Auteur Ambitions ‘Dunkirk’ & ‘Valerian’ To Brawl At Weekend Box Office

Warner Bros/EuropaCorp

Two very expensive movies, both personal stories to each of their directors, are facing off at the weekend box office with openings that are expected to be less than spectacular when juxtaposed to their $150 million-plus production costs.

Warner Bros

Over the past month in tracking, Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk has had the upper hand over Luc Besson’s French comic-book feature adaptation Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, with opening ranges of $35M-$40M and $17M-$20M, respectively. Both titles will need to rely heavily on foreign ticket sales should break-even be within their grasps.

Reviews for Dunkirk from Warner Bros have been ecstatic, with critics heralding that it’s Nolan’s best since The Dark Knight. That word of mouth, coupled with the pic’s 96% certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, should push Dunkirk to the No. 1 spot, and potentially expand the movie beyond its core Caucasian older male demo (there are some under-18 girls piqued by the fact that One Direction’s Harry Styles is in the movie). The pic reportedly cost $150M before P&A.

Nolan’s last movie, the heady astronaut time-bending continuum movie Interstellar, opened to $49.7M over five days and legged out to a 3.8 multiple of $188M. Dunkirk will play at 3,720 locations with Thursday night shows starting at 6 PM. Per location, WB is playing Dunkirk on multiple screens in multiple formats including 70mm, digital Imax, PLFs, and motion seats.


Valerian, based on the French comic book series Besson read as a kid — and a movie he’s yearned to make since 1997’s The Fifth Element — arrives in multiplexes with a production cost before P&A of $180M. A majority of that figure is covered by foreign pre-sales, equity financing and tax subsidies. STXfilms is receiving a distribution fee and has reportedly kicked in $5M toward the pic’s stateside marketing. Given the risk mitigation here, analysts believe EuropaCorp’s exposure on the film is $40M-$50M, a bulk of that from U.S. since that’s where they’re ceding upside to STX. Originally, Valerian was to be released via EuropaCorp’s RED joint distribution deal with Relativity before the latter went belly up. Should Valerian underperform around the world, it’s the territory partners who stand to lose the most.

The IP has a deeper resonance with European audiences, while it is arguably unknown to mainstream Americans. However, unlike Legendary’s titles — read The Great Wall and Seventh Son, which were fueled by foreign ticket sales prior to their domestic debuts — EuropaCorp wanted STX to slot Valerian on its July 21 release date in U.S. and Canada, with international capitalizing on the availability of PLF screens. Germany and a handful of smaller territories are going in sync with the U.S. this weekend. France opens on July 26, UK/Ireland on August 4, and Australia on August 10. Valerian will play at 3,550 theaters, and it currently counts a 72% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score.

Universal Pictures

Counterprogramming these behemoths is Universal’s Malcolm D. Lee R-rated raunchy comedy Girls Tripwhich at a cost under $20M looks to be the safest bet financially at the B.O. with a $25M-$28M start at 2,583 theaters. The movie is certain to be a destination for African American women and boasts a cast that includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish. Girls Trip made its premiere at the American Black Film Festival in Miami last month.

Last weekend’s No. 1 champ, 20th Century Fox’s War For The Planet Of The Apeslooks to still be great with a 52%-54% decline in its second outing with around $26M. Through yesterday, Apes amassed $69.2M.


Among notable specialty fare hitting the screen is Amazon Studios’ 1990s romantic comedy Landline from director Gillian Robespierre. Jenny Slate plays a young woman who has fallen out of love with her fiance. Her high school sister (Abby Quinn) is a hostage to partying, while their father (John Turturro) is cheating on their mother (Edie Falco). Amazon picked up U.S. rights for Landline at Sundance for $3M and Magnolia will be giving the film a limited release this weekend. Landline will have a total of four runs at New York’s Union and Lincoln Square cinemas and the Hollywood Arclight and Los Angeles’ The Landmark.

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