Dune is back on the big screen and, for the first time, it is a resounding success. Denis Villeneuve brought Frank Herbert’s vision alive once again and fans of the books are finally satisfied. Is it the beginning of a Dune cinematic universe? You can check out my review for Dune: Part One for more details on the first movie in the revitalized franchise.
What I’m more interested in now is what’s next. The franchise potential for this unimaginably expansive storyline, covering some 30,000 years, is massive. The Dune saga began in 1965 with the release of the first novel. It was quickly praised as groundbreaking and has remained a best selling science fiction novel that has gone on to inspire just about everything in the genre since. Frank Herbert authored five more novels that contain the core of the series. His son, Brian Herbert, continued the franchise after Frank’s death in 1986, writing 20 novels so far with more to follow.
With all that source material, a future with a cinematic universe on the scale of the MCU or Star Wars is a possibility Dune fans, like myself, are dying to see. Fortunately, we already know of a few things down the line, with the potential for much more being discussed by Warner Bros.
What We Know
We already have a pretty good idea of what comes next in this potential franchise. Denis Villenueve is slated to direct the sequel to Dune: Part One, which only covered the first half of the original novel. While Warner Bros. delayed the “official” announcement of the sequel, it was pretty easy to predict considering the title, Dune: Part One. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for the greenlight announcement.
On top of that, Villeneuve made it clear in an interview with CBC’s Radio Canada that he fully intends to direct a trilogy. The second novel in the series, Dune Messiah, continued the story of Paul Atreides and planted the seeds for the future without the beloved character in the novels that followed. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say Paul Atreides himself is really just the beginning of the Dune franchise. I did mention the saga spans 30,000 years, right?
There is Dune‘s second book, The Messiah of Dune, which could make an extraordinary film.I always saw that there could be a trilogy, after that we’ll see. It’s years of work; I can’t think of going further than that. – Villeneuve
That’s not all we have to look forward to in the next few years. Back in 2019, while Dune: Part One was still in production, we got another announcement. An HBO Max series in the Dune universe had already been ordered. Dune: The Sisterhood was set in motion with Dune: Part One writer Jon Spaihts attached as showrunner. After this news, reported by Deadline, things went silent for a long time while the focus was on finishing and releasing Dune: Part One. The radio silence ended recently when it was announced by Variety that Jon Spaihts stepped down to focus on Part Two and Diane Ademu-John was taking over. This confirms it’s still in the works even though we don’t have much information to go on.
What we do know is that the series will focus on the religious-mystical-witchy-political sect of women known as the Bene Gesserit. This mysterious group, formed thousands of years before the events of Dune, controls much of the religious and political background of the empire that dominates the universe. There’s no word on when this series will take place on the timeline or who the characters will be, but this gives me hope that the plan is to have an expansive universe and explore the intricacies of the complicated saga.
With a generous spring of source material like this, the possibilities are truly endless. The fact that one of the original projects takes a step away from the core story of the Atreides family shows that Warner Bros. is willing to think outside the box. If they are framing a show around one of the many groups in the Dune universe, the Bene Gesserit, they may plan to do the same with other factions.
One group in the Dune universe stands out as the most mysterious and the most intriguing. The Fremen are the indigenous warrior peoples of the planet Arrakis. They have a deep religious background and a hatred for outsiders, cultivated under the harsh rule of the Harkonnen’s. Several prominent characters from the novels (and the film) could stand in as a main character in a prequel series focused on the desert people. A young Stilgar, struggling to protect his people from the Harkonnen scourge, finds himself at the head of his sietch community. It’s an origin story that writes itself and could easily be serialized.
There is also an opportunity to cross Dune: The Sisterhood with a Fremen-focused series. The Bene Gesserit had visited Arrakis long before the events of Dune to plant their pseudo-religion within the Fremen population. If the idea is to create a cinematic universe, this kind of overlap would follow the formula. Like the Marvel or Star Wars shows on Disney Plus, a handful of series could run alongside each other—affecting each other—over long periods of time.
It’s worth mentioning that two miniseries have been adapted by the Sci-Fi channel in the past. Frank Herbert’s Dune and Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, premiering in 2000 and 2003 respectively, adapted the second and third novel in the series. While they were better received than David Lynch’s 1984 Dune, they haven’t maintained much relevance, especially now that the franchise is being revisited so spectacularly.
Let’s recap. We have Dune: Part One, released in October of this year; Dune: Part Two moving forward with the same team; and a strong possibility of a trilogy-completing third film based on Dune Messiah. This leaves us with four novels in the core canon of the Dune universe. Optimistically, we can hope that the Part Two and Messiah could be completed in the next 4-6 years. Then what?
I’ll be honest with those of you who aren’t familiar with the Dune series. It doesn’t get any less weird after the first novel. If colossal space worms, oracular vision-inducing drugs, semi-magical religion planting witches, and futuristic sword fights already had you on the fence, the third novel, Children of Dune, will push you right off into the dirt. Sci-Fi loving space nerds, like myself, are right on board with the weird and far fetched, but Warner Bros. may be a little more skeptical. Dune cost a whopping $165 million to make and it did very well at the box office, even with its simultaneous HBO Max release. I’m not sure how long Warner Bros. will be willing to make that gamble.
Hopefully, they commit to this franchise and we get many years of new Dune films. If they are smart, they will continue to split each of the novels into two parts. After Messiah, the rest of the books are almost as long as Dune and at least as complicated. The worst case scenario is not that they never make the movies, but that they get lazy and try to cram each novel into a single film and end up with something as unfortunate as the 1984 Dune.
The Dune universe is writhing with potential. There is a dedicated fan base that has been waiting decades for adaptations that respect the vision of Frank Herbert. With a filmmaker like Denis Villeneuve, who is so obviously dedicated to creating something exceptional, we could get many years of beautiful art in the world of Paul Atreides. After the resounding success of Dune: Part One, we can expect at least two things to move forward: Dune: Part Two and Dune: The Sisterhood. These are truly going to foretell the future of the franchise. If they are as successful as the first film, then I think we’re in for a long ride with Paul and the rest of the Atreides.