WRITETHRU, Sunday AM, following Saturday posts: Dunkirk beat expectations this weekend with a $50.5 million opening weekend at 3,720 venues at the domestic box office, an impressive start for a British war subject largely unknown to Americans in a marketplace of franchise holdovers and a $200M-plus budgeted sci-fi epic known as Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. That Luc Besson title died a horrible death this weekend with a $17M start.  

Dunkirk marches Warner Bros past the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office, the 17th time the Burbank lot has hit that mark — a feat no other studio has accomplished. Year to date, Warner Bros is pacing ahead of 2016 stateside ticket sales by 9%. The studio also has bragging rights with Wonder Woman this weekend, which surpassed Disney/Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 to become the summer’s highest-grossing film with $389M and the second-highest year-to-date behind Beauty And The Beast ($504M). Yesterday during the studio’s Comic-Con session, a logo was flashed on the screen for Wonder Woman II. The run for this metal bathing suit-clad superhero isn’t over, and it’s likely she could get to $400M, especially when you consider it will certainly hit $390M.

With this start, Dunkirk has the potential to leg out to a 3x multiple. Director Christopher Nolan’s previous movie Interstellar posted a three-day of $47.5M and churned a near 4x multiple at the domestic B.O., ending with $188M. His films just have great holds.

“Christopher Nolan is a star in his own right,” Warner Bros domestic distribution boss Jeff Goldstein said this morning. “He has a very engaged fanbase that’s enthusiastic. When you look at the movies he’s made, that fanbase is there, and here he did something extremely special.”

Dunkirk
Warner Bros Pictures

Heading into the weekend, many predicted Dunkirk wouldn’t take flight given its standard appeal among older Caucasian men. However, great reviews, an A- CinemaScore, plus Nolan’s fans are lifting this pic past its $35M-$40M projection. Yes, men over 25 make up close to 50% of the main draw here per ComScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak, but Dunkirk is also playing incredibly well to older females and younger guys. The under-25 set who turned up at 24% gave it an A, while men at 60% on CinemaScore gave it an A-. These demos are expected to broaden in the weeks ahead as the film appeals to everyone ages 12 to 90.

In addition, we hear Dunkirk played throughout the country, impressively in the Midwest, with ticket sales that just weren’t confined to the coasts. Imax drew an impressive $11.7M for Dunkirk — the film was shot almost entirely in the format’s 70mm cameras– with a per-location take of $29,000 at 402 of the large-format exhibitor’s locations. Imax screens were in 18 of the top 20 locations.

Dunkirk will somehow make money,” one packager praised about its prospects. “Don’t ask me how, but I am done betting against Chris Nolan.” As pointed out previously, Interstellar with a cost $165M before P&A turned a $47M-plus profit.

Initially, seeing this auteur spectacle dated in July amid a sea of franchises prompted concern: Wouldn’t it be better to launch Dunkirk at the onset of fall festival awards season, rather than watch it get buried? We hear it was always Nolan’s preference to have Dunkirk go in late July. It’s a good-luck charm time on the release schedule given that’s where the Dark Knight movies opened and legged out.

RelishMix recognized the love for Dunkirk on social: “Fans are calling Nolan out and the co-stars like Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, who they know from the director’s Batman trilogy. The director has become a brand unto himself, like Steven Spielberg and other marquee helmers.”

Dunkirk has a strong social media universe that’s well over 210M. Broken down that’s 51.7M Facebook fans, 38M Twitter followers, 96.4M YouTube views and 24.6M Instagram followers. Adds RelishMix: “Keep in mind that over 67M of this total is attributed to pop star Harry Styles, who is not activated on social media. However, without Styles, the SMU drops to about 143M, which still easily exceeds the usual action-adventure SMU of 68M by opening week.”

Universal’s Girls Trip landed director Malcolm D. Lee not only his second A+ CinemaScore following the director’s 2013 movie The Best Man Holiday, but also the best opening of his career at the domestic B.O. with $30.4M, beating Holiday‘s $30.1M. This is a fantastic start for a movie that cost under $20M, and it’s great for comedies in a marketplace that has been intolerant of the genre. On Friday, the film made $11.7M and eased 5% on Saturday for $11.1M.

As other majors attempt to build lower-budget fare with the intent to profit, Universal makes sure that what it builds works (look at the half-billion-plus they racked up with Split and Get Out off of their under-$20M combined microbudgets). RelishMix sees Girls Trip‘s momentum fueled by its cast’s passion to promote on social media. “It’s encouraging to see an entire cast get behind a film — every cast member is social and activated, which is a true rarity. So, many of the YouTube views are surely driven by the super-social cast, led by Queen Latifah’s 18M followers,” reported the social media firm. Jada Pinkett Smith counts 8.9M followers across Facebook and Twitter, while co-star Kate Walsh has 2.5M across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Girls Trip is a break-through comedy that is providing audiences with big entertainment, big laughs,” said Universal domestic distribution chief Nick Carpou, “Malcolm D. Lee is a master at creating characters and telling stories that resonate, and in conjunction with producers Will Packer and James Lopez, has brought us a fresh, raunchy, empowering comedy.  Universal has a history of making bold, female driven films like Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect series, Trainwreck, and Sisters, providing a diverse range of entertainment in the most accessible way.”

Meanwhile, Luc Besson’s passion project Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is moon dust with $17M at 3,553 theaters in fifth place. The movie attracted 63% men, 40% under the age of 25.

Domicile Girard/STX Entertainment

Unfortunately, many could see this one coming like an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. While Besson tried to rip a page out of James Gunn’s soundtrack book by marrying a classic pop tune (The Beatles’ “Because”) with the eye-popping sci-fi glamour on-screen in the first trailer, rival studio marketing chiefs found it too manic in its alien-human drama, and the title was over the top (“City Of A Thousand Planets…What does that even mean?!” remarked one to Deadline).

In a summer where we’ve griped about the lack of original IP, here comes a fresh sci-fi title (granted, based on a French comic), and it falls completely on its face. While we could Monday-morning quarterback the reasons why Valerian is failing, one of the primary reasons aside from its exorbitant production cost (which we now hear isn’t $180M, but rather $205M net) was the film’s late July release date. Besson staked this date for the film more than two years ago when Valerian was scheduled to be released via RED, EuropaCorp’s distribution joint venture with Relativity. But arriving in the wake of War For The Planet Of The Apes and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and against Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, does zero favors.

In addition, with a property like this that appeals largely to a European/foreign audience, one wonders why domestic is even going first. While we heard Besson wanted the best digital and 3D theaters overseas in the late summer, why not hold domestic until the last market? That’s what Legendary would do with a big gamble that they know will fall flat in the U.S.

It’s upsetting given Besson’s time and investment here, and he deserves credit for being audacious and getting his vision made outside the studio system. Besson was always in front of the film promoting it, showing off concept drawings to the fanboy press two years ago here at Comic-Con, returning again to San Diego last year, flying back to the states with star Cara Delevingne for CinemaCon in March to talk up the film to exhibitors; the director never mailed in promoting this film.

However, stars or no stars, visually stunning or not, much of the success with these gambles boils down to the content and whether it clicks with an audience, and Valerian simply does not after putting moviegoers through 2 hours and 17 minutes of alien chase scenes. Their verdict: a lackluster B- CinemaScore.

We’ve seen other zany sci-fi work before at the B.O., read 2009’s Avatar (which wasn’t based on specific source material) and Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. Avatar was a feat never seen before (it even inspired Besson to make Valerian) from James Cameron, director of the then-highest-grossing film of all time (Titanic) who had been absent for 12 years from feature-length fictional filmmaking. With Gunn’s dazzling visuals, a machine-gun-toting raccoon, a big old tree and blue and green people, Guardians possessed a lot of heart which grounded its dramatic sensibilities with the masses. It also carried the Marvel brand, a quality Good Housekeeping seal to moviegoers.

One film financier pointed out to Deadline that Valerian‘s reported $205M production cost was far too high when it came to starting a new franchise. Breaking down the film’s financing structure is akin to a calculus project, but there’s no upside here for anyone. STXfilms has a distribution fee that’s close to 10% per sources and $5M invested in the film. P&A was largely handled by EuropaCorp because of a lot this — the presence at the Comic-Cons, a one sheet, the first trailer — was overseen by EuropaCorp when it as at RED. They were always on the hook for the bulk of the $60M domestic P&A, I hear. Overseas, each foreign territory handling distribution is on the hook for P&A. Lionsgate has Valerian in the UK and domestic home entertainment.

DEG

Valerian brings to mind David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune, only as a reminder that sci-fi is a gamble, and that it comes at a hefty price especially when the genre demands to be presented just right. That ornate movie cost $40M and went belly-up with close to $31M at the domestic B.O. Valerian, like Dune with Sting, even shoe-horned in a pop star –Rihanna — in an effort to pull in teens. We’ll have more updates for you in the morning.

Below are the top 10 films for July 21-23 per studio estimates.

1). Dunkirk (WB), 3,720 theaters / $19.8M Fri. (includes $5.5M previews) /$17.6M Sat./$13.1M Sun 3-day cume: $50.5M /Wk 1

2). Girls Trip (UNI), 2,591 theaters / $11.7M Fri. (includes $1.7M previews) / $11.1M Sat. /$7.6M Sun/3-day cume: $30.4M /Wk 1

3). Spider-Man: Homecoming (SONY/MARVEL), 4,130 theaters (-218)/ $6.3M Fri. /$8.9M Sat/$6.7M Sun/ 3-day cume: $22M (-50%)/Total: $251.7M/Wk 3

4.) War For The Planet Of The Apes (FOX), 4,100 theaters (+78) / $5.9M Fri. /$8.3M Sat/$6.2M Sun/ 3-day cume: $20.4M (-64%) /Total: $97.8M/Wk 2

5). Valerian And The City of A Thousand Planets (EUR/STX), 3,553 theaters / $6.52M Fri. (includes $1.7M previews) /$6M Sat./$4.5M Sunday/ 3-day cume: $17M /Wk 1

6). Despicable Me 3 (UNI/ILL), 3,525 theaters (-630) / $3.8M Fri. (-46%) /$5.1M Sat./$3.8M Sun/3-day cume: $12.7M (-34%) /Total: $213.3M/ Wk 4

7). Baby Driver (SONY), 2,503 theaters (-540) / $1.7M Fri. /$2.4M Sat/$1.8M Sun/ 3-day cume: $6M (-31%)/ Total cume: $84.2M / Wk 4

8.) The Big Sick (AMAZ/LGF), 2,597 theaters (0) / $1.4M  Fri/$2.2M Sat/$1.4M Sun/3-day cume: $5M (-34%)/Total: $24.5M/Wk 5

9.) Wonder Woman (WB), 1,971 theaters (-773) / $1.3M Fri. /$1.9M Sat/$1.4M Sun/ 3-day cume: $4.6M (-32%)/ Total: $389M / Wk 7

10). Wish Upon (BG), 2,154 theaters (-96)/ $794K Fri/$973K Sat/ $710K Sun/3-day cume: $2.47M (-56%)/Total: $10.5M/Wk 2

UPDATE, Friday, 12:47 PM: Warner Bros’ Dunkirk is poised to overperform as originally expected off its great word of mouth and film reviews. Industry estimates see the film landing between $19.5 million-$22 million today with three-day box office total of $55M-plus. That figure beats both the three-day ($47.5M) and five-day ($49.7M) of Christopher Nolan’s previous movie Interstellar. That sci-fi-think film cost $165M before P&A and was in the black with more than $47M-plus. Dunkirk‘s net production cost is speculated at $150M. Studio insiders say it’s cheaper than Interstellar‘s $165M at $100M.

Some rival estimates even think Dunkirk could get to $57M-$59M by the end of its opening frame.

Updated PostTrak stats shows a 64% turnout among men for Dunkirk who gave it a 90% positive score. Men under 25 at 18% of the crowd still love the Nolan film the most at 96% positive. Overall is a glowing 88% positive score. Caucasians repped 67% of the audience followed by Hispanics at 16%, 8% Asian and 7% African American. Last night, Imax screens made $1.6M at 402 auditoriums.

Universal Pictures

In second, Universal’s R-rated Girls Trip looks to be the only comedy working this summer in regards to its less-than-$20M production cost. The Malcolm D. Lee-directed title is set to log $12.5M today per industry forecasts with a FSS take between $27.5M-$31M. Lee’s The Best Man Holiday scored the director his best box office opening with $30.1M. Girls Trip received an 82% positive score overall with women over 25, who made up 60%, giving it an 88% positive. Definite recommend here of 67%. Thirty-nine percent came because it was a comedy, while 30% came for Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish. Fifty-two percent of all ticket buyers were African American, 27% Caucasian, 13% Hispanic and 6% Asian.

STX Entertainment

Currently, the holdovers look to make EuropaCorp/STXfilms’ Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets, currently estimated around $16M over three days, an afterthought. Spider-Man: Homecoming ($20M in Weekend 3) and War For The Planet Of The Apes ($18.5M) are piling on top of Luc Besson’s opus. Valerian is looking at $6M today based off midday matinees.

PREVIOUS, 7:34 AM: Warner Bros’ Dunkirk from director Christopher Nolan swarmed theaters last night starting at blue-plate special times of 6 PM and earning a great $5.5M.

That’s a notable preview number that flies over other summer tentpoles of past and present: War for the Planet of the Apes ($5M), Jason Bourne ($4.2M, 2016), Mad Max: Fury Road ($3.7M, 2015) and Inception ($3M, 2010).

Warner Bros

While tracking had Dunkirk, a $150M production, between $35M-$40M for the weekend, the British World War II film has heated up in the wake of stellar reviews with 91% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. As such, a much bigger three-day at 3,720 theaters — potentially touching $50M — isn’t out of the question. Couple this with the fact that Dunkirk notched a fantastic 69% definite recommend and 89% positive score in early PostTrak audience polls from comScore/Screen Engine. What’s interesting here is that men and women under 25 gave the film its best scores despite not leading the charge at the B.O.: Men under 25 (17%) gave the Nolan pic a 95% score, while women under 25 (14%) gave it a 94%. Men over 25, of course, outnumbered everyone at 47% and an 88% positive score, while their females counterparts repped 22% of the pic’s ticket buyers last night with an 81% positive score. Forty-seven percent of the audience said they bought tickets because they’re intrigued by the subject of Dunkirk, while 18% attributed it to reviews. Twenty-four percent said they attended because they are Nolan fans, a stat that towers over the 16% who cited the cast as their chief reason for going.

Universal Pictures

Meanwhile, EuropaCorp/STXfilms’ sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, from Luc Besson, and Universal’s African-American female comedy Girls Trip from Malcolm D. Lee tied with $1.7M in preview cash. Girls Trip was in play at 2,195 venues, while Valerian was in about 2,600 venues. The R-rated Girls Trip started showtimes at 7 PM, while Valerian started at 5 PM to hook younger viewers.

Based on this morning’s figures, Girls Trip looks to land in the low- to mid-$20M range while Valerian, a reported $180M estimated production financed via pre-sales, tax subsidies and equity financing, could near $20M.

STX Entertainment

A favorite childhood comic of Besson’s, Valerian has been in the director’s head ever since he completed 1997’s The Fifth Element. His urge to make the film only quickened in the wake of James Cameron’s 2009 spectacle Avatar, which then took VFX and 3D to the limit. STXfilms is handling Valerian as part of a distribution deal with EuropaCorp and receiving a distribution fee. Valerian expands to 3,553 theaters today.

Among those films in standard release, Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was No. 1 for the third day in a row with $4,45M, beating 20th Century Fox’s War for the Planet of the Apeswhich made $3.7M in second. Through two weeks, Homecoming stands at $229.7M, which is 4% behind 2002’s Spider-Man at the same point in time (final domestic $403.7M) and 9% behind 2007’s Spider-Man 3 (final domestic $336.5M). War for the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, counts an estimated $77.4M in its first week. The threequel from Chernin Entertainment is expected to ease 52%-54% decline in Weekend 2 with around $26M.