CinemaCon: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Stuns Theater Owners With Epic War Drama

Dunkirk
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

LAS VEGAS — An impassioned Christopher Nolan introduced intense footage from his World War II epic “Dunkirk,” expressing his goal of taking moviegoers back to the massive 1940 evacuation.

“This is a story that needs to carry you through and make you feel you are there,” Nolan told exhibitors at Warner Bros.’ presentation on Wednesday afternoon at CinemaCon, the annual theater owner trade show taking place this week in Sin City.

Nolan shot “Dunkirk” from his own screenplay on a combination of Imax 65mm and 65mm large format film. “I wanted to tell the story in the most visceral way possible,” he added.

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“Dunkirk” will focus on the rescue through a quickly assembled British fleet of more than 800 boats, which saved more than 335,000 soldiers who had been cut off by the German Army. As the rescue was concluding, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Parliament, “We shall fight on beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Calling it “one of the greatest stories of human history,” the London-born Nolan told the crowd at Caesars Palace that the event looms large for the British 77 years later.

“Dunkirk and the legend of it is something that British people grow up with – it’s in our DNA,” said Nolan. “The idea of taking this paradoxical situation and putting it on the big screen – it’s something that’s been close to my heart for some time.”

“Dunkirk” hits theaters on July 21. The director, whose credits include Warner Bros. titles “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and the Dark Knight trilogy, told exhibitors that they were a crucial component to the success of “Dunkirk.”

“The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition,” he said in a backhanded rebuke to Warner Bros. pushing for an early VOD release.

The footage shown to exhibitors included a pair of soldiers trying to bring an injured soldier across a crowded bridge while Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot character is battling Nazis. The footage ends with a dock full of Brit soldiers waiting to be strafed and Hardy’s plane running out of gas.

Several exhibitors said afterwards that the “Dunkirk” footage was  the best shown at the presentation.

In his preamble, Nolan said that the men on the beach were “beaten back fiercely to the sea” with “their backs to the water.” Though only a few miles from their home country, the peril they faced was immense.

“At its heart it’s a survival story,” he noted. “The enemy is closing in on the British on this beach with no escape… They were faced with the choice between surrender and annihilation.”

The cast includes Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden and Barry Keoghan.

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  1. LenNYC says:

    The picture has the troops in dough-boy helmets…is that accurate?

  2. James Orien says:

    Pray to God they have some IMAX and 70mm film print screenings in major cities!

  3. Alex Meyer says:

    I cannot wait to see this!!! I love Christopher Nolan’s films and most World War II films in general. Maybe this will be a big Oscar contender that finally gets Nolan a directing nomination.

  4. Bill B. says:

    Much like Spielberg couldn’t win an Oscar until he gave up sci-fi and action for an important topic, the same may eventually apply to this for Nolan.

  5. Lucky says:

    Still gonna be curious how they pull off that PG-13, especially when trying to depict this event in as visceral and realistic a way as Nolan is suggesting. But the guy’s earned my trust so what are ya gonna do.

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  7. It's golden says:

    I hope the movie showed what a fraud Churchill was. From the 1000s he got killed in WW1 to his disaster invasion of Europe that resulted in Dunkirk. You can also trace all the problem in the middle east to his drunken drawing on middle east maps.

  8. Bs says:

    I’ve seen this clip it was at the start of kong in imax theatres (Southampton), it’s incredible it took my breath away and brought me to tears.

    This articles detail does it no justice, and it’s not even a negative article, there’s one bit on the broken pier where the medics have to cross a small plank all the other soldiers help and when they get across they all cheer like a small victory, it’s bringing a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

    And the brief bits of rylance and Branagh getting civilian boats ready was so tense, there performances are going to be stand out. And the music oh my god the ticking of a clock. I’m a comic book fan but I’m calling it now Dunkirk best film of the summer.

    And that final shot of the two medics and the soldiers around them looking up and seeing planes coming in and then them trying to back away is haunting. And it was all added by the power of imax (it’s not 3D). The images looked great and the sound oh my god the sound, you don’t see the planes incoming at all you just hear them and it was so loud and terrifying.

    And all of this was with the very low key hardy dog fight, it feels as though he will be a very secondary plot and character. No stars in this except the story and characters. Cannot wait.

  9. Tweek says:

    Nolan no longer directs Batman, so why should I even care about him or his films? He had his chance to make movies that people actually care about and he walked away. Now he’s just a nobody again.

    • RationalApproach says:

      Anyone who believes a fanciful comic book character is more important than the history of Dunkirk doesn’t deserve to be read or replied to.

    • Joe says:

      Interstellar made 675 million world wide and Inception made 825 million. Him, James Cameron, and maybe Stephen Spielberg are the only directors in the world that can go to a movie studio and say i need 200+ million dollars to make an original movie that’s not based on a comic book, a boy wizard, or has Star Wars in the title. Yea he’s a real nobody, I’m sure he’s not as accomplished as you.

    • Theymademedoit says:

      So a director isn’t directing a super hero movie ,so hes just irrelevant .Pretty ignorant thing to say 😂

  10. David says:

    Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

  11. Chris Darling says:

    Christopher Meeks below is not replying to my comment. We are both replying to a comment that has apparently been removed during a strafing run by the editors. The original comment was, we felt, unfair to those who made this film and their intentions. Good luck Chris Nolan, I will be the guy first in line at the Pacific Theater in The Grove.

  12. Chris Darling says:

    Leo, I am sorry you don’t seem to understand the entire concept of storytelling. Legends and tales of mighty battles have been passed down since man first picked up a weapon (or as Kubrick would suggest Ape first picked up a leg bone.) If you carefully read what Christopher Nolan is quoted as saying, I think you should be able to deduce that he is honoring the sacrifice of so, so many in such a massively dangerous time. My father was grievously wounded during the D-Day battles (shot by a 13-year-old soldier in a Hitler Youth Unit) and I never for a moment had a problem with Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the landings in Normandy in “Saving Private Ryan.” In fact, I came out of the theater stunned and filled with a greater appreciation of the hell my dad must have faced so bravely.

    If one were to adopt your view of things, future generations’ concepts of the past and the world’s literature would be greatly diminished.

  13. Christopher Meeks says:

    That’s certainly an interesting perspective – thank you for sharing; lsincerely.

    I’ve always felt that story telling through cinema can be just as important or genuine as the oral histories we race to preserve as their narrators are lost to old age or disinterest.

    If an account, fictional or otherwise has been executed with care, we’re certainly a bit better for having experienced it, aren’t we?

    Art for the sake of art will always be an important part of how we interrelate, and experience each other; but a broadcast artistic endeavor will always need some kind of formal currency.

    I don’t think there’s any argument against cynicism that holds much water. A negative view of the motivations and goals of others is certainly a sound defense mechanism.

    I think there’s a bit of peace to be had by rejecting cynicism, and an openness that’s consistently improved my own life through an eagerness for experiences, good or bad. The not insignificant fee of stringent objectivity has certainly been worth the guileless path I’ve tread.

  14. Nick says:

    You’re joking, right? The Germans were advancing upon the British. NOT the Russians.

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