By Seth Kelley
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Dunkirk" and "Girls Trip" are opening above expectations at the domestic box office, while "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" looks like a huge flop.
But let's start with the good. Christopher Nolan's World War II film from Warner Bros. is flying past earlier projections to a $50.5 million opening weekend from 3,720 locations. $11.7 million of that total came from Imax screens alone -- that's 23% of the total market share from 402 locations. That $50.5 million number is a good one considering it is expected to have a large multiple, and continue to play well through August. The movie's production budget was reportedly just under $100 million, although earlier reports speculated that it was much higher.
"We're absolutely thrilled with this incredible result on this brilliant film," said Warner Bros. distribution chief Jeff Goldstein. "In a summer that has had a lot of disappointments, this movie way over-achieved."
Critics have fallen in love with Nolan's depiction of the real-life Battle of Dunkirk. Their reviews have earned the movie a 92%, and chatter has already started about its award season potential. But audiences have responded as well, perhaps surprisingly, to what many have described as an atypical war movie. It holds an impressive A- CinemaScore.
"Dunkirk" includes a cast with awards season pedigree in Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. But the ensemble is mostly made up of a band of newcomers including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, and, as you probably know by now, Harry Styles.
"We looked at this as a big summer event film. We wanted to give it the patina of a tentpole release," Goldstein said of the studio's decision to date the film for the end of July. "We know from past history when you open up at this point in the summertime, you can run for weeks and weeks," he added, referencing last year's "Suicide Squad."
Nolan ruffled some feathers for his bullish comments about the vitality of the theatrical experience. But, perhaps, his prizing of that is part of what ended up encouraging audiences to buy tickets as opposed to waiting for the movie to hit a streaming service. The movie is getting the widest 70MM release in more than two decades, and much of it was shot with Imax's extremely high-resolution 2D film cameras.
"We're thrilled with the numbers, and we're thrilled with the partnership," said Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster. "The one-two punch of Chris' vision and the Imax experience has once again proven to be irresistible to moviegoers in theaters."
Even during a crowded weekend, Universal's "Girls Trip" is breaking the curse of underperforming R-rated comedies this summer as it looks to post $30.4 million from 2,591 locations. That's the largest opening of any live-action comedy so far this year.
"Funny is funny. And it's a really funny movie," said Universal's President of Domestic Distribution Nick Carpou, who pointed out that the $30 million number is an increasingly rare achievement for pure comedies.
"Girls Trip" follows a foursome -- Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith -- who go out for a long overdue women's weekend to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. Director Malcolm D. Lee is also known for his first feature, "The Best Man," and its follow-up, "The Best Man Holiday."
"Our four leads are excellent," Carpou said. "If they make you laugh you're likely to tell your friends. That's what's happening here," he added, also pointing to the film's marketing campaign and Lee's ability to make films that "resonate."
Meanwhile "Valerian," Luc Besson's big-budget adaptation of the French comic series from his own EuropaCorp, and distributed in the U.S. by STXfilms, looks like a real clunker. The sci-fi epic should land in fifth this weekend with about $17 million from 3,553 locations.
There is some risk mitigation at play here for what is believed to be the most expensive independent movie of all time -- the bulk of the production budget was covered with foreign pre-sales, equity financing, and tax subsidies. STX took on marketing and distribution for the film after EuropaCorp's partner, Relativity, went under. Europa financed the P&A. But, regardless, someone will pay for the movie's poor returns so far, and sights are set overseas to see if the international box office has a more positive response.
It's a tough break for Besson, who has treated the movie like a passion project. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne form the central pairing in the sci-fi epic about a team of space-and-time-traveling agents. Clive Owen, Rihanna, and Ethan Hawke round out the cast.
In its second week, "War for the Planet of the Apes" should earn $20.4 million this weekend, landing it in third after a 64% drop. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" looks to land in fourth with $22 million domestically, a 50% decline from its second to third weekends in theaters.
To end on a positive note, "Wonder Woman" is officially the highest-grossed movie of the summer, as of this weekend, with over $389 million. That puts Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot's acclaimed film ahead of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." There was speculation that Warner Bros. would announce more details about a "Wonder Woman" sequel during Saturday's Comic-Con panel, but the studio deferred. Still, the stat is exciting news for those who have hope for more female-led projects in the future.
"Dunkirk" and "Wonder Woman" this week pushed Warner Bros. past the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office for 2017 -- the seventeenth consecutive year that the studio has done so.