Long Range Forecast: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’

Three new releases are currently scheduled for July 21, but one in particular is the focus of this week’s Long Range Forecast: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

The auteur filmmaker’s ninth feature film marks his return to the summer slate after the holiday season run of 2014’s Interstellar. There will be some counter-programming on the menu, though, from Girls Night and Valerian — although one of those films could be a candidate for a release shift.

An initial rundown of what to expect and why to expect it:

Dunkirk
Warner Bros.

PROS:

  • Christopher Nolan has earned his place on a short list of modern filmmakers who can attract attention to a new project just by having his name attached. The domestic and global popularity of films like The Dark Knight TrilogyInception, and Interstellar have been well-documented at this point, and that collection of goodwill should certainly translate into strong awareness and interest in Dunkirk.
  • As the studio has directly noted, Mr. Nolan emphasizes that this film is to be viewed as an “action/thriller” and not a typical “war movie” — a description that may be telling of how it will play to crowds in the middle of summer popcorn movie season. Even then, however, the film is already an early candidate for awards season in dramatic and technical categories.
  • Social media buzz is pointedly sharper for Dunkirk two months out from release than it was for Interstellar. Twitter activity is likely benefiting from the film’s presence of English pop star Harry Styles, but Facebook growth — which generally caters to older segments of potential moviegoers — is nearly three times stronger than Nolan’s sci-fi film.
  • Regarding older audiences, this film not only is expected to play well among veterans and their families, but Nolan’s own typical young adult-and-upward crowd that have been at the core of his audience base for the past decade. If a sizable portion of the American Sniper audience turns out, the film’s ceiling could increase even further and make comparisons to Saving Private Ryan even more relevant. That film earned $216.5 million in Summer 1998, still standing as the highest grossing World War II film in domestic history.
  • As many often lament the absence of “smart” or “adult-friendly” blockbuster fare every summer, Dunkirk promises to serve as exactly that option for moviegoers this year. The absence of significant competition throughout August and September also points to what may be a very leggy run — as is typical for the filmmaker’s movies.
  • With over 100 minutes of high resolution IMAX footage (the most Nolan has ever shot for one project), the film will also gain marquee interest in premium theater runs.
  • Looking beyond domestic box office for a moment, the Dunkirk evacuation is one of the most famous stories of WWII around the globe — particularly, for obvious reasons, in the United Kingdom. Combined with the presence of Harry Styles, there’s a strong chance Dunkirk could be a contender for one of the best box office runs in the history of the country if it fully taps into its potential of cultural significance. Nolan’s highest earner in his home country was The Dark Knight ($89 million) nine years ago, while the all-time U.K. record belongs to Skyfall ($161.2 million).

CONS:

  • Historical epics can often be tough sells to young adult audiences, especially given that today’s American audiences aren’t overly familiar with 1940’s Battle of Dunkirk — a pivotal moment in modern human history. Still, the hope is for the filmmaker’s reputation to drive interest among those who may otherwise not be as aware of the importance of the event.
  • Flixster users are definitely optimistic with a 99 percent “want to see” score, but the overall volume of voters is notably lower than it was for Interstellar at the same point. This isn’t a huge concern, but it’s worth considering.
  • Although Dunkirk arguably *is* the competition, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the film follows Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes in what’s shaping up to be a busy July marketplace. Good films can overcome long odds, but this is another factor that may signal a less front-loaded type of opening weekend and lead to strong holding power throughout the rest of summer (perhaps similar to Inception seven years ago).

This Week’s Changes & Other Notes

  • Girls Trip could be primed to serve as solid counter-programming to Dunkirk on the weekend of July 21. Initial social media trends are somewhat muted for now, though.
  • Valerian faces an uphill battle by also opening on July 21. Aside from the direct competition for male audiences against Dunkirk, it will also be contending with the third weekend of Spider-Man: Homecoming. If the latter succeeds with comic book fans and young moviegoers, Valerian stands to lose out on a major portion of its target audience. Barring some incredible confidence on their end, we’re not ruling out the possibility that STX could delay the film to a less competitive time period (we’re looking at you, August). For now, though, we’re expecting a domestic run similar to John Carter and Pacific Rim — although overseas markets may be where the film truly shines.
  • Wonder Woman continues to impress as its final marketing stage hits. Reviews are expected to come online around Memorial Day, and if positive enough, they could help send the film into buzz overdrive before release next week. Before then, though, tracking has continued to inch closer to the levels of Man of Steel. We’re increasingly in the “bullish” camp at this point.

Check out our 8-week forecast in the table below.

Release Date Title 3-Day Wide Opening % Chg from Last Week Domestic Total % Chg from Last Week Location Count Distributor
6/2/2017 Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie $31,000,000 $103,500,000 3,300 Fox / DreamWorks Animation
6/2/2017 Wonder Woman $111,000,000 19% $300,000,000 25% 4,200 Warner Bros.
6/9/2017 It Comes At Night $12,500,000 $40,600,000 2,500 A24
6/9/2017 Megan Leavey $4,500,000 $14,000,000 1,000 Bleecker Street
6/9/2017 The Mummy (2017) $44,000,000 -2% $114,000,000 -6% 3,700 Universal
6/16/2017 47 Meters Down n/a n/a Entertainment Studios
6/16/2017 All Eyez On Me $18,000,000 $49,000,000 Lionsgate / Summit
6/16/2017 Cars 3 $49,000,000 $180,000,000 Disney / Pixar
6/16/2017 Rough Night $25,000,000 $80,000,000 Sony
6/21/2017 Transformers: The Last Knight $70,000,000 $205,000,000 Paramount
6/28/2017 Baby Driver $15,000,000 $50,000,000 Sony / TriStar
6/30/2017 Amityville: The Awakening $8,500,000 $18,000,000 TWC / Dimension
6/30/2017 Despicable Me 3 $75,000,000 $270,000,000 Universal / Illumination
6/30/2017 The House (2017) $26,000,000 $95,000,000 Warner Bros. / New Line
7/7/2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming $135,000,000 $325,000,000 Sony / Columbia
7/14/2017 The Big Sick n/a n/a Lionsgate
7/14/2017 War for the Planet of the Apes $54,000,000 $150,000,000 Fox
7/14/2017 Wish Upon $11,000,000 -4% $25,500,000 -25% Broad Green Pictures
7/21/2017 Dunkirk $60,000,000 NEW $240,000,000 NEW Warner Bros.
7/21/2017 Girls Trip $17,000,000 NEW $60,000,000 NEW Universal
7/21/2017 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets $24,000,000 NEW $70,000,000 NEW STX Entertainment

Shawn Robbins and Alex Edghill contributed to this report.

Boxoffice Staff

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    J May 26, 2017

    Too high for Spider-Man Homecoming and maybe Wonder Woman. Also a little too high for Dunkirk.

    Wonder Woman:90-100 million

    Spider-Man: 100-115 million

    Dunkirk: 45-55 million

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Chris May 26, 2017

      Not too high at all for Wonder Woman. Reviews are going to be very good and the buzz is very strong. Could see it even hitting $115 million opening weekend.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      WMX May 26, 2017

      Suicide Squad debuted with 133 million. A movie with Spider Man and Iron Man should make more than Suicide Squad. It’ll make at least 150 million.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        A.A. Roi May 29, 2017

        That’s right. Iron Man + Spider man is the MCU equivalent to Batman & Superman. It should blow everything out of the water with ease, and if it doesn’t, both Sony and Marvel have done something seriously wrong (that’s what they said about BvS, right?)

        Reply
        • Avatar
          3rdCubeSunset July 19, 2017

          Dear lord, you DC drones are too much.

          First of all, Iron Man + Spider Man are NOT the MCU equivalent to batman and Superman. The two most popular Marvel properties of all time are Spider-Man and X-Men (which is why they sold the film rights back in the 90s).

          Now that we’ve established you’re first point as being wrong, let’s continue.

          To repeat:
          Homecoming is the SIXTH Spider-man film, the second reboot, and the third actor playing him. Furthermore, it’s only 3 years removed from the last Spider-Man film, which nobody liked. Sony itself didn’t think it would do over a $100 – and that’s not them being typically conservative or coy – they really didn’t– or else they would have scheduled the film for a May release. Or perhaps you missed how EVERY tracking source had the film at sub-$100M? Know why? Because they understood the laws of diminishing returns and the risk of making a Spidey film that flew in the face of that.

          BvS was 1000x more anticipated than this film. batman and Superman are two of the biggest names in all of FICTION, not just comics. It did poorly because word got out it was awful. So, You’re right – DC DID do something seriously wrong – they bumbled two of the biggest characters and made an unwatchable 3 hour husk of CGI.

          Translation: Even though Marvel/Sony did everything right (great marketing, great script, great cast, great reviews), there was no way in hell they would reach the high water mark BvS could have had, due to the facts pointed out earlier. The fact that Homecoming earned $117M opening weekend is astonishing, to say the least.

          I suppose understanding the film industry was never a precedent for commenting here.

          Reply
      • Avatar
        ThirdCubeSunset July 19, 2017

        Completely insane logic.

        Homecoming is the SIXTH Spider-man film, the second reboot, and the third actor playing him. Furthermore, it’s only 3 years removed from the last Spider-Man film, which nobody liked.

        Suicide Squad was a new IP For better or worse) that knew exactly how to market itself:

        – Show the Joker, even though he’s not in the whole movie.
        – Show the 30 seconds Batman is in the film in EVERY commercial.
        – Show a half-naked Margot Robbie as much as humanly possible.

        (And If you don’t think that last part had anything to do with the opening weekend of SS, never work in the film industry)

        Iron Man is in Homecoming for 10 minutes. But I don’t care if the entire Avengers team was in the movie, There’s no way in hell Spidey would make over $120M.

        DC drones really need to understand the industry before talking.

        Reply
    • Avatar
      Austin May 26, 2017

      I agree with your concern about Dunkirk being a bit too high, but I’ll also add that War for the Planet of the Apes is too low by about $10-15 million. Both movies are targeting different adult audiences, which leads to why I think that Apes will have a bigger opening but Dunkirk will have a higher overall gross: Dunkirk will not have a front-loaded appeal from its audience. If Apes disappoints with reviews though, then Dunkirk may have the higher opening too.
      Spider-Man is up in the air for me. On the down side, that newly released poster is a cluttered display of floating heads (now all we need to top that off would be the same poster with bobble-heads) and exactly how willing will the audience be to watch this third try at a Spider-Man franchise. However, with mainly positive buzz and major hype surrounding it, it’s hard to say it can’t reach a $130 million opening. Maybe, like GOTG Vol. 2, it could just be overestimated and fall to $115 million instead.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        J May 27, 2017

        Agreed Apes is too low(the movies are amazing), but I can’t see Spider-Man Homecoming going that high. It’s the sixth Spider-Man in the past 15 years and is more of a high school drama than most superhero movies.

        Reply
        • Avatar
          A.A. Roi May 29, 2017

          But its also an Iron Man movie, with what is clearly (at least in this continuity) an Iron Man villain. Iron Man has headlined 4 straight billion+ films in the past 5 years, and hasn’t been in a film that has ever had less than 300 million domestic box office. That’s *6 straight* films of *300 million plus, domestic*. Do you really think that all the Iron Man fans are suddenly going to stay home for this pic?

          Reply
          • Avatar
            J June 01, 2017

            The vulture is not an Iron Man villain. Also, I didn’t say people would not go see it. ANd if it opens with 115 million it could still cross the 300 million domestic mark.

    • Avatar
      DangerS May 27, 2017

      Maybe Dunkirk will be at $50M but I think WW will definitely hit $100M plus and Spider-Man will easily perform like Suicide Squad.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Everton Carter May 29, 2017

      Spider-Man remains the most popular superhero around (merchandise etc.) and here is a version people like again. He’s finally with the characters from the MCU as well. I think it will do better than that estimate. Wonder Woman looks like it will have very good reviews. If it does, they’ll be spot on. Dunkirk, I just don’t know. There’Nolan’s name, but a WWII film with no Americans involved, that may be a hard sell. I hope not, but it fees that way. Also Apes is already the “intelligent” blockbuster and it is so close.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Reece May 26, 2017

    If anything, the unfamiliarity of the story behind Dunkirk would BOOST sales, if everyone already knew the entire story they’d be like ” I know the story, why do I even gotta see the movie, I know what happens”

    Reply
    • Avatar
      David Howell May 28, 2017

      Though that didn’t exactly hold back Titanic (or Passion of the Christ, or Star Wars Episode III).

      And there’s precedent for true stories with non-US resonance to completely fail at the domestic B.O. – although the first two that spring to mind are both sports dramas (Invictus, Rush) and that’s not a big sub-genre.

      And “underdogs hold off Nazis against all odds” ought to be an easy sell. In 2017, it might also have particular appeal to a younger and more liberal audience than would normally turn up for a war movie?

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    DangerS May 27, 2017

    Cars 3, Despicable Me 3 and War for the Planet of the Apes are still too low.
    Cas 3 will likely be the best reviewed of the series, so word of mouth should help it outperform both its predecessors.
    Despicable Me 3 will probably open bigger than Minions and might be the only movie this Summer to gross $400M.
    War for the Planet of the Apes should do about as much as the last one; $70M opening weekend & $200M total.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    CH. May 29, 2017

    I wonder If Wonder Woman with good reviews could make +135M-140M just like Deadpool did +130M.
    Like, way more known character, very long waited movie, etc, etc, etc.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      A.A. Roi May 30, 2017

      Its entirely possible, with PoC kind of tanking in its opening weekend and Wonder Woman with an incredible 97% rating on RT and a 79 rating on metacritic.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Austin May 30, 2017

        Yeah, I did see those superb Wonder Woman reviews; I wasn’t expecting them to be that high. Reminds me of Edge of Tomorrow back in 2014 except with already high expectations.

        Reply

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