It’s time to return to Arrakis. In the last few months, there’s been a blizzard of news about the upcoming Dune film. Here’s everything we know about the star-filled project so far:
There’s a new Dune movie?
Yes! Back in 2016, Legendary Entertainment sealed a deal with the estate of author Frank Herbert for the rights to his iconic science-fiction novel. A few months later, Denis Villeneuve was confirmed as the director of the new adaptation. A 2016 Best Director nominee for Arrival, Villeneuve’s most recent film was Blade Runner 2049, a sequel set decades after Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi noir.
Villeneuve’s Dune is a remake rather than a sequel, but like Blade Runner 2049 it is following in the footsteps of a franchise. He is not the first person to try and make a Dune movie; that honor goes to the director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose attempt to make a star-filled surrealist spectacle in the ’70s (starring Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger, among others) was catalogued in the 2014 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. David Lynch succeeded where Jodorowsky had failed by directing a full-fledged Dune movie in 1984. Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Lynch’s Dune was a box office flop at the time, but has gained cult status since. A few years later, director John Harrison took his crack at the material with the three-part miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune for Syfy.
Wait, what is Dune?
For those who aren’t already aware, Dune is Herbert’s influential 1965 science-fiction novel. Its universe is one where planets are divided amongst noble families, who are in turn ruled over by the Padishah Emperor. The focus of the story is the noble Atreides family, and in particular their young son Paul Atreides. The novel starts with House Atreides being granted sovereignty over the desert planet Arrakis (known colloquially as “Dune”). Though mostly inhospitable, Arrakis is extremely valuable because it’s the only source of a highly-coveted spice called melange that can enhance people’s mental abilities and make interstellar travel possible.
Due to the value of melange, the Atreides family is betrayed in a Game of Thrones-style power play. Paul barely survives by escaping into the desert, which is populated by nomadic tribes known as Fremen. Paul isn’t just a noble scion, however; he is prophesied to be the Kwisatz Haderach, a messianic figure whose coming has been arranged and foretold by the mystical sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit. As Paul starts to come into his own as a young leader and revolutionary, the Fremen give him another name: Muad’Dib, after the species of mouse that survives in their desert.
We won’t spoil the rest, but as should be apparent from that short summary, there’s a lot going on in Dune, which is one reason why previous adaptations have had such a hard time covering it all. Herbert didn’t even end the story there, but went on to write five sequel novels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. Following Herbert’s death in 1986, his son Brian Herbert has collaborated with author Kevin J. Anderson to write a number of additional sequels and prequels set in the Dune universe, some based on the original author’s surviving notes.
That said, any hopes of turning this sprawling fictional universe into a fully-fledged film franchise will probably depend on the success of Villeneuve’s movie.
Who’s in it?
Now this is the real spice. Villeneuve’s Dune has already managed to distinguish itself with its star-filled cast. Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet is set to star as Paul Atreides in the new film, while Rebecca Ferguson will play his mother, Lady Jessica. EW recently confirmed that Oscar Isaac is in talks to play Paul’s father, the noble Duke Leto Atreides. On the other side of the board, Stellan Skarsgard will play Baron Harkonnen, the arch-enemy of House Atreides who wants Arrakis for himself. Threading the line between good and evil is Charlotte Rampling playing the Reverend Mother Mohiam, leader of the Bene Gesserit order.
Two other castings involve the desert-dwelling Fremen. EW has confirmed that Javier Bardem is in talks to play the Fremen chieftain Stilgar, while Zendaya is in talks for the role of Chani, a young Fremen tribe member who grows close to Paul.
Dave Bautista is also in the cast, reuniting him with Villeneuve after their previous collaboration in Blade Runner 2049, but his specific role has not been officially confirmed.
On Feb. 13, Josh Brolin became the latest actor to join the Dune cast. EW has confirmed that the man otherwise known as Thanos is officially set to play Gurney Halleck in the new film. A warrior-cum-troubadour, Halleck is a member of the Duke Leto’s retinue and an important mentor to the young Paul. A day later, it was revealed that Jason Momoa is in talks to play Duncan Idaho, a swordmaster loyal to the Atreides family.
When does it open?
Warner Bros. will release Dune on Nov. 20, 2020, and it will be available to screen in 3-D and IMAX.
What don’t we know yet?
Production on the new Dune is reportedly set to start this spring in Budapest and Jordan, so there won’t be any trailers or first-look images until that happens. There are also a few roles that still need to be cast, such as the all-powerful Padishah Emperor, who would once have been played by Dali if Jodorowsky had his way.
Stay tuned to EW.com and this page in particular, which we’ll continue to update as more information about Villeneuve’s Dune becomes available.
This post has been updated.