This could be the biggest movie event of 2020—and we mean that literally. There are so many characters in Dune that it’s hard to keep them straight. We’ve got a handy guide to the biggest characters in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation (with as few spoilers as possible) and who’s playing them, as well as a few others we hope to see in the sequel.
Dune is a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi saga about a young man named Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) who rises up to become the hero of Arrakis—a desert planet that’s the source of a rare spice called melange, which holds the key to interstellar travel. Surrounding him are scores of allies and enemies as well as people who very well could be considered both.
Below is a (mostly) spoiler-free list of descriptions for all the key characters we know are going to appear in the two-part story from Villeneuve. We did include a few characters at the bottom who might be seen as spoilers for events to come, so make sure to avoid that section if you want to go in as fresh as possible.
Paul Atreides is the hero of Dune—insomuch as there can be a hero of Dune. He’s the firstborn son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica and heir of House Atreides. Lady Jessica was supposed to have a daughter to follow the Bene Gesserit’s breeding program (aka eugenics). That woman was meant to go on to produce their messiah, a male Bene Gesserit they call the Kwisatz Haderach. But instead, Jessica gave the Duke a son—though she still trained him in the Bene Gesserit ways. Much of the story is framed through his experiences, though he’s by no means the sole protagonist. He’s described as physically small but still stoic and powerful, with an arrogant intensity that can see right through you.
He was played by Kyle MacLachlan in the 1984 film from David Lynch and will be played by Timothée Chalamet in the 2020 version.
Lady Jessica Atreides
Lady Jessica Atreides is a noblewoman of secret origins who was raised from birth by the Bene Gesserit, a dominant political and religious order of women with the powers of observation, persuasion, and fertility control, among other things. Lady Jessica served as the concubine of Duke Leto Atreides, which allowed him to stay available for a political marriage, but the two of them fell in love and he never got married. Lady Jessica is sharp and astute, balancing a strong love for her family with her duties as a Bene Gesserit agent. Above all else, she is a survivor.
She was played by Francesca Annis in the 1984 film and will be played by Rebecca Ferguson in the 2020 version.
Duke Leto Atreides
Duke Leto Atreides is the head of House Atreides, one of the more powerful noble families within the Galactic Padishah Empire. After serving as caretaker of the planet Caladan for 20 years, he’s ordered by the Emperor to take over Arrakis, aka Dune. Upon arrival, he quickly became a favoured leader among Arrakis’ people—thanks to his magnetism, political savvy, and fair judgment, and the fact that his predecessor Baron Harkonnen had none of those things. Even though he’s wise and insightful, he also has a tendency to search for the best in people, which leaves him vulnerable.
He was played by Jürgen Prochnow in the 1984 film and will be played by Oscar Isaac in the 2020 version.
Gurney Halleck is the Warmaster for House Atreides, serving under Duke Leto while also training his son Paul in the art of combat and military strategy. He’s described as a ruthless fighter who’s loyal to his House and will fight to the end for the people he cares about. However, he’s also kind of a romantic, equally skilled in warfare as he is with a baliset (a musical instrument similar to a lute).
He was played by Patrick Stewart in the 1984 film and will be played by Josh Brolin in the 2020 version.
Ah, Duncan Idaho. This fan-favourite character is the swordmaster for House Atreides and Duke Leto’s ambassador to the Fremen. Like Gurney Halleck, he was tasked with teaching Paul Atreides in fighting and military strategy, but his approach was quite different—he focused on finesse. Duncan Idaho is a bit of a ladies man, charming and handsome with a confident swagger. Still, he’s extremely loyal—almost to a fault, as he’s constantly watching for folks within House Atreides who might betray his Duke.
He was played by Richard Jordan in the 1984 film and will be played by Jason Momoa in the 2020 version.
Thurfir Hawat, a Mentat, is the Master of Assassins for House Atreides serving Duke Leto while providing training to Paul in political strategy and subterfuge. He also secretly trained Paul as a Mentat—a discipline created as a human substitute for computers, following a ban over any machines made “in the likeness of a human mind.” Mentats are trained in mechanical thinking with strong problem-solving skills and an ability to disconnect from their emotions to reach the most logical conclusion.
He was played by Freddie Jones in the 1984 film and is believed to be played by Stephen McKinley Henderson (Devs) in the 2020 version, though we haven’t seen that confirmed outside of IMDB.
Dr. Wellington Yueh
Dr. Wellington Yueh is a doctor for House Atreides and the personal physician of Duke Leto. He graduated from the Suk Medical School, which means he’s been mentally conditioned to never inflict harm or kill because of an amplified conscience. He can be identified by the black diamond tattoo on his forehead that indicates his Suk conditioning.
He was played by Dean Stockwell in the 1984 film and will be played by Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) in the 2020 version.
Chani Kynes is the daughter of Liet-Kynes, the lead planetologist on Arrakis. She is trained as a warrior and serves under her tribe’s leader, Stilgar. She has natural abilities akin to the Bene Gesserit and shares a powerful connection with Paul that predates their first encounter—as she’s someone he’s been seeing in his dreams for years. She’s fierce but practical, quick to determine the best decisions for herself, her loved ones, and her people.
She was played by Sean Young in the 1984 film and will be played by Zendaya in the 2020 version.
Note: Villeneuve cast a woman for this role for the 2020 film, so I’ll be using female pronouns for the description.
Liet-Kynes is Arrakis’ planetary ecologist for the Emperor, as well as a key figure among the Fremen. She’s part of a years-long project to terraform the planet, turning it from a harsh desert into a world full of water and plant life. Half-Fremen herself (and mother to Chani), she finds herself working with House Atreides to navigate the transition from Harkonnen rule to theirs while keeping the needs of the Fremen foremost in her mind.
The character was played by Max von Sydow in the 1984 film and will be played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) in the 2020 version.
Stilgar is the leader of Sietch Tabr, a Fremen tribe on Arrakis. He got the position of Naib (or leader) by challenging and defeating the previous one. He is highly respected by his people and considered to be the voice of the Fremen on his planet—especially considering he managed to improve the tribes’ methods of water preservation, under the tutelage of Liet-Kynes’ father, Pardot Kynes.
He was played by Everett McGill in the 1984 film and will be played by Javier Bardem in the 2020 version.
Jamis is a Fremen warrior serving under Stilgar. He is known for being a ferocious fighter who once killed a man and married his widow, Harah, but he’s always one to help out his fellow Fremen in times of need. That said, he is extremely distrustful of outsiders and prefers the Fremen keep to themselves.
He was played by Judd Omen in the 1984 film and is believed to be played by Babs Olusanmokun (Black Mirror) in the 2020 version, though we haven’t seen that confirmed outside of fan accounts or IMDB.
Harah is Jamis’ wife and the mother of his two sons, who eventually become part of Paul’s household. She is steadfast and headstrong and does everything she can to put her family first.
She was played by Molly Wryn in the 1984 film and is believed to be played by Gloria Obianyo (Good Omens) in the 2020 version, though we haven’t seen that confirmed outside of IMDB.
Shadout Mapes is the head housekeeper of the Imperial Residence on Arrakis, and is the first Fremen that House Atreides (and the audience) encounters. She is an older woman who’s kind and dedicated, teaching Lady Jessica about her people and testing her as part of a Fremen prophecy.
She was played by Linda Hunt in the 1984 film but no casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether she will appear in the first movie.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
This arsehole right here. Vladimir is the leader of House Harkonnen, another powerful noble family within the Galactic Padishah Empire. Unlike Duke Leto, who was an even-handed and compassionate leader, Baron Harkonnen is arrogant, cunning, and cruel. He ruled Arrakis with an iron fist, forcing residents to work themselves to death while torturing others—sometimes to keep them in line, other times just for the hell of it. When the Emperor handed Arrakis to Duke Leto, Baron Harkonnen (who already loathed House Atreides) vowed to do anything to get it back. He’s described as a formerly tall, muscular man who gradually became morbidly obese, to the point where he requires hover suspensors to hold him aloft during the day.
He was played by Kenneth McMillan in the 1984 film and will be played by Stellan Skarsgård in the 2020 version.
Glossu Rabban Harkonnen
Glossu Harkonnen is the older nephew of Baron Harkonnen and the Count of Lankiveil. He’s just as sadistic and tyrannical as his uncle but not nearly as smart, leaving the Baron to choose his younger brother, Feyd-Rautha, as the Harkonnen heir. Glossu has many terrifying nicknames among the populace—most notably “the Beast,” which he received after killing his own father.
He was played by Paul Smith in the 1984 film and will be played by Dave Bautista in the 2020 version.
Piter de Vries
Piter de Vries is a Mentat serving House Harkonnen. Unlike other Mentats, who strive to make sense of the world, Piter de Vries has learned to use his skills of calculation to achieve his own devious, despicable ends. He’s very conniving and tries to manipulate everyone in his path, including the baron.
He was played by Brad Dourif in the 1984 film and will be played by David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man) in the 2020 version.
Shaddam Corrino IV
Shaddam Corrino IV is the 81st Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe and overseer of the Landsraad (the noble houses’ council), as well as the head of House Corrino. He’s the one who pressured Duke Leto, his adoptive cousin, to surrender control of Caladan to Count Hasimir Fenring and take Arrakis instead. He’s privately fond of his cousin but reportedly felt threatened by how beloved he was in the Landsraad. Shaddam is married to Anirul, a Bene Gesserit agent, and has five daughters with her.
He was played by José Ferrer in the 1984 film but no casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether he will appear in the first movie.
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
Gaius Helen Mohiam is a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, meaning she’s completed her training at a highly advanced level. As Lady Jessica’s overseer, she’s the one who trained her in the Bene Gesserit ways and has kept a steady eye on her during her time with House Atreides. She’s also served as royal Truthsayer for Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, as part of her efforts to increase the Bene Gesserit presence in the royal court.
She was played by Siân Phillips in the 1984 film and will be played by Charlotte Rampling in the 2020 version.
Count Hasimir Fenring
Count Hasimir Fenring is a Mentat assassin and political adviser to Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, as well as a member of the less-notable House Fenring (long aligned with House Corrino). He was part of the Bene Gesserit breeding program and was once seen as a candidate to be their Kwisatz Haderach, but that later turned out to not be the case due to a genetic anomaly. He’s described as “a killer with the manners of a rabbit,” who has the ability to fool others into thinking he’s not a threat until the very moment he’s ready to strike. He’s married to a Bene Gesserit agent, Lady Margot Fenring, and they often work together on Count Fenring’s projects.
He was omitted from the 1984 film but was played by Miroslav Táborský in Syfy’s Children of Dune miniseries. No casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether he will appear in the first movie.
Note: The final three characters on this list are sort of spoiler related so we’d suggest skipping these if you want to avoid anything about the plot of the first movie.
Alia Atreides is the daughter of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica, and Paul’s younger sister. Lady Jessica was pregnant with her during a good portion of the story and later gave birth to her during a powerful and dangerous Bene Gesserit experience. As a result, she is wise beyond her years and becomes a powerful ally for her brother.
She was played by Alicia Witt in the 1984 film but no casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether she will appear in the first movie.
Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is the younger brother of Glossu and Baron Harkonnen’s declared heir. He is just as cruel, sadistic, and horrible as his fellow Harkonnens, but is gifted with the charm and cunning instinct his older brother lacks. He’s about the same age as Paul and is often described as his antithesis, a strong but charismatic leader who knows how to help and hurt people in equal measure. However, he can be arrogant to a fault.
He was played by Sting in the 1984 film but no casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether he will appear in the first movie.
Princess Irulan is the eldest daughter of Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and is mostly known in Dune as the scribe behind several historical texts strewn throughout the book. She doesn’t play much of a part in the first book, apart from her written passages, but becomes a much larger player in Dune Messiah.
She was played by Virginia Madsen in the 1984 film but no casting has been announced yet for the 2020 version. It is unknown whether she will appear in the first movie.
Dune is set to come out December 26 in Australian cinemas.