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Christopher Nolan's World War II movie Dunkirk is set to open in a couple of weeks and will try to find its place among the rest of the summer movie season. We now have an early idea of where the film could start out at the box office. Early tracking numbers have been released that peg the movie at opening around $40 million. While that may seem a bit on the low side for a summer movie opening, it depends on the context that you put around it.
It's certainly true that Christopher Nolan has seen much bigger openings for his movies. He did direct the Dark Knight trilogy after all. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises both opened at around $160 million, which makes a $40 million opening look like an indie movie. However, outside of the Batman films, Nolan's movies don't usually open quite that big. Inception opened at $62 million and Interstellar saw $47 million which makes the Dunkirk number seem a bit more reasonable.
Still, as Variety points out, $40 million would be Christopher Nolan's lowest opening since The Prestige saw an anemic $14.8 million opening. The reason for this has less to do with Dunkirk itself and more to do with summer movie competition. The box office will see Spider-Man: Homecoming opening this week which is expected to do well far beyond its opening weekend, and War for the Planet of the Apes opens next week. Add to that the fact that Dunkirk will actually see some opening weekend competition, something which is actually fairly rare for the summer, in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which will certainly eat into Dunkirk 's opening to some degree, though we have yet to see early tracking on how Valerian is expected to perform.
Of course, the tracking numbers have nothing to do with whether or not Dunkirk will be a good movie. At this point, its domestic numbers are likely building up almost entirely based on the fact that Christopher Nolan is the director. The movie has no major "movie star" in the lead to sell, and the event that the film is based on isn't necessarily one that resonates in North America. The Dunkirk evacuation in France during World War II was primarily a British event, as both the soldiers being evacuated and those doing the rescuing were mostly English. As such, the event doesn't hold the same place in the American imagination as events like Pearl Harbor or D-Day. This could certainly be part of why early interest doesn't seem to be there here, though if the audience buzz from those that do see the movie is there, it could end up putting up solid numbers after release.
We're still fairly early, so these numbers are subject to change. If Dunkirk is able to put a big marketing push together they may be able to build more interest before the film's release July 21.