‘Dunkirk’ likely to win rare box-office battle of original big-budget movies

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” stars Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance.

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In a rare move for Hollywood, film studios are releasing three major movies this weekend that are not sequels, reboots or remakes. But originality and ambition is where the similarities end for the trio of new wide releases.

Warner Bros.’ World War II epic “Dunkirk,” directed by “Dark Knight" filmmaker Christopher Nolan, is likely to replace “War for the Planet of the Apes” as the top film in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, Universal’s raunchy comedy “Girls Trip” is poised to score a strong opening.

Yet analysts predict a troubling fate for EuropaCorp’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” a pricey, visually inventive space adventure directed by the man behind cult classic “The Fifth Element.”

Here’s how the big bets are likely to play out:

Nolan for the win

“Dunkirk,” an estimated $150-million film about the mission to rescue thousands of Allied troops from a French beach in the early stages of World War II, is expected to open with about $40 million in domestic ticket sales Friday through Sunday, according to people who have read pre-release audience surveys.

The question is whether that is enough to make it a financial success. With Warner’s hefty spending on production, plus marketing costs, “Dunkirk” will have to keep pulling in moviegoers for many future weeks to turn a profit. Nolan’s previous film, 2014’s “Interstellar,” opened with $47 million and ended up with a $188-million domestic total.

One positive sign is that critics have already given “Dunkirk” their strong blessing, indicated by a 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with some reviewers already talking up its Oscar potential. If moviegoers agree with the critics, as they did with “Wonder Woman,” "Dunkirk” should have a long life at the multiplex. Another point in its favor is that Nolan has amassed a devoted following since early winners such as “Memento,” the “Dark Knight” trilogy, and original blockbusters such as “Inception.”

‘Girls’ rule

A rare female-driven studio comedy featuring a mostly black cast, Universal’s “Girls Trip" is poised to open with at least $20 million in ticket sales through Sunday, meaning that it will probably be the highest-opening live action comedy of 2017 so far. The R-rated movie follows four friends — played by Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah — who trek to New Orleans for a weekend of partying.

It should break a losing streak for the raunchy comedy genre that has dealt recent flops such as “Rough Night” and “The House.”

Some analysts think that the new movie could reach as high as $30 million this weekend, given the industry’s tendency to underestimate movies led by black and female stars. “Girls Trip” is directed by Malcom D. Lee, who made the popular “Best Man” series of movies, and is produced by Will Packer, who produced “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man.”

Astronomical gamble

Then there’s “Valerian,” director Luc Besson’s $180-million French import that is believed to be the most expensive independent movie ever made. Barring a miracle, it’s also likely to be one of the biggest flops of the summer, illustrating the risks of spending blockbuster-level cash on untested intellectual property.

Produced by Besson’s production company EuropaCorp, and distributed domestically by STX Entertainment, “Valerian” is likely to take in a soft $20 million to $25 million through Sunday in the United States and Canada, though it should do better internationally. The film, based on a French comic book series, stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as the main players, joined by out-of-left-field picks such as pop star Rihanna and musician Herbie Hancock.

Reviewers have been mixed on the film, praising its overwhelming visuals while struggling to understand the plot and some of the casting choices. Besson’s most recent effort, “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, opened with $44 million domestically in 2014 — but it only cost $40 million.

Twitter: @RFaughnder


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2:30 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that the production budget of “Dunkirk” is estimated.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.