Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk is tracking to make in the neighborhood of $40 million in its opening weekend. Nolan’s name has been synonymous with the word “blockbuster” for nearly the past decade following the smashing success of The Dark Knight, the second chapter of the acclaimed writer-director’s Batman film trilogy.
Starring Christian Bale as the titular character and the late Heath Ledger in what would prove to be an Oscar-winning performance as The Joker, The Dark Knight pulled in a stellar $158.4 domestically in its debut weekend of July 2008; and its follow-up The Dark Knight Rises was equally as successful when it opened to $160.9 in domestic business in July 2012. And while Nolan’s Inception only made $62.8 million domestically in its opening weekend in the same July time frame in 2010, it still charged ahead to make more than $292 million domestically during its theatrical run.
July of 2017 doesn’t look to be as favorable to Nolan when Dunkirk opens stateside July 21. According to Variety, early tracking estimates place the film’s opening weekend at the domestic box office in the $30 million to $40 million range, with indications that it will finish at the higher end of that estimate. If the box office forecast holds up, Dunkirk will mark the filmmaker’s lowest opening weekend since his 2006 drama The Prestige, which debuted with $14.8 million in October of 2006. Perhaps part of the reason for Dunkirk’s lower-than-normal box office for Nolan could be due to stiff competition from the sci-fi action film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, as well as the road-trip comedy Girls Trip, which each have friendlier summer movie box office appeal.
Another factor could be tied to the fact that no marquee star is playing a lead in the film. Instead, three relative unknowns – Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Jack Lowden – are featured in the leading roles, while veteran standouts like Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, along with Nolan veterans Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, will only be featured in supporting turns. When it comes to drawing younger audiences, the film does have the benefit of featuring former One Direction singer Harry Styles in a supporting role.
Comparatively, Dunkirk’s opening weekend box office estimate is on par with the director’s sci-fi adventure Interstellar , which pulled in $47.5 million in its opening frame in 2014. The big difference between Interstellar and Dunkirk, however, is that Interstellar had a whopping run time of 2 hours and 49 minutes, while Dunkirk clocks in at 1 hour and 58 minutes, meaning the latter will have some extra ground to make up since Interstellar had fewer showings.
While Dunkirk’s numbers will likely underwhelm the accountants at Warner Bros. initially, it’s a pretty sure bet that the studio is more concerned with the long-term awards prospects for the film once campaigning begins in the fall. Even though he’s never won an Oscar (a grumbling point of contention for many Nolan fans), one factor moviegoers and critics can always count on from the filmmaker is his unique vision and great care he puts into his films.
It’s hard to argue the fact that Nolan always delivers, and Dunkirk likely won’t be any different. True, while Dunkirk doesn’t have any big names that scream off the marquee, the filmmaker is clearly concerned about telling a compelling true-life tale first over employing star personalities to help market his films with silly stories on nightly talk shows. And while Dunkirk may end up grossing far less money that his other films, you have to appreciate that there’s still filmmakers in Hollywood who have enough clout to tell their stories the way they are meant to be told, instead of having his or her casts determined by clueless studio executives.
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