narrative justice to Herbert's sprawling work.

Even before Villeneuve stepped onto a single set, "Dune" was set up to be one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters of the 2020s based on the love for the novel and the reputation of its director alone. As Villeneuve began building his creative team for the film, including an all-star cast led by Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson, the anticipation just kept building, and building, like a massive sand dune on a sweeping desert planet. Then came the trailers, and the images, and so much more, and now "Dune" is one of the must-see films of 2021.

So whether you're new to the world of the film or you're just looking to keep track of all the key details ahead of its release, here's everything we know about "Dune" so far.

What's the release date for Dune?

The road to making a new cinematic version of "Dune" was lengthy even before the current roster of talent signed on for the film. Director Denis Villeneuve, who'd long hoped to helm a new adaptation of the novel, signed on to make the film in 2017, but it wasn't until two years later that the project actually landed a 2020 release date.

By the spring of 2019, "Dune" was in production, building its massive ensemble cast and barreling toward a release in the holiday season of 2020, though the film did shift from its original Thanksgiving release to one closer to Christmas.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making a 2020 release for "Dune" very unlikely and leaving Warner Bros. to make some new moves. In October of 2020, Warner Bros. announced that the film would shift to October 1, 2021. Then, in December, the studio dropped some even bigger news: Its entire 2021 film slate, including "Dune," would also simultaneously premiere on the HBO Max streaming service, giving viewers a chance to watch the film at home without waiting.

Finally, in the summer of 2021, Warner Bros. moved "Dune" one more time to a now hopefully final release date of October 22, 2021. The film held its world premiere on September 3, 2021 at the Venice Film Festival.

Who's starring in Dune?

Any "Dune" adaptation faces a monumental challenge in assembling a cast to fill Herbert's universe, and it starts with finding the perfect actors to stand in the center of it all as the Atreides family. In 2018, Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet ("Call Me By Your Name") joined the film as Paul Atreides, making Dune his first blockbuster role. Shortly after reports of Chalamet's involvement started circulating, Rebecca Ferguson ("Mission: Impossible – Fallout") joined the film as Paul's mother, the Bene Gesserit woman Lady Jessica, who first begins teaching him the gifts that will later manifest as messianic abilities. 

With the two most prominent members of House Atreides in place, it was time for the film to cast Duke Leto Atreides, Paul's father who brings his family to Arrakis to take over leadership of the planet, and finds only trouble. In early 2019, it was revealed that Duke Leto will be played by Oscar Isaac, who adds another major sci-fi franchise to his resume just a few years after joining the "Star Wars" galaxy. These three actors form the core family unit that is House Atreides, but they're far from the only major stars joining the film.

Who else is in the cast of Dune?

"Dune" is an epic novel spanning several years and featuring two major royal houses (Atreides and Harkonnen) battling each other for supremacy on a planet that also includes its own native race, the Fremen. That means a massive cast needed to be assembled to make the film work, and because this is a Denis Villeneuve film adaptation of one of the most beloved genre novels ever, A-list actors have lined up to make the supporting cast for "Dune" a truly all-star ensemble. 

Among the stars assembled to round out the film's cast are Stellan Skarsgard as Vladimir Harkonnen, Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Javier Bardem as Stilgar, Zendaya as Chani, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, David Dastmalchian as Piter De Vries, Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban, and Charlotte Rampling as the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Mohiam. It's an exciting, diverse roundup of some of the most acclaimed actors working right now in both action blockbusters and prestige dramas — exactly the right blend for Herbert's sprawling space opera of warring dynasties.

The story of Dune

"Dune" is one of the most celebrated and influential science fiction novels ever written. First published in 1965, Frank Herbert's novel is set amid a future civilization built on a kind of interplanetary feudal system. There's a central government led by an Emperor, and various planets are controlled by his vassals, which take the title of Baron or Duke. 

The main action of "Dune" takes place on the planet Arrakis, one of the most important fiefdoms in the Empire because its vast desserts contain "the spice," an addictive and valuable substance. The novel follows the Atreides family as they are given control of Arrakis by the Emperor, only to find that a vast plot to overthrow them is already underway. Amid these political struggles, Duke Leto Atreides' young son, Paul, begins to manifest superhuman abilities that make him a messiah figure among the local Fremen. A rebellion begins, and Paul's abilities make him into a leader fit to challenge the Emperor himself. 

Of course, Herbert's novel is much more complicated than that, and after "Dune" he just kept going. Herbert himself wrote five sequels to the novel and concluded his series with "Chapterhouse: Dune" in 1985, but the story didn't end there. Herbert's son Brian picked up the torch from his father and, with novelist Kevin J. Anderson, has published more than a dozen more "Dune" books, many of them prequels to the original novel.

Past Dune adaptations

The earliest attempts to adapt Dune for the screen kicked off just a few years after the novel was published. In the mid-1970s, director Alejandro Jodorowsky launched a tremendously ambitious effort to bring the novel to the screen with a project involving everyone from Orson Welles to Salvador Dalí to Pink Floyd. Jodorowsky eventually abandoned the project when the financing for the film could not be fully realized, but his efforts were later chronicled in the 2013 documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune."

The post-"Star Wars" era improved the fortunes of "Dune" as a movie, and in 1984 a big-screen version helmed by director David Lynch was finally released, starring Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides. Though it has since become a cult film, "Dune" was a box office flop and earned negative reviews. Lynch, not yet the household name he would be after "Twin Peaks," was frustrated by a lack of creative control and eventually disowned his "Dune" altogether. 

A longer and more faithful adaptation of Herbert's novel arrived on the small screen in 2000 as "Frank Herbert's Dune," a TV miniseries written by John Harrison that aired in three two-hour installments on the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It was successful enough that a sequel, "Frank Herbert's Children of Dune," followed in 2003 and adapted the next two novels in Herbert's series. 

Attempts to bring "Dune" back to the big screen kicked into gear in 2008, when Paramount Pictures announced Peter Berg would direct a new adaptation. That effort eventually stalled, and in 2016 Legendary Pictures announced that they had landed the film and TV rights for "Dune."

The talent behind the camera on Dune

Soon after Legendary's announcement that they would be adapting "Dune" for the screen again, reports began to circulate that director Denis Villeneuve was the studio's choice to direct the new film version. Villeneuve's involvement was confirmed by Brian Herbert in 2017, after he dazzled audiences with "Arrival" but before "Blade Runner 2049" arrived in theaters to critical acclaim. Thanks to those two films in particular, Villeneuve is one of the most important voices in science fiction cinema right now. He's also a lifelong "Dune" fan who called the chance to adapt the book "the project of my life," while also making it clear that he wouldn't be relying on the Lynch film version at all. 

"I mean, David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him," Villeneuve said. "But when I saw his adaptation, I was impressed, but it was not what I had dreamed of, so I'm trying to make the adaptation of my dreams. It will not have any link with the David Lynch movie. I'm going back to the book, and going to the images that came out when I read it."

Villeneuve was joined in his efforts to adapt the book into the movie of his dreams by screenwriters Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, who share screenplay credit with the director.

How will Dune adapt such massive source material?

Frank Herbert's original novel is not the longest genre epic you're likely to find on the shelves at your local bookstores, but it is among the most dense. "Dune" is a book absolutely packed with plot, covering dozens of characters, multiple groups and cultures, and a vast mythology — some of which is only hinted at in the first novel. It's the kind of book so full of detail that it needs an appendix at the back so you can look up various invented terms for more clarity. 

That means adapting the book to the screen is hard, particularly when you're working within the constraints of a big-budget film, which these days pretty much demands you weigh in with a runtime of three hours or less. Even with that in mind, though, adapting "Dune" as one three-hour story is a daunting prospect that's defeated filmmakers in the past. So, for Villeneuve's film version, the solution was obvious: don't try to make "Dune" one film. 

In the summer of 2018, after Villeneuve made it clear that he was setting a goal of two films for "Dune," Brian Herbert confirmed that the screenplay for the new film would adapt "approximately half" of the first novel in the series. It's not clear how far "approximately half" will take us, but the novel does include a time jump to allow Paul Atreides to age a bit at one point, so it's possible the first film will leave off there.

Future Dune sequels

Brian Herbert confirmed in 2018 that Villeneuve's desire to split "Dune" into two films had come to fruition, and that the film we'd see first would adapt only half of the novel. This was reaffirmed in the spring of 2019 by Legendary Pictures CEO Joshua Grode, who added a little context as to why the split happened.

"There's a backstory that was hinted at in some of the books [that we expanded]," he said. "Also, when you read the book there's a logical place to stop the movie before the book is over."

There's one really interesting wrinkle in all of this, though. Yes, "Dune" will be split into two films, but it's not like "The Lord of the Rings." Peter Jackson shot all of those movies back-to-back, but Villeneuve is not making one "Dune" film right after the other. Instead, Legendary seems to be waiting to see how the first film fares before launching into production on a sequel, which adds intrigue to what Villeneuve said when he first discussed his two-movie plan. "'Dune' will probably take two years to make," he said. "The goal is to make two films, maybe more."

So far, the only adaptation we've gotten beyond Herbert's first novel is the "Children of Dune" miniseries, but if Villeneuve has his way we could one day see a film version of "God Emperor of Dune" and even "Chapterhouse: Dune." It all depends on how well the first film does.

A Dune prequel series

As the HBO Max streaming service fell into place as a major new entertainment venue for WarnerMedia, the company began looking at more ways to interconnect its film releases with its streaming assets. That meant things like tie-in TV series for major franchise films, including "The Suicide Squad," "The Batman," and, yes, "Dune."

In June of 2019, HBO Max gave a series order to "Dune: The Sisterhood," a streaming series that will focus on the women of the Bene Gesserit, the secretive order with connections to characters like Paul Atreides' mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). The series will serve as a prequel to the first "Dune" film, and set up how the order and their mental and physical abilities influence politics in the empire, eventually leading them to the desert planet of Arrakis.

When the series was announced, "Dune" co-screenwriter Jon Spaihts was tapped to write it, but his time working on the eventual "Dune" sequel film eventually meant he had to take a step back. In July of 2021, HBO Max tapped Diane Ademu-John, whose credits include "The Haunting of Bly Manor" and "Empire," to serve as the new showrunner on the series. "Dune" director Denis Villeneuve is still on board to direct the show's pilot.

"Dune: The Sisterhood" does not yet have a release date.

What the Dune trailers show us

After years of anticipation, the first official trailer for "Dune" arrived in September of 2020, back when Warner Bros. was still holding out hope that the film might make it to theaters that December. That, of course, didn't happen, but the trailer still managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of fans, raising the anticipation level for the film more than a year before its eventual release.

The first trailer, much more of a teaser than a full plot breakdown, spends much of its time with Paul Atreides as he grapples with visions of what might happen to him and his family as they head for the desert planet of Arrakis. We see him tested, tormented, and doing his best to be strong even as the dangers of the planet become apparent. The trailer is, of course, packed with dazzling visuals, leading up to the reveal of a sandworm at the end.

The second official trailer, released in the summer of 2021, digs more heavily into the plot and the supporting cast of the film, and pays particular attention to Chani, the Fremen girl Paul eventually falls in love with. In this trailer we get a much better sense of the plot, as Paul begins to realize not only that his family is in grave danger from the evil Harkonnens, but that he himself might not actually be the person to lead House Atreides into the future. It's a much fuller view of the film, one that allows us to see more of the internal dynamics of the ensemble, as well as some great action sequences.

Dune release controversy

When WarnerMedia announced in December of 2020 that its entire 2021 feature film slate would simultaneously premiere in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service, many moviegoers wary of crowded theaters rejoiced. Filmmakers, though, weren't necessarily on board, including "Dune" director Denis Villeneuve.

In a statement released to Variety at the time, Villeneuve blasted Warners' parent company, AT&T, noting that he learned about the release plans "in the news" like everyone else, and wasn't warned of the shift in advance.

"With this decision AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history," he wrote. "There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here."

Though Villeneuve was not the only critic of the release strategy, he has remained among the loudest. For a brief time in the spring of 2021, it seemed possible that Warner Bros. was pulling back on the HBO Max plan, at least where "Dune" was concerned, as reports circulated that the film would no longer receive a same-day HBO Max release. Warner Bros. executives later debunked those reports, and for his part, Villeneuve is still not happy about it. In an August 2021 interview with Total Film, the director called the move "ridiculous" and said that to watch "Dune" on a home TV is "to drive a speedboat in your bathtub."