How ‘Dune: Part Two’ Could Spice Up Next Year’s Oscar Race for Picture, Director and More

8 mins read

In a stunning cinematic universe where sand dunes rise like mountains and the fate of galaxies hangs in the balance, Denis Villeneuve‘s first voyage into the Frank Herbert’s “Dune” saga clinched six of its 10 Oscar nominations. Yet, in a twist as dramatic as Dr. Wellington killing Duke Leto, Villeneuve found himself overlooked in the best director category — a snub that left fans (and pundits) in disbelief. I dare the Academy’s Directors Branch to make such an omission once again.

As “Dune: Part Two” unfolds, we dive back into the treacherous universe alongside Paul Atreides, played by the ever-charismatic Timothée Chalamet. Seeking vengeance for his father’s death (Oscar Isaac), Paul’s journey intertwines with new allies and enemies, portrayed by a constellation of stars including Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Javier Bardem and Christopher Walken.

Villeneuve, a contemporary maestro of the screen, has spent over a decade crafting narratives that redefine genres — from the suspenseful “Prisoners” to the action-packed “Sicario” and the thought-provoking “Arrival.” His work, particularly in science fiction, has not always received the recognition it deserves, a fate shared by many genre-defining films before it. Yet Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two” aims to break the cycle like its predecessors such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars” once did. However, for every triumph, there are the defeated (or ignored), no matter how acclaimed and beloved they are, like “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), “Blade Runner” (1982) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991).

The first “Dune” became the sixth film in Oscar history to be nominated in all seven technical categories after “Titanic” (1997), “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003), “Hugo” (2011), “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant” (2015). It could likely repeat in those same categories with noms (perhaps even wins?) for production design (Patrice Vermette, Zsuzsanna Sipios, Shane Vieau), cinematography (Greig Fraser), costume design (Jacqueline West), film editing (Joe Walker), original score (Hans Zimmer), makeup and hairstyling, sound and visual effects (all eligible nominees to be determined).

With a single directing nomination under his belt for “Arrival,” Villeneuve’s aspirations for “Dune 2” are not just about personal accolades, but about challenging the Academy’s historical reluctance to embrace genre films fully, especially ones that open in the first quarter of the year. The anticipation for the tentatively-titled finale “Dune: Messiah,” although in the shadows of a very early pre-production, adds another layer of excitement and speculation about the saga’s future.

Everett / Warner Bros

“Dune’s” initial run set a benchmark, being nominated across all seven technical categories — one of six movies to achieve this feat. As “Dune: Part Two” opens for general audiences, next year’s Oscars should also keep a space free for the visual spectacle among the 10 best picture nominees.

However, there’s always the fear of what an upcoming third movie can do to a film’s awards prospects, essentially giving industry voters permission “to wait for the third” to award the franchise. This mindset was a factor that led to the underperformance of Peter Jackson’s second feature “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002), which came one year after “The Fellowship of the Ring” garnered the most noms with 13, winning four. The epic finale “The Return of the King” went on to sweep the Academy Awards the next year, tying the all-time record for most wins for a film with 11.

The film’s climactic scene teases what’s to come, but also features a moment where the audience gazes upon a stellar lineup of young Hollywood royalty — Chalamet, Zendaya, Butler and Pugh — each bringing their unique talents to the lore. This moment isn’t just about the convergence of stars but a harbinger of the industry’s bright future. Like social media’s obsession with following the cast of Tate Taylor’s 2011 drama “The Help,” whose members have gone on to win five Oscars so far, I’d imagine similar debates to take place about which of the four will go on to garner an Oscar first (not for this film), and who will have the most nominations by their career’s end. Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), Butler (“Elvis”) and Pugh (“Little Women”) all have Oscar noms already, while Zendaya still awaits hers while holding her two Emmys for lead drama actress for “Euphoria.”

In Oscar history, only two separate trilogies have seen all their entries receive best picture nominations—”The Godfather” and “The Lord of the Rings.” As “Dune 2” attempts to step into this arena, it carries the hopes of an entire genre looking to claim a rightful place in the spotlight.

The 2025 Oscars are a year from now, though still undated. To release a film in the first quarter of the calendar year, mount a full scale awards campaign and remain in the discussion can be a difficult path to sustain. The Warner Bros’ awards team can look to success stories such as best picture winner “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) and superhero flick “Black Panther” (2015), both released in February. But with every new movie that’s released or premieres at a film festival from now until the end of the year, that’s newly minted buzz it’ll need to overcome.

A lingering question has lingered since seeing “Dune 2.” If the film had held its original Oct. 20, 2023 release date, would it have been nominated for the upcoming 96th Oscars where Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is poised to dominate? While we’ll never know for sure, I would have bet on it as a winner in production design and visual effects, with a much lighter nom tally than its predecessor. Sometimes, waiting can be a good thing.

In the end, Villeneuve’s “Dune” is a testament to how exceptional he is at storytelling. As we await the next installment, one thing is clear: The journey through the dunes is far from over, and its legacy is only just beginning.

How ‘Dune: Part Two’ Could Spice Up Next Year’s Oscar Race for Picture, Director and More

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