“Dunkirk’s” success is proof a movie with no spandex-wearing heroes can still fill cinemas

This man has perfected the art of the standalone feature.
This man has perfected the art of the standalone feature.
Image: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello/Invision
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Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is sailing ahead of the pack during a summer besieged by sequels.

The WWII movie, about stranded Allied forces rescued by ordinary citizens, is the first film without any franchise potential to top the domestic box-office all summer, Box Office Mojo found. It debuted at number one with $50.5 million in the domestic box-office markets of US and Canada, and earned another $55.4 million abroad, where it led the box office in places like the UK and France. That was more than expected, as Luc Besson’s expensive Valerian flopped.

It’s the first standalone movie to do so domestically since Disney’s Beauty in the Beast in March (itself a live-action remake of its own animated classic) and the social-horror Get Out.

2017 domestic box-office, by weekend

Data: Box Office Mojo

Hollywood has gravitated toward tentpole sequels in the hopes of pulling three or more unequivocal blockbusters out of one property. But the success of original films like Dunkirk and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver this summer shows a great movie that excites critics and fans can still soar without a sequel.

Like his films Interstellar, Inception, and The Prestige films before it, Nolan’s Dunkirk is likely to stay a standalone feature. Based on a true story, there is no planned follow-up to Dunkirk.

Nolan’s movies tend to have long and prosperous runs, and Box Office Mojo believes the film could bring in as much as $185 million domestically over its run, which would put it on par with Interstellar.

Dunkirk had one of the widest recent releases in 70mm—a film format Nolan believes could save cinema because it offers an experience that can’t be replicated in a living room. Based on Dunkirk’s performance, Nolan may be onto something. Of the film’s $105.9 million global box-office debut, $11.7 million, or 10%, came from the 402 Imax theaters the movie screened in, including its selection of 70mm screens, according to ComScore. Deadline reports that the film, shot with 65mm and Imax cameras, had the third-highest-grossing Imax opening weekend ever in July—a big month of blockbusters—globally. And it’s still slated to premiere in other major box-office markets like China and Japan.

“The film is a ‘must see’ event in its 70MM/Imax playdates and that only added to the World War II drama’s mystique,” said ComScore’s senior box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “The film should have tremendous legs in the coming weeks as it continues to generate strong buzz with moviegoers.”