Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk scored $50.5 million for a No. 1 opening at the domestic box office this weekend, while Luc Besson’s sci-fi opus Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets bombed with a mere $17 million in ticket sales. Written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk marks the 10th film in the esteemed filmmaker’s career. Recounting the harrowing true story of the miracle of Dunkirk in May 1940, the film tells from three points of view – from the air, the land, and the sea – and the effort to rescue 400,000 Allied troops pinned on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, who were surrounded by German forces.
Dunkirk has tremendous momentum going into the weekend, thanks to nearly across-the-board acclaim from critics, and speculation that the film could finally win Nolan his first Oscar. The film was also certified “fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, earning a stellar aggregate score of 92 percent (at one point the ranking was as high as 98 percent), making it the director’s second-highest ranked film on the site behind Nolan’s 2008 worldwide blockbuster The Dark Knight, which earned a 94 percent “fresh” rating.
By contrast, Valerian appeared doomed as it approached its theatrical opening on Friday. Based on the acclaimed comic book series Valerian and Laureline, the film finds the duo (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) desperately trying to protect the metropolis of Alpha (the home to species from a thousand planets), as well as the galaxy. Despite huge acclaim from the likes of Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, critics were decidedly mixed about the film, praising its visual effects yet calling it out as an early contender for the Razzies. The film ended up with a “rotten” aggregate score of 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
According to Variety, Dunkirk earned its No. 1 spot at the box office by taking in $50.5 million at 3,720 location. The film, which was budgeted at $100 million, received a big boost from its IMAX ticket sales, earning $11.7 million at 402 locations (accounting for 23 percent of its ticket sales overall). Meanwhile, Valerian, budgeted at $209 million, grossed $17 million from 3,553 locations for a fifth place finish behind the road comedy Girls Trip (earning $30.3 million in its debut), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($22 million) and War for the Planet of the Apes (20.4 million).
Overseas, Dunkirk’s opening was equally as impressive. Deadline reports that the film opened with $55.4 million in international ticket sales, including $12.4 million in England (which topped all overseas markets) $4.9 million in France.
With its disastrous opening, Valerian becomes the latest big-budget movie to hit the wall at this summer’s domestic box office, preceded by the likes of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Mummy, and Transformers: the Last Knight. If studios haven’t gotten the memo by this point, clearly its a signal that very few old-school tentpole franchise movies resonate with audiences anymore.
With the success of Dunkirk, does it mean that audiences will see more historical tales taking on summer popcorn flicks in the future? The answer is unlikely considering Nolan is a rare filmmaker whose work transcends all genres and box office expectations. Despite the writer-director’s impressive track record, even box office analysts were off in their predictions for Dunkirk, pegging the film for an opening in the $30 million to $40 million range just a couple weeks ago.
If there’s any certainty to this summer’s box office, analysts, critics and audiences should never underestimate Nolan; and on the flip side, never assume that a movie is going to be a massive hit because of the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to make it.
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