Dunkirk is tops, Valerian bombs

LOS ANGELES • Dunkirk and Girls Trip won big at the weekend box office by breaking unwritten Hollywood rules about release dates and cast diversity. But another flouter of film industry norms, the surreal, independently financed space adventure Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, was dead on arrival.

Powered by exceptional reviews - the word "masterpiece" was bandied about - Dunkirk (Warner Bros) took in about US$50.5 million (S$69 million) at North American theatres, or about 20 per cent more than analysts had expected. Turnout was very strong at Imax locations. The film was shot with Imax 70mm cameras.

Dunkirk, directed and written by Christopher Nolan, features Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and One Direction singer Harry Styles in a story about the historic rescue of hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, during World War II.

It collected an additional US$55.4 million in partial release overseas for a global debut of US$105.9 million. It cost about US$100 million to make, not including marketing.

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Releasing it in late July was a risk. Serious films aimed at older audiences tend to arrive in autumn or late winter; summer is usually reserved for comic-book adaptations and sci-fi epics.

But Nolan wanted a summer berth for Dunkirk and Warner Bros backed him, betting that audiences would be hungry for something smart and original after a diet of sequels.

"The right movie can play and play in late summer," Mr Jeff Goldstein, Warner's president of domestic distribution, said by telephone on Sunday. He cited "the Nolan pedigree" for stronger-thanexpected turnout.

About 60 per cent of the Dunkirk audience was male. Older moviegoers - anyone above the age of 25 in Hollywood's calculation - made up about 76 per cent.

Warner Bros had another reason to celebrate as Wonder Woman passed Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (Disney-Marvel) to become the No. 1 movie of the summer at the North American box office.

Girls Trip (Universal), an R-rated comedy about a group of women who let loose in New Orleans, took in a hefty $30.4 million. A string of comedies - Baywatch, Snatched, Rough Night - fizzled this summer, but Girls Trip offered something different: The principal roles were all played by black women such as Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish and Jada Pinkett Smith, which seldom happens in Hollywood, where such casting is usually dismissed as too niche.

The last time a studio backed such a comedic ensemble may have been in 1995, when 20th Century Fox released Waiting To Exhale.

Girls Trip, which cost about US$20 million to make, was cheered by critics, with Haddish's breakout performance singled out. The film, which received an A-plus grade in CinemaScore exit polls, was directed by Malcolm D. Lee, known lately for The Best Man Holiday (2013).

And then there was Luc Besson's Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (STX Films), which took in about US$17 million, a disastrous showing for a film that cost at least US$150 million to make.

The movie's challenges included comic book source material unfamiliar to most Americans, a shortage of star power and computer- generated creatures that drew comparisons to the hated Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars.

Besson's troubled EuropaCorp, which is based in France, paid for Valerian. Europa then dramatically reduced its financial exposure by selling distribution rights in dozens of countries and bringing in outside investors.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Dunkirk is tops, Valerian bombs'. Print Edition | Subscribe