‘Dunkirk’ Looks to Turn Critical Acclaim Into Box Office Victory

Christopher Nolan’s war epic aims for the top spot as “Girls Trip” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” also open

The astritics seem to be in agreement: Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is one of, if not the, best films of the year and a surefire Oscar contender, giving the World War II epic a “Fresh” rating of 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now Warner Bros. will look to turn that critical acclaim into box office success.

Currently, “Dunkirk” is pegged by independent trackers for an opening weekend in the range of $30-40 million, with WB’s projections on the upper end of that range. The film will be released in 3,700 locations, which includes a variety of special formats including IMAX, 35mm, and 70mm film.

But there’s the chance that independent projections may be underestimating “Dunkirk’s” potential. Unlike many blockbusters, WWII movies tend to attract an older male audience that is not always represented in social media and could help push the opening for “Dunkirk” into the $40-50 million range. Even if it doesn’t, older audiences can help give”Dunkirk’s” box office haul legs, as older audiences tend to see films in later weeks.

“It can be hard for trackers to gauge this component of moviegoers, which isn’t as on the grid as much as their younger counterparts,” comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian says. “So ‘Dunkirk’ could surprise a lot of people.”

In addition, “Dunkirk” has enjoyed a social media buzz that no other film of its kind has received thanks to an unexpected periphery demographic: One Direction fans. Though Nolan has said he did not know of Harry Styles’ fame when he cast him as a British Army private, the presence of the former boy band star has caused the film to get a spike in social media interest with each new trailer release.

According to comScore’s PreAct social media charts, Dunkirk has been one of the top 3 most talked about upcoming releases for each of the past three weeks, sharing the top spots with intensely hyped franchise staples like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” To date, “Dunkirk” has accumulated 1.35 million social media conversations on PreAct, making it the only summer movie outside of “Wonder Woman” and Disney-related IP to score above 1 million conversations on the system. While there’s no guarantee that Harry fans will become a major box office driver, it has helped “Dunkirk” keep up word-of-mouth even before this week’s glowing reviews rolled in and will make the demographic breakdowns a thing to look out for this weekend.

“Dunkirk” tells the story of the Dunkirk Evacuation, a famous moment from the early stages of World War II in which over 300,000 Allied soldiers were rescued after being surrounded by Nazi forces in Frances. Nolan is writer-director on the film, and produced it with his wife, Emma Thomas. The film’s cast includes Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy.

Also releasing this weekend is Universal’s “Girls Trip,” which is trying to break the recent slump for adult comedies at the box office. Projections have the film becoming the first comedy of 2017 to post an opening above the $20 million mark with a range of $23-28 million. Universal is projecting a $20 million opening.

“Girls Trip” arrives three weeks after Will Ferrell’s most recent comedy, “The House,” became the actor’s lowest-grossing opening weekend in nearly 20 years with $9 million against a $40 million budget. Before that were other struggling comedies like “Rough Night” ($37 million worldwide cume/$20 million budget), “Snatched” ($59 million worldwide/$42 million budget) and “Baywatch,” which got bailed out thanks to solid overseas returns ($165 million worldwide/$69 million budget). The good news for “Girls Trip” is that it has enjoyed a far better critical reception than any of those films. After early reviews, the film currently has an 89 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and its star-studded cast, which includes Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith with cameos from Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo, and Gabrielle Union, has helped draw interest from female audiences.

“Girls Trip” stars Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish as four lifelong friends who bond on a trip to New Orleans filled with both tender moments and wild partying. Malcolm D. Lee directed the film from a script by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and produced the film with Will Packer.

Finally, there’s STX/EuropaCorp’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” which may be the biggest gamble of the summer season. Projections have the film making $18-22 million in its opening weekend against a reported $150 million budget. That means the film will need a strong performance from Europe, where the graphic novel the film is adapted from, “Valerian and Laureline,” is more well-known.

It wouldn’t be the first time writer-director Luc Besson has seen one of his films underperform in the States but thrive across the Atlantic. Arguably his most famous film, 1997’s “The Fifth Element, took 75 percent of its total worldwide cume from overseas with $200 million. But “Dunkirk” will provide tougher competition in Europe,  at least in the U.K., where “Dunkirk” enjoys the advantage of having an extremely popular cast and director. “Valerian” will also not enjoy the premium screening push that “Dunkirk” will get, as IMAX provided Nolan and his team with the cameras used to shoot the film and has been aggressively promoting the picture. “Valerian” currently has a RT score of 70 percent, with critics praising Besson’s imaginative setting but criticizing the lead performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavingne.

“Valerian” stars DeHaan and Delavingne as a pair of 28th century intergalactic agents tasked with investigating a crisis that is threatening the City of a Thousand Planets, a massive space colony that was once the International Space Station and has since moved out into space and become a cultural exchange for thousands of alien species. Their adventure leads them to uncover a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of their organization. The film also stars Clive Owen, Sam Spruell, Kris Wu, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, and Rihanna. Besson wrote and directed the film, as well as co-produced it with his wife, Virginie Besson-Silla.