Warner Bros delays 'Dune,' 'Lord of the Rings' films due to strike

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Warner Bros movie studio will delay the planned November release of a big-budget "Dune" sequel until March, a studio spokesperson said on Thursday, because its stars cannot promote the movie during the Hollywood actors' strike.

The decision deals a blow to cinema chains such as AMC Entertainment, Cineplex and Cinemark which are still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. "Dune" was one of the most anticipated films on the late 2023 schedule.

"Dune: Part Two" will now debut on March 15, a date that had been reserved for Warner Bros film "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." The monster movie was shifted to April 12.

As a result, an animated "Lord of the Rings" film that had been set for April was moved to December.

"Dune: Part Two" stars Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in a sci-fi sequel based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel about an intergalactic battle to control a precious resource. The first installment, released in 2021 during the pandemic, generated $402 million at global box offices.

Top stars have refused to promote upcoming projects since the SAG-AFTRA actors union joined striking Hollywood writers and walked off the job on July 14.

The actors' strike has prompted other movie studios to adjust film schedules in the absence of celebrities to hit red carpets or talk shows to help build buzz.

Sony Pictures altered the release strategy for "Dumb Money," the film inspired by the story of everyday investors who outwitted Wall Street investors and got rich on the stock of videogame and electronics retailer GameStop.

The film was originally scheduled to open nationwide on Sept. 22, though the studio adopted a more gradual release strategy to generate interest from audience reactions. The film will now open on a limited number of screens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 15 before expanding across the country on Oct. 6.

Overall moviegoing this year remains below pre-pandemic levels despite the major boost this summer from the "Barbenheimer" frenzy around the films "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer."

Other major films on the 2023 schedule at the moment include Walt Disney's "The Marvels," a Lionsgate prequel to "The Hunger Games," and "Wonka," another Warner Bros film that also stars Chalamet.

The strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which began on May 2, has shut down most production of scripted televisions shows and some movie shoots.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese and Matthew Lewis)