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:

Warner Bros.


  • 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).


  • 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.

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