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Denis Villeneuve's Biggest Box Office Movies To Date

Thanks to the success of "Dune," Denis Villeneuve is more ubiquitous than ever. Of course, he's been crafting noteworthy pieces of cinema for over two decades now, which range in scale from micro-budget indie films to costly tentpole features like "Blade Runner 2049." Whatever the scope of his filmmaking, Villeneuve's works usually garner strong reviews and have frequently emerged as box office hits. What's particularly interesting about Villeneuve's commercial track record is that, given the way he shifts between arthouse and mainstream fare, some of his features have worldwide box office hauls that may seem "small" but are actually quite impressive given the size of their theatrical release.

This means Villeneuve has a unique collection of titles that qualify as his "biggest" releases, a testament to his versatility as an artist. Breaking down the factors behind the box office performances of his directorial efforts allows one to appreciate this, as well as which of his motion pictures qualify as his largest successes financially.

Two notes before moving forward: no box office figures exist for Villeneuve's directorial debut, "August 32nd on Earth," so it isn't included here. Similarly, due to "Dune" being in the middle of its box office run as of this writing, it is also absent from this piece.


Denis Villeneuve's filmography has been rife with some strange imagery, including the gigantic spider that closes out "Enemy" and the spider/dog creature covered in a gimp suit that briefly appears in "Dune." A precursor to all those, though, is the taking fish that narrates "Maelstrom." A character seemingly ripped out of "Shark Tale" is provided as a guide through a tormented romantic relationship involving a woman who kills a man in a car accident and eventually falls in love with the dead man's son. The unorthodox narrator and strange plot mean "Maelstrom" was always going to have limited appeal in terms of its box office potential.

Box office figures for "Maelstrom" are scarce, with no reported figures existing for its international box office run (if there even was one). However, the project did gross $354,120 in theaters. $343,710 of that sum came from its Canadian release, where it reported box office figures over 16 months. Its stay in movie theaters in the United States of America was a much briefer affair, with the film debuting in this territory in April 2002 and making just over $10,000. Though the lowest-grossing film in Villeneuve's career, it still did fine given its minimal theater count and its unabashedly peculiar premise.


The specifics on the United States release of Denis Villeneuve's feature "Polytechnique," which uses actors to recreate an actual massacre that occurred in Montreal, are shrouded in uncertainty. Though IMDb claims "Polytechnique" did debut in the USA in February 2009, the records only chronicle its finances in its theatrical run in Canada. This lack of information speaks to the small-scale nature of "Polytechnique," a movie whose $6 million budget would likely cover the costs of one scene in later Villeneuve epics like "Dune."

"Polytechnique" grossed $1.4 million during its box office run. Though technically unprofitable given that $6 million price tag, the film proved impressive financially in other ways. The Montreal Gazette reported that "Polytechnique" topped the Montreal box office when it first opened, noting that this achievement was especially impressive given how the film had been shrouded in controversy over the fact that it chronicled such a brutal historical event. While "Polytechnique" didn't break records, it's an early example of a Villeneuve movie debuting at the top of the box office.


After "Prisoners" catapulted Denis Villeneuve to a new level of stardom, the director's follow-up feature, "Enemy," returned him to indie territory. This film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as two different characters, was released domestically by A24 in its first partnership with DirecTV. Because the emphasis was placed on a launch on DirecTV's video-on-demand service, theatrical prospects for "Enemy" were always going to be extremely limited, and that's before considering that the feature's an artsy movie destined to have a niche appeal.

Domestically, "Enemy" made $1.05 million, one of the bigger totals for a movie released between A24 and DirecTV. Meanwhile, the feature fared significantly better internationally, where it grossed another $3.58 million. In total, "Enemy" cracked $4.6 million worldwide. No doubt "Enemy" making so much more than other arthouse Villeneuve films is down to the presence of Jake Gyllenhaal. However, other aspects of the film's finances remain unclear — specifically, it's difficult to tell how profitable, if at all, the project was given that an official budget was never announced. It also goes without saying that "Enemy" fell below the box office haul of another Villeneuve/Gyllenhaal collaboration, "Prisoners," which was released in several thousand more theaters and had a much more accessible premise. Still, "Enemy" surpassed the box office totals of all but one of Villeneuve's arthouse features at the global box office, a solid feat.


Villeneuve's fourth feature — and first title to clear $10 million at the worldwide box office — as well as an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, "Incendies" didn't hit the box office heights enjoyed by later Villeneuve blockbusters. However, it still proved impressive in its own right and showed that this filmmaker's works could be lucrative outside of his home country of Canada.

Grossing $16 million worldwide, "Incendies" proved profitable on a $6.8 million budget. Even better, $9.1 million of its global haul came from international territories, an impressive sum that helped expand Villeneuve's profile across the globe. As for its domestic run, distributor Sony Pictures Classics launched "Incendies" over Easter weekend, which proved to be a great launchpad for the project. In the weeks ahead, it demonstrated real staying power, as indicated by how it experienced per-theater averages above $1,500 for its first eight weekends of release.


Today, Denis Villeneuve is best known for making sci-fi films for grown-ups, ones that embrace heightened aspects of this genre (aliens, spaceships, robots, etc.) without sacrificing a shred of intellect. But for a moment, it looked like Villeneuve's calling card as a mainstream filmmaker would be making uncompromising adult dramas grounded in hot-button sociopolitical issues. After 2013's "Prisoners," a child kidnapping drama functioning as an allegory for America's response to 9/11, Villeneuve delivered "Sicario," which centers on the dark underbelly of the war on drugs.

It's easy to imagine that such a grim premise might have turned off audiences rather than luring them to theaters. But "Sicario" arrived in fall 2015 with glowing reviews and a marketing campaign that made it look more like a pulse-pounding thriller than a slow, meditative drama. Deadline also observed that the film's promotional campaign made a wise move to target Hispanic audiences, a demographic frequently ignored by award season dramas. With these advantages on its side, "Sicario" grossed $84.3 million worldwide, proving robust enough financially to inspire a sequel (albeit one that garnered a far weaker response than its predecessor).


A pair of kids have gone missing, nobody can figure out who did it, and time is running out. This is the backbone of "Prisoners," a movie whose story isn't exactly feel-good fare. The project was a risky one just based on its story alone, but it also had extra weight for Denis Villeneuve as a filmmaker, as it marked his first foray into wide-release cinema. "Prisoners" would not be relegated to arthouse theaters like his preceding works. Instead, it would play in thousands of theaters across the country.

That put a lot of pressure on "Prisoners," but the film managed to rise to the occasion. Though its central story is grim, it's also an easy-to-explain premise that made marketing the film a cinch. Plus, the production was anchored by famous faces like Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, not to mention "Prisoners" received glowing reviews on the fall 2013 film festival circuit. Put it all together, and "Prisoners" was able to easily crack $113.3 million globally. Not only did this mean the film managed to prove profitable on a $46 million budget, but it also served as the first instance of a Villeneuve movie bringing in more than $100 million at the worldwide box office.


Before its release, box office expectations weren't exceedingly high for "Arrival." The Los Angeles Times predicted the film wouldn't clear $20 million on opening weekend, noting that Amy Adams didn't have the greatest box office track record for headlining movies that weren't family films. At that time, the only adult drama she'd appeared in that cleared $100 million domestically was "American Hustle." But such early predictions ended up being off base. Denis Villeneuve's plea for human communication would eventually defy all the odds and become one of 2016's bigger sleeper hits.

"Arrival" kicked off its box office run with a remarkable bang by grossing $24.1 million over its domestic opening weekend. Strong word-of-mouth from moviegoers kept this one around for a good long while after its exceptional debut while international audiences also turned out in droves. Eventually, "Arrival" grossed $203 million globally, more than four times its $47 million budget. This included a $100.5 million domestic take, making this the first Villeneuve project to exceed $100 million in this territory and affirming Villeneuve's ability to craft features that resonate with critics and general moviegoers.

Blade Runner 2049

Normally, making over $250 million worldwide is enough to create the impression of unqualified success for a film. Unfortunately, "Blade Runner 2049" was also saddled with an enormous reported budget of $187 million. Such a price tag was necessary to bring to life the project's scope and vivid rendering of a dystopian society circa 2049, but it also made it difficult for the R-rated blockbuster to achieve major profitability. This was especially true domestically, where "Blade Runner 2049" topped out at $91 million. That put it behind the North American gross of "Arrival" from one year earlier, despite "2049" being part of an established franchise. International box office figures brought "Blade Runner 2049" to a $258.7 million global haul — a relief considering that right around the time it kicked off its theatrical run, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that the production could end up losing an excess of $80 million. 

The more challenging nature of the narrative, as well as this adult-skewing feature carrying a budget usually reserved for all-ages fare, ensured that "Blade Runner 2049" would face significant hurdles at the box office. But even in a mildly disappointing box office outcome, there can be silver linings. Even if it wasn't wildly profitable, this sci-fi sequel earned enthusiastic reviews while piling up enough receipts to make it Denis Villeneuve's highest-grossing film — for now.