Christopher Nolan is a champion for originality in Hollywood.
His war drama Dunkirk was the only wholly original live-action film among the top 25 grossing movies of 2017 at the worldwide box office, based on Box Office Mojo data. All of the other live-action successes were adaptations, remakes, and sequels.
Hollywood has gravitated toward familiar properties that can reliably fill theaters, with so much else competing for audiences’s attention from TV to Netflix to video games. That means rebooting old classics like It and leaning on tentpole sequels like Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the hopes of pulling three or more unequivocal blockbusters out of one property. But the commercial and critical success of breakout original films like Dunkirk this year, and smaller original titles like Get Out, Lady Bird, and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, show that fresh ideas that excite critics and fans can still soar at cinemas.
Dunkirk was also the only live-action movie on the list without franchise potential. Like Nolan’s Interstellar, Inception, and The Prestige before it, Dunkirk is likely to stay a standalone feature. The WWII movie, about stranded Allied forces rescued by ordinary citizens, is based on a true story. And there is no planned follow-up.
Nolan is the rare filmmaker who consistently churns out original movies that hit at the box office. His Inception and Interstellar also smashed at the box office when they were released. And Dunkirk had help this year from 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.