“Dunkirk” will appear in 125 70MM theaters, Warner Bros. Pictures said Wednesday. That’s the widest release in the format in 25 years, a testament to director Christopher Nolan’s clout and belief in the superiority of these screenings.
Directors such as Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino swear by 70MM, the industry term for a wide high-resolution film gauge that was once used to project epic films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Ben-Hur.” They believe it creates crisper, more painterly images. However, theater chains have moved away from film projection, in favor of cheaper, digital forms of exhibition. It takes a filmmaker with enormous influence to compel them to take old equipment out of mothballs and hire staff that can work the older projectors.
In 2016, Quentin Tarantino and the Weinstein Co. rolled out “The Hateful Eight” across roughly 100 70MM locations. The indie studio ginned up a lot of publicity for the move, but it was pricey, with some industry observers speculating that it cost between $8 million and $10 million to rebuild or install the equipment.
In 2014, Nolan convinced Paramount and Warner Bros. to let him screen “Interstellar” in 50 Imax enabled 70 MM venues. Other films such as Anderson’s “The Master” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” have been shot on 65MM film stock as a way of emphasizing their dramatic scope.
“Dunkirk” focuses on the evacuation of retreating Allied soldiers from the French beach during World War II. It stars Tom Hardy, Branagh, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, and newcomer Fionn Whitehead. Nolan always wanted to film to screen in 70MM and shot much of “Dunkirk” with Imax’s extremely high-resolution 2D film cameras. The director is something of a film traditionalist. He has publicly rejected attempts by studios to offer movies on home entertainment platforms early, advocating instead of the theatrical experience. He also is no fan of digital projection.
“I have been a longtime proponent of film – particularly the Imax film format – as a storytelling medium,” Nolan said in a statement. “The immersive quality of the image is second to none, drawing the audience into the action in the most intense way possible.”
Tickets to the 70MM engagements of “Dunkirk” go on sale on Wednesday. Regular tickets are available on Friday. The film opens on July 21.