Movies Like Dune (2021): Denis Villeneuve’s much-anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s pioneering literary work was finally released this month. Amidst much fanfare, the film has already racked up impressive numbers at the box office and should continue the march on the back of great reviews from fans and critics. It stars Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, who seeks his destiny as ‘The One’ in Arrakis when the fiefdom is handed over to his father’s House. Like other Villeneuve films, ‘Dune’ greatly benefits from surreal special effects and boasts of an atmospheric narration. As someone who went blind into it, the film felt a foundational setup for an even more promising second part. The patient world-building and introduction to its universe could not have been done with more panache and subtlety.
There is arguably no one like in the industry, barring Christopher Nolan, who retains and enhances sci-fi genre tropes to explore the human connection in the changing world through characters. ‘Dune’s superior characterization places it well above any other genre movie released this year and along with some of the best movies overall. We have curated a list of similar movies in scale and storytelling for you to watch if you like ‘Dune’. Happy reading!
6. Avatar (2009)
The new-age Hollywood’s original blockbuster probably gave the pivotal push to large-scale sci-fi films that were built on technical prowess and passionate filmmaking. Despite no immediate sequels in sight, James Cameron puts in the effort to lay the building blocks for a multiverse like no other. Like ‘Dune’, humans travel to another planet to understand the ways of a humanoid-like species with a heightened conscience and greater physical abilities. Paraplegic Marine Jake Sully is tasked with accompanying a team of ‘avatars’, who are half-human and half the other species to look for possible options to help the human species going through an energy crisis.
‘Avatar definitely piques the viewer’s curiosity with its thoughtful premise and ironclad execution. As Fremen embrace their natural habitat as the gift of God, so does the Na’vi, who live in harmony with the wildlife of the region. It is no irony that in the end, it is their insistence to preserve that itself proves to be the critical juncture in their own preservation. ‘Dances with Wolves’ introduced a new dimension to exploration tales wherein soldiers sent to defeat the enemy are themselves inclined to get infatuated with the enemy’s culture, something that ‘Avatar’ and ‘Dune’ do with conviction.
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5. Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ series has been the reference point for many sci-fi films that represent a different world than earth. Such was his originality and execution, Steven Spielberg called him the inspiration behind some of his biggest blockbusters. The prolific English filmmaker has not lost steam in developing new projects, ever since his debut in 1977.
‘Prometheus shares the same universe as Scott’s ‘Alien’ series and predates it with no other connections. Like ‘Dune’, the film sees the curiosity of man transporting him to a different world seeking answers. Despite the central theme not being articulated like in his other works, ‘Prometheus’ sees starring performances from Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace that elevate its impact.
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4. Interstellar (2014)
The momentous challenge of creating a spectacle like ‘Interstellar’ doesn’t start or end with one single thing. A harmony of everything – the script, the acting, the music, the special effects – results in a product that lasts decades. In its case, it does. Every single chord strikes to perfection, elevating the film from a complex science fiction story about a very real possibility in the future to a tender portrait of the love between a father and his daughter.
‘Interstellar’ and ‘Dune’ both share Chalamet, who appears briefly as Cooper’s son, and the scale at which the two movies are made. More importantly, though, the human element that they keep in the foreground, not letting it be a prisoner to the spectacle, is what works best. The emotional prowess of both Cooper and Paul is intense in their own ways. Both the films have a deep cinematic impact on the genre that is increasingly becoming more flexible in how real stories are told through innovation in plot and story.
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3. The Matrix (1999)
Hollywood’s quintessential action film has become a coveted part of modern pop culture. Generations after it are going back and gaping at the marvel that only improves as it is more watched. As much as ‘The Matrix’ is about the action and the concept, it is also reflective of the choices we make in life. Not the obvious one between the blue and red pill as a reference, but in a general sense as to how they end up shaping our lives.
‘Dune’ has its own moments of choices that characters make; some that we take favorably, some that we do not. Neo as the “chosen one” calmly assumes his title in the franchise. His emergence is gradual but somewhat similar to Paul’s beckoning as the one who will take the Fremen to paradise. The two men are sufficiently differentiated in stature and character but bonded together, in their respective journeys, through destiny.
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2. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
One of the most obvious choices to put on the list is Villeneuve’s previous work, another recreation of a yesteryear classic. ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Dune’ share both aesthetic and narrative similarities. The filmmaker does a worthy job of not only creating a magnificent cinematic experience with the visuals and the grandiosity of the production but also bringing out an observant and poignant portrait of timely social themes.
The position of women, the commercialization of their sexuality, and the age-old class divide are all carefully placed in the background so as to not get completely lost in translation but all the while confronting you with hard-hitting realities. In an interview, Denis said that “the film is not about the tomorrow; it is about today”, something that he has repeated when ‘Dune’ was released. The exploitation of the Arrakis land and in extension of the Fremen community is comparable to what is happening around us. The socio-political fabric of both ‘Dune’ and ‘Blade Runner’ is deeply entrenched in fighting the good fight and an attempt to help regain society’s lost conscience and moral compass.
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1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
‘Prometheus’, which also features on the list, has a lot of references to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, mostly through Michael the bot; reciting key dialogues, even watching it on a screen. ‘Dune’s remarkable sand landscape was for the very first time emulated in this yesteryear classic. The film made a surprising entry into the golden annals of celluloid with its unimaginable scale of production, a searing central Peter O’Toole performance, and lasting imagery that has stood the test of time. Sand, though, is not the only similarity between ‘Dune’ and ‘Lawrence’. Both Paul and Lawrence emerge as foreign figures of royalty, who find themselves involuntary drawn to and immersed into the exotic culture of the desert and its people. The Arabs, akin to the Fremen, seek refuge from the very forces that have exploited and destroyed them over the years. The politics of ‘Lawrence’ is similar to the original ‘Dune’ and Herbert’s novel, although Villeneuve does not make it the focal point of his film.
Paul and Lawrence’s characters share an almost messianic overtone. Their mystical perception in the minds of viewers and the people they seek to help allows a spiritual connection between the two. They act as intersections between the confluence of two contrasting worlds of different cultures, values, and religions. Both seek to forge and wield the desert power to defeat a common enemy and establish a state of harmony. Essentially saying “Dune is Lawrence of Arabia set in space” would be an insult to Villeneuve and the great work of the team behind ‘Dune’, but not a completely wrong statement.