“Dune: Part Two,” the long-awaited sequel to one of the most popular science fiction adaptations in recent years, secured the No. 1 spot in its opening weekend with a strong $81.5 million in domestic sales, according to studio estimates. Globally, the film has grossed $178.5 million.

“This is just what the box office needed and much higher than any of us could predict,” said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, which distributed the movie. “That’s especially true given that it’s a sci-fi movie, which is a genre that is a hard nut to crack. And we grossed $178.5 million worldwide, which is quite a standup.”

Warner Bros. and CNN are both owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.

The sequel beat out the first Dune installment, which opened with $41 million when it was released in domestic theaters in October 2021. It has also become a feather in the cap for some of its star-studded cast. According to Comscore data, “Dune: Part Two” is the largest opening for Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Austin Butler. It’s also director Denis Villeneuve’s highest grossing movie.

“We created a cultural moment, and it started with this extraordinary movie that Denis Villeneuve told in a really compelling way, and a cast has worked their butt off around the world for this movie,” said Goldstein.

Moviegoers have also been enthusiastically investing in seeing the movie on a larger screen. Forty-eight percent of total domestic box office sales this weekend came from premium large formats like IMAX 70 mm, IMAX Digital, and Dolby Cinema, where tickets sell at slightly higher price points than those of regular-sized theaters.

“‘Dune: Part Two” became a must-see event on the biggest screen possible and, given the reputation of director Denis Villeneuve as a cinematic genius who uses the massive canvas of the movie theatre, this should come as no surprise,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Goldstein said the appeal of “Dune: Part Two” on larger screens bodes well for the film’s staying power, as audiences are eager to watch it in theaters.

“Advanced sales are really balanced all through this week and into the next two weeks,” he noted. “We’re going into the spring break period where this movie really has the opportunity to play for a long time.”

The 2024 box office is off to a slow start

“Dune: Part Two” is this year’s highest grossing opening weekend of 2024, heating up an otherwise lukewarm first quarter. Box office revenue is down 13.5% compared to this time last year, Comscore data shows.

That’s despite more wide theatrical releases, with 15 movies being released so far this year, compared to 12 in the same period in 2023. While 2024 is still vastly outperforming 2021 and 2022 — the two years most affected by the COVID-era production shutdowns — it still lags significantly behind pre-pandemic sales. Between January 1 and March 3 of 2019, 18 theatrical releases made more than $1.5 billion dollars, 36.4% more than the $996 million grossed so far this year.

But the success of “Dune: Part Two” highlights the evolving nature of the industry and the importance of offering audiences compelling stories to draw people to theaters, say industry experts.

February and March have, over the past three years, reliably housed movie releases from established franchises and properties including “The Batman,” ($134 million opening weekend) “Creed III” ($58 million) and “Uncharted” ($51 million). Studios have traditionally relied on the summer blockbuster months, the winter holiday season, spring break, Valentine’s Day, and the long Presidents Day weekend for revenue, but the late winter and early spring season have proven to be a safer bet than the often-lagging months of January, August and September.

“One need only look at the delta between ‘Dune: Part Two’ and the rest of the crop of films this weekend to see how beneficial this release date as moved from October of last year to this weekend was for the film,” said Dergarabedian.