After weeks of speculation, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 3. Warner Bros.’ decision to debut the sci-fi adaptation at the glitzy Italian festival is a clear indication that the studio is hot on its awards chances—and is pulling from its own successful playbook.
Warner Bros. has had a lot of luck at the Venice Film Festival, debuting several films—Gravity, A Star Is Born, and *Joker—*that could have been considered untraditional Oscar fare, but went on to strong awards runs after buzzy festival launches. And Villeneuve is a Venice veteran, having premiered his Amy Adams–starring sci-fi film Arrival there in 2016, eventually earning eight Oscar nominations.
In the past few years, Venice has become one of the best launching pads for a strong awards season run. In 2017, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water won the festival’s Golden Lion, and would eventually win the best-picture Oscar. In 2018, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma won the Golden Lion and continued to be an Oscar front-runner all season (it earned a best-picture nomination and Cuarón won for directing). In 2019, Warner Bros.’ Joker, to the surprise of many, won the Golden Lion, immediately launching the film into the awards conversation, even though it was technically a superhero film, a genre that hasn’t always been taken seriously when it comes to awards. And in 2020, when Venice was the only major fall festival to even attempt some semblance of a traditional in-person event during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland took the Golden Lion, and went on to win the people’s choice award at the Toronto Film Festival.
Dune won’t be eligible for the Golden Lion because it’s premiering out of competition (as did A Star Is Born), but a splashy debut at the festival could easily jump-start its awards path (remember Lady Gaga posing for photos as her boat cascaded down the canal?). With a cast of stars that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Zendaya, and Jason Momoa, if even just a few show up to walk the red carpet, it should create some buzz. And, if boosted by strong reviews, it could easily be crowned an early contender.
Warner Bros. could be mapping out a path for Dune that’s similar to what it did with Joker, which also played at the Toronto FIlm Festival in September before its early October release date. The film earned more than $1 billion worldwide, and 11 Oscar nominations, with wins for best actor for Joaquin Phoenix and for best original score. The studio’s A Star Is Born also followed up Venice with a stop in Toronto. So, according to the Warner Bros. playbook, it seems very possible that a TIFF play could be in Dune’s future.
After delaying the film’s release several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. set Dune to hit theaters on October 1, but with a simultaneous release on HBO Max. The Warner commitment to day-and-date releases brought out the ire of many theater owners and filmmakers, including Villeneuve, who wrote in Variety that Warner’s parent company AT&T had “hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history.” But if Dune can stir up buzz in Venice (and maybe Toronto too), the film may get its awards fairy-tale ending anyway.
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