20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name, David Lynch’s 1984 sci-fi epic Dune may have been panned by critics and failed to make back its budget on release, but it has since gone on to become something of a cult classic.

Starring Kyle MacLachlan in his film debut, Dune tells the (occasionally confusing) story of noble families battling for control of a drug known as ‘the spice’ on the desert planet of Arrakis.

Though described by the late film critic Roger Ebert as “a real mess,” “incomprehensible,” “ugly,” and “pointless,” the story behind the making of Dune is a fascinsting one, so please read on to find out some things you probably didn’t know this Hollywood science fiction curiosity.


20. The original director wanted to make a 14-hour film starring Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali

10 6 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

On publication in 1965, Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was a huge popular sensation, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest science fiction novels ever.

Naturally, many in the film industry saw its big screen potential, and so the rights were first purchased in 1971.

alejandro jodorowsky crop e1603120400969 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The project stalled for a few years, until the rights were acquired by Chilean-French arthouse filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Jodorowsky’s vision for Dune was extremely ambitious, with the director envisioning a 10-14 hour film with a star-studded cast.

91KRqAzzB0L. AC SL1500 e1603120326661 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The filmmaker intended to cast such wide-ranging figures as Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali, with prog-rock band Pink Floyd providing the soundtrack.

However, after an intense pre-production period, the financial backing was withdrawn and the project fell apart. It has since become one of the most legendary unmade films in history, and is the subject of its own documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune.



19. David Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi in order to direct it

rawImage e1603119891477 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Director David Lynch was brought to Dune by producer Dino De Laurentiis, who purchased the rights in 1976.

De Laurentiis had originally developed the film with director Ridley Scott, before Scott dropped out to make Blade Runner.

MV5BOWZlMjFiYzgtMTUzNC00Y2IzLTk1NTMtZmNhMTczNTk0ODk1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@. V1 scaled e1603119976276 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Lynch came to the project having not long since declined the chance to direct another sci-fi epic: Return of the Jedi.

George Lucas asked Lynch (fresh from Eraserhead and The Elephant Man) to make the third Star Wars film, but Lynch declined, telling Lucas it was “not my thing.”

lynch e1603120098394 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

In fact, Lynch was not particularly interested in science fiction in general, nor had he ever read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.

Nonetheless, Lynch said yes to the picture, explaining years later that he “saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world.”

18. The producers wanted the film to be ‘Star Wars for grown-ups’

8 7 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

It wasn’t for nothing that Dino De Laurentiis and company hired David Lynch for Dune fresh from the director’s rejection of Return of the Jedi.

The ambitious producer had long hoped to replicate the success of Star Wars with a film series of his own.

dino de laurentiis getty hero 1200x675 1 e1603119806113 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Initially, De Laurentiis had hoped to achieve this with Flash Gordon, but that proved to be a box office failure (although it’s a firm family favourite today).

Virginia Madsen, who played Dune’s Princess Irulan, revealed only recently that she actually signed up for a trilogy of Dune films.

MV5BOGIzZDQ1OTktYzQ3Yy00NWQ4LTgwM2ItYzNhMWIwNzQ3ZTlmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@. V1 SX1777 CR001777740 AL e1603119659858 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The actress explains that the producers “thought they were going to make Star Wars for grown-ups.”

There was scope to do so, as Dune author Frank Herbert had written several sequel novels. The last of these, Chapterhouse: Dune, was published in 1985, one year after Lynch’s film was released.

17. 1,700 crew members built 80 sets on 16 sound-stages

7 7 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

When cameras finally rolled on Dune, it wasn’t on quite the monumental scale that previous director Alejandro Jodorowsky had been going for.

Even so, David Lynch’s take on the Frank Herbert novel was by no means a small-scale production.

0c917fcaa4a21589eeca579f06c5c380 e1603205767812 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The budget was reportedly in the region of $40 million, which was a pretty huge sum for a movie at the time.

The film required a production crew of 1,700, with a whopping 80 sets built on 16 different sound-stages.

tumblr p8vnwp1t681x6m6njo1 1280 e1603119551973 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Including the pre-production period when Ridley Scott was attached to direct, the film took six years to make from start to finish.

David Lynch himself personally put over three and a half years of his career into the project.

16. Some cinemas handed out Dune information sheets to confused cinema-goers

4 6 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Any film based on such a dense text as Dune faces a challenge in adequately getting everything across to viewers.

This was a particular struggle for the filmmakers on Dune – and many would say they failed.

5 7 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Many who’ve seen the film have admitted finding it highly confusing without prior knowledge of the source material.

In a bid to tackle this problem, some cinemas at the time of the film’s release actually took matters into their own hands.

maxresdefault e1603119101179 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

At many screenings, specially made Dune information sheets were handed to audience members beforehand.

It was hoped that these would help the uninitiated make sense of the complicated backstory and obscure terminology.

15. David Lynch disowned the finished film

CZNchLAWIAAF9T7 e1603119212158 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Director David Lynch has stated publicly that he considers Dune to be the only failure of his entire career.

The director reflected some time later, “I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own.”

8929253ee1ab70552f6cf281ce0de37e e1603118981606 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Lynch says he “probably shouldn’t have done that picture… I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut.”

The director found himself sidelined in the editing process, and at the behest of producer De Laurentiis various scenes were reshot and explanatory narration was added. Later, a number of further cuts were made without Lynch’s involvement.

MV5BYmQ5MjAzZmYtYzA4NC00YjVmLTk5YzAtMjVmOGE2YzUzYzBmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@. V1 SX1777 CR001777740 AL e1603118857895 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Lynch had his name removed from a two-part TV version released in 1988, which was instead credited to Alan Smithee (a pseudonym used by directors who no longer want to be associated with a film they directed).

In the years since, Lynch has repeatedly declined offers to produce a definitive director’s cut of Dune, and generally prefers not to discuss the film in interviews.

14. Patrick Stewart called his costume the most uncomfortable he’s ever worn

6 7 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Dune features an impressive cast of supporting actors, including a number of big-name stars.

The ensemble includes Sean Young, Brad Dourif, Max von Sydow, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Linda Hunt and many others.

b33a560abc7dda8de27e4c51c6a039b7 e1603119323988 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Another actor to appear in Dune, who wasn’t especially well known for his screen work at the time, is Patrick Stewart.

The role of Gurney Halleck represented the noted Shakespearean’s first dalliance with science fiction – although, of course, it wouldn’t be Stewart’s last.

dune 1984 13 0 compressed e1603119400571 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The British actor went on to spend many years playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek franchise, as well as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies.

Regardless, Stewart once declared that the ‘stillsuit’ he was put in for Dune was the most uncomfortable costume he has ever worn.

13. Val Kilmer and Rob Lowe both declined the role of Paul Atreides

fc7c3ecf59a42c0b9a5fec731c2484d4 e1603184893192 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The central role of Dune’s young hero Paul Atreides looked sure to be a coveted part for any up-and-coming actor.

It should come as little surprise, then, that some of the hottest young stars of the era were considered.

DeCS6 HX0AAo2IX e1603184958612 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

One of these was Val Kilmer, at the time a respected young stage actor who had yet to appear in a movie.

After passing on Dune, Kilmer would ultimately make his film debut in 1984 comedy Top Secret!

rob lowe in new york city in 1987 news photo 525331204 1564506048 scaled e1603185078789 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Another Hollywood star in the making who was offered Paul Atreides was Rob Lowe, who had not long since made his debut in The Outsiders – but he also said no.

Before the filmmakers finally cast Kyle MacLachlan, they seriously considered British actor Dexter Fletcher – who, being 17 at the time, was closer to Paul Atreides’ actual age in the book.

12. Helena Bonham Carter almost played Princess Irulan before Virginia Madsen was cast

ca times.brightspotcdn e1603185152738 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Much as the male lead had many young rising stars in contention for the role, Dune’s female roles also attracted some future big names.

Originally, the part of Princess Irulan was set to be taken by a British newcomer named Helena Bonham Carter.

3b6c17255bfaf079fdafe94eef3ad306 e1603185207186 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

However, the actress was forced to drop out due to a scheduling clash with what would be her film debut: A Room with a View.

With Helena Bonham Carter out of the frame, a number of other well-known actresses were considered.

CgMqnMg scaled e1603185300869 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Among those in contention for Princess Irulan were Jodie Foster, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sarah Jessica Parker.

In the end the role was taken by Virginia Madsen; it would be the actress’s third film, following Class and Electric Dreams.

11. It’s been blasted as one of the most homophobic films ever made

4e5678a0 5008 4013 8e69 67bc821d1fb5 screenshot e1603185531727 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Quite apart from being considered a misfire on every level, Dune has also been accused of homophobia.

This is due to the villainous character of Baron Harkonnen, portrayed by Kenneth McMillan.

D5RFT5 e1603185599758 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Harkonnen is the only character in Dune implied to be gay, and is portrayed as repugnant and diseased.

One controversial scene sees Harkonnen sexually assaulting and murdering a young man, bleeding him to death, a sequence which film scholar Robin Wood blasted as “obscenely homophobic.”

134742906760 e1603185761372 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Commentators have suggested this representation of a gay man as murderous and diseased ties in with mainstream fears about AIDS in the early 80s.

Gay rights activist Dennis Altman wrote, “Was it just an accident that in the film Dune the homosexual villain had suppurating sores on his face?”

10. Guild actors were dressed in used body bags

representatives of the house harkonnen the sardaukar and the guild navigators in the david lynch movie dune e1603193684892 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

With the huge number of characters and wide range of different cultures represented, the costume department on Dune were kept busy.

One can hardly blame them, then, for cutting the odd corner here and there to make their job a little easier.

Screen Shot 2020 10 20 at 12.33.38 e1603193867331 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

However, it is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser when you discover the origins of the black suits worn by members of The Guild.

These suits were in fact body bags dating back to the 1920s, which had been found in a disused fire station.

dunemoviefacts3 e1603193940637 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Not only that, but these body bags had been used to carry actual corpses, and more than once.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, cast members who had to don these suits were not made aware of this until afterwards.

9. Sting was originally going to shoot a nude scene

160536a163ae6e70772c5f14be4bb6d8 e1603193453822 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

When rocker and actor Sting appeared in Dune as Feyd Rautha, his band The Police were among the most popular rock acts in the world.

This being the case, it was hoped that his casting would bring his fanbase to theatres – especially as the singer and bassist would be seen scantily clad in the film.

dune 2 e1603193397218 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

In fact, Sting had originally agreed to shoot one scene for Dune – the steam bath sequence – completely naked.

However, at the eleventh hour, orders came down from on high that Sting could not shoot the scene with literally nothing on.

dunesting trans NvBQzQNjv4BqDyn kzCs85o7bFJrmLDpe hAFAI f6ud569StXyOKH0 e1603193494479 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

As a result of this, the costume department threw together the strange winged codpiece that Sting wears in the scene.

Reportedly this item which (barely) preserves the actor’s modesty was literally made at the last minute just before the scene was shot.

8. The score was composed and performed by rock group Toto

Early on, director Alejandro Jodorowsky had rock legends Pink Floyd lined up to provide the score for Dune. As it turned out, an altogether different rock band wound up providing the soundtrack for David Lynch’s film.

The original score for Dune was composed and performed by the American rock band Toto.

1984 Isolation Toto L.P E.U CBS Records CBS 86305 4 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

This marked the first and only time to date that the band – best remembered today for their hit single Africa – did a film score.

The soundtrack was co-produced by Brian Eno, who also co-wrote the central Prophecy Theme with the band.

toto 1548264130. 1x1780 1 e1603193188377 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The band were accompanied on their symphonic rock score by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Volksoper Choir.

While Toto have never recorded another film score, the band’s current vocalist is Joseph Williams – son of perhaps the most celebrated film composer of all time, John Williams.

7. The ‘baliset’ played by Patrick Stewart is a real instrument

One scene in Dune sees Patrick Stewart’s Gurney Hallack playing music on an extra-terrestrial instrument known as the baliset.

It may look and sound somewhat otherworldly (which was obviously the idea), but this is in fact a very real instrument of earthly origin.

The ‘baliset’ is in fact a guitar-like stringed instrument known as the Chapman Stick.

b7ff5a307ac6cb3604f26ef72e34947e e1603205960867 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Created by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s, it has twelve strings and can play bass lines and lead guitar sections simultaneously.

The music we hear in the scene is indeed made by the Chapman Stick, although it isn’t actually Patrick Stewart playing the instrument.

200504 021 e1603185900526 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Instead, the music provided in the scene is played by the instrument’s inventor Emmett Chapman himself.

Chapman Sticks have been featured on records by such artists as Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam and The Dave Matthews Band.

6. Lots of official merchandise was produced

dune3 e1603118379373 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Given that Dune hoped to ape the success of Star Wars, it was only natural that a ton of merchandise was produced.

LJN put out a line of official Dune toys, including figures of several key characters, vehicles, and a fully posable sandworm.

7c6b49e2ce12dec0375660fc08cceadb e1603118302540 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Unfortunately for LJN, sales were very low in light of the film’s box office failure and its lack of appeal to children.

An official Dune board game was produced by Parker Brothers to coincide with the film’s release; again, this wasn’t a big seller at the time.

EI7f9W6XkAAFEIi e1603118473750 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

However, as Dune developed a cult following in the years since, more such merchandise was produced, including trading cards and video games.

The Dune video games proved a particular success; the second of these, 1992’s Dune II: Battle for Arrakis by Westwood Studios, is widely hailed as the first ‘real time strategy’ game.

5. It was remade as a TV mini-series in 2000

81uQrWX7IoL. AC SL1500 e1603192519716 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

It was widely agreed after the 1984 film came out that Dune was simply too big a story to try and fit into a single film.

It was as such entirely logical that the next time an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel was attempted, it was as a TV mini-series.

backdrop 1920 e1603192590739 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Frank Herbert’s Dune was a three-part series, six hours in length, which premiered on The Sci-Fi Channel (now known as SyFy) in 2000.

The mini-series was written and directed by John Harrison, and proved to be one of The Sci-Fi Channel’s highest-rated shows ever according to Nielsen.

7sN5QPq0PZHiQKm03YuhDma9SZh e1603192717493 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

It was a big enough success for Harrison to return as writer-director of follow-up series Children of Dune, which adapted the second and third books in the series.

Aficionados of Frank Herbert’s novels generally regarded these superior to the 1984 film, but both shows were largely ignored by a mass audience.

4. It was nominated for an Academy Award despite being a critical and commercial flop

3 7 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

On release in December 1984, Dune didn’t go down particularly well with either audiences or critics.

Its box office takings of around $37 million might have been respectable, were it not that the film had cost over $40 million to make.

dune head e1603118657324 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The reviews, meanwhile, were almost universally negative, blasting the film as a muddled mess which bungles the source material.

In spite of all this, Dune still managed to gain some recognition at the year’s most prestigious awards show, the Oscars.

ttikgh7vxdtjzodi1bf7 e1603118769410 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one nomination Dune received was in a technical category: Best Sound.

However, Dune missed out on this single Oscar to the big winner of the night, Amadeus.

3. Sean Young recorded hours of behind-the-scenes footage on a home movie camera

SeanYoungDune102010 e1603192871666 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Director Ridley Scott abandoned Dune to instead make Blade Runner – but both films share one key cast member in Sean Young.

Young brought a Super-8 camera to the set of Dune, with which she shot hours of behind-the-scenes footage.

In 2010, Young edited some of this footage together and uploaded it to Youtube in a rough documentary format.

This candid footage captures a sense of what day-to-day life was like for the cast and crew throughout production on Dune.

Young emphasises that, even though Dune has a reputation for being a hugely troubled production, the people making the film were for the most part having a great time.

b143e6f88154cf23b912e923e6bdcfd6 e1603192783223 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

As the actress states in her voiceover narration, “It was an international crew, we all loved it, we were all happy.”

Young enjoyed a number of high profile roles in the 1980s, but sadly her career stalled by the mid-90s when she developed a reputation for being difficult to work with.

2. Several cast members went on to work with David Lynch again

gettyimages 685618068 2000 e1603185981718 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Although David Lynch has reflected on Dune with regret, the film did start a number of enduring working relationships for the director.

Most notably, it was his first time working with Kyle MacLachlan, who would go on to take the lead roles in two of Lynch’s most acclaimed works.

B003U74NQW BlueVelvet UXMG1. SX1080 e1603186060152 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

The first of these was Lynch’s 1986 follow-up film, Blue Velvet, and the second was his celebrated TV series Twin Peaks.

MacLachlan wasn’t the only Dune actor to reunite with Lynch on Blue Velvet, as that film would also co-star Brad Dourif and Dean Stockwell.

2G76XKKPURFLRPGY7TX6ETTYHM e1603186088942 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

It’s also worth noting that, despite their differences on Dune, Dino De Laurentiis also produced and distributed Blue Velvet, on the condition that he allow the director total artistic freedom this time.

Other Dune actors who would reunite with Lynch include Everett McGill and Alicia Witt (who would appear in Twin Peaks), and Freddie Jones (Wild at Heart).

1. A big screen remake is due to hit cinemas in 2021

1 8 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

In the years since the Lynch-De Laurentiis misfire, other filmmakers have considered taking on Dune.

However, no further attempts at Dune got off the ground until director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) boarded the project.

MV5BMGFkZGY0NTgtMGEyZC00YzhjLTkyOWItYzMzOTljMDA3ZjU2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc4NTU3Njg@. V1 e1603118100576 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Villeneuve has made what is planned to be the first of a two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s original novel.

The film will star Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, alongside a cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya and Stellan Skarsgård.

dune exclusive 2 e1603118184317 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The 1984 Sci-Fi Film Dune

Dune had been poised to open theatrically in November 2020, but due to Covid-19 it has been rescheduled to October 2021.