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Box Office: ‘Dunkirk’ Battles ‘Girls Trip,’ While ‘Valerian’ Looks to Sputter

Dunkirk” is ready for battle against a duo of 28th century special operatives, and a gaggle of wild women on a weekend getaway.

During a rare summer weekend that brings three non-sequel, non-franchise (at least … not yet) movies to theaters, Christopher Nolan’s latest looks to end up on top. The latest estimates put “Dunkirk” between $30 million and $35 million during its opening weekend. Those aren’t numbers that warrant a standing ovation — especially for a production with a speculated $150 million budget — but Warner Bros. is playing the long game.

Critics have come out in force for the World War II movie, earning it a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and starting the awards season conversation early. After all, July is not a typical Oscar-bait date, but this weekend is the same one when Nolan released his biggest hits (“The Dark Knight” in 2008, “Inception” in 2010, and “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012). It’s also almost 20 years after another World War II movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” opened to $30.6 million and went on to clean up at the Oscars. If the hype continues, the film could have legs through what looks to be a rather slow August.

The movie is getting the widest 70MM release in more than two decades, which is a testament to the trust the backers have in Nolan. The director shot much of “Dunkirk” with Imax’s extremely high-resolution 2D film cameras. The movie, based on the real-life Battle of Dunkirk, includes a cast with awards season pedigree in Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. But the ensemble is mostly made up of a band of newcomers including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, and, yes, Harry Styles.

Then there’s Universal’s “Girls Trip,” which looks to make the most bang for its buck. With a much lower price tag than its fellow new releases, the R-rated comedy should open to about $25 million. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that movies starring black and female actors are routinely undervalued.

Girls Trip” should break the streak of underperforming R-rated comedies this summer, including “Rough Night” and “The House.” On top of that, it could be the largest opening of any live-action comedy so far this year. It’s led by a foursome at the center — Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith — who go out for a long overdue women’s weekend to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. Director Malcolm D. Lee is known for his first feature, “The Best Man,” and its follow-up, “The Best Man Holiday.”

Both new movies are pacing well in advance ticket sales. According to Fandango, “Dunkirk” is pacing better than Nolan’s last major release, “Interstellar” ($47.5 million opening weekend), and “Girls Trip” is outperforming “Bad Moms” ($23.8 million opening).

Finally, to round out the trio, there is “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Director Luc Besson’s big-budget adaptation of the French comic series from his own EuropaCorp, and distributed in the U.S. by STXfilms, is eyeing an opening in the low $20 million range.

There is some risk mitigation at play here — the bulk of the reported $180 million production budget was covered with foreign pre-sales, equity financing, and tax subsidies. STX took on marketing and distribution for the film after EuropaCorp’s partner, Relativity, went under. The movie is believed to be the most expensive independent movie of all time.

The international box office could come to the rescue. The overseas audience is usually more drawn to spectacle, and may be more familiar with the source material. But, even so, there’s almost no escaping that $20 million is far from an awe-inspiring number stateside.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne form the central pairing in the sci-fi epic about a team of space-and-time-traveling agents. Clive Owen, Rihanna, and Ethan Hawke round out the cast. The reviews have been mixed — it currently holds a 71% of Rotten Tomatoes — but for what it’s worth, all three fresh releases have generally impressed critics.

Only time will tell which gambles pay off. Like the old joke begins, “Harry Styles, Queen Latifah, and Rihanna walk into a bar …” This weekend will deliver the punchline: Who stumbles home liquored up and happy, and who ends up picking up the tab?

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