Dunkirk is a 2017 war film written, directed, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan that depicts World War II's Dunkirk evacuation. Its ensemble cast includes Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. The film is a British, American, French, and Dutch co-production, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Dunkirk portrays the evacuation from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. It has little dialogue, since Nolan sought to create suspense from cinematography and music. Filming began in May 2016 in Dunkirk and ended that September in Los Angeles, when post-production began. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock. Dunkirk has extensive practical effects, using thousands of extras, boats that participated in the evacuation, and period aeroplanes.
The film premiered on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London, and was released in the United Kingdom and the United States on 21 July in IMAX, 70 mm, and 35 mm film formats. It is the highest-grossing World War II film of all time, taking $525 million worldwide. Dunkirk received praise for its screenplay, direction, score, and cinematography; some critics called it Nolan's best work and one of the greatest ever war films.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Nolan|
|Written by||Christopher Nolan|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Cinematography||Hoyte van Hoytema|
|Edited by||Lee Smith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$525 million|
In 1940, during the fall of France, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers have retreated to Dunkirk. Tommy, a young British private, is the sole survivor of a German ambush. At the beach, he finds thousands of troops awaiting evacuation and meets Gibson, who is burying a body. After a German dive-bomber attack, they find a wounded man. They rush his stretcher onto a hospital ship, but are denied passage themselves. The ship is sunk by dive-bombers; Tommy saves Alex, another soldier. They leave at night on a destroyer, which is sunk by a torpedo from a U-Boat. Gibson saves Tommy and Alex, and they are brought ashore by a rowing boat.
The British navy requisitions civilian vessels that can get close to the beach. In Weymouth, Mr. Dawson and his son Peter set out on his boat Moonstone rather than let the navy take it. Impulsively, their teenage friend George joins them. At sea, they rescue a shell-shocked officer from a wrecked ship. When he realises that Dawson is sailing for Dunkirk, the officer demands that they turn back, and tries to wrest control of the boat; in the struggle, George suffers a head injury that renders him blind.
Three Spitfires head towards France. After their leader is shot down, pilot Farrier assumes command with a shattered fuel gauge. They save a minesweeper from a German bomber, but the other Spitfire is hit and ditches. Its pilot, Collins, is rescued by the Moonstone.
Tommy, Alex and Gibson join a group of Scottish soldiers and hide inside a trawler until the tide rises. Its owner, a Dutch mariner, returns. German troops shoot at the boat for target practice; when the tide rises, water enters through the bullet holes. Alex, hoping to lighten the boat's load, accuses Gibson, who has been silent, of being a spy and demands that he leave. Gibson reveals he is French; he had stolen the identity of the soldier he buried, hoping to evacuate with the British. Alex, Tommy and the Scottish soldiers abandon the fishing boat when it begins to sink. Gibson is entangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim towards a nearby destroyer, but it is sunk by a bomber. The Moonstone manoeuvres to take on troops, including Alex and Tommy. Peter realises that George is dead; when asked by the shell-shocked officer, he lies that George will be fine. Farrier shoots down the bomber, which crashes and ignites the oil slick from the sinking destroyer. Peter reveals to Collins that his elder brother was a Hurricane pilot, killed early in the war.
Farrier reaches Dunkirk, his fuel exhausted. Gliding over the beach, he shoots down a dive-bomber to cheers from the troops below. He cranks his landing gear down and lands beyond the Allied perimeter. He sets fire to his plane and is taken prisoner by German soldiers.
At the beach, Commander Bolton watches the last British soldiers leave. He confirms that 300,000 have been evacuated, ten times more than estimated. He remains to oversee the evacuation of the French rearguard. Alex and Tommy cross the English Channel and board a train in Weymouth. Dawson is congratulated for having saved so many men. The shell-shocked officer sees George's body being carried away. Peter visits the local newspaper with a photograph of George; a front-page article later commends George as a hero. Alex expects public scorn as the train approaches Woking, but they receive a hero's welcome. Tommy reads out Winston Churchill's address to the nation from a newspaper.
According to D'Arcy and Nolan, Winnant and Bolton act as a Greek chorus to give the audience context. To get acclimatised to cold water, Styles and Whitehead underwent training sessions at Point Dume in Malibu, California.
Director Christopher Nolan conceived the film in the mid-1990s, when he and producer Emma Thomas sailed across the English Channel, as did many small boats during the Dunkirk evacuation. Nolan considered improvising the entire film instead of writing a script, but Thomas convinced him otherwise. In 2015, Nolan wrote a 76-page screenplay, about half the length of his usual scripts and his shortest to date, with a precise structure that necessitated fictional characters, rather than ones based on actual eyewitnesses.
Nolan made the film from three perspectives—land, sea, and air. He structured the story from the point of view of the characters, with the intention that it would be told visually rather than through dialogue and backstory. The film was made to encompass the snowball effect that Nolan had only used in the third acts of previous films. He approached research as though it were for a documentary. Nolan was attracted to the project because of its inversion of the "Hollywood formula", as the Battle of Dunkirk was not a victory and did not involve America, but nevertheless demanded a large-scale production to be put on screen.
Nolan postponed Dunkirk until he had acquired sufficient experience directing large-scale action films. To convey the perspective of soldiers on the beach, for whom contact with the enemy was "extremely limited and intermittent", he did not show Germans on screen. He omitted scenes with Winston Churchill and the generals in war rooms, as he did not want to get "bogged down in the politics of the situation". He showed key members of the crew eleven films that had inspired him: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Wages of Fear, Alien, Speed, Unstoppable, Greed, Sunrise, Ryan's Daughter, The Battle of Algiers, Chariots of Fire, and Foreign Correspondent – only two of which are war films. The historical consultant was author Joshua Levine, who also wrote the book adaptation, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture. Levine accompanied Nolan while interviewing veterans. During these interviews, Nolan was told a story of soldiers seen walking into the sea in desperation, which he incorporated into the screenplay.
The production team and scouting locations were chosen before Nolan and Thomas solicited Warner Bros. Pictures to make the film. Nolan and his production designer Nathan Crowley toured the beach of Dunkirk while location scouting, and decided to film there despite the logistical challenges, discarding Suffolk as an alternative. Crowley set up a makeshift art department in Nolan's garage, and colourised black-and-white photographs to better understand the visual representation. The design aesthetic was made to look as contemporary as possible. Hoyte van Hoytema, who had previously collaborated with Nolan on Interstellar, was chosen as the director of photography. The Hollywood Reporter stated that Nolan made a deal with Warner Bros. to receive a $20 million salary plus 20% of the box office gross; however, Vanity Fair reported that Nolan agreed to receive a low upfront salary in exchange for a large backend percentage.
Pre-production began in January 2016. For the uniforms, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland aimed to balance historical accuracy with aesthetics that would favour the film stock. As the original heavy wool fabric had not been produced since 1940, it was made from scratch, tailored for the main cast and over a thousand extras. Uniforms were made in a factory in Pakistan and the boots by a shoemaker in Mexico. The costume department then spent three weeks ageing them at Longcross Studios. Each garment was made to look distinct in regiment and personality: Tommy wears a large greatcoat, while Alex dons the Highlander cut. Kurland found references at the British Museum, RAF Museum and Imperial War Museum, in contemporary magazines, photo archives and books. The mole was rebuilt over four months in accordance with the original blueprints. Sand was brought from Dunkirk to create make-up consistent with the environment. Oil and tar were specially made, and prosthetics were water and fire resistant.
After first-hand accounts of the evacuation revealed how young and inexperienced the soldiers had been, Nolan decided to cast young and unknown actors. He was also adamant that all of the cast be British.[nb 2] John Papsidera and Toby Whale were the casting directors for Dunkirk. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance were in talks to join the ensemble as supporting characters in late 2015. Fionn Whitehead was cast as the lead in March 2016, while Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles were added shortly after. Cillian Murphy joined the following month. James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney were included later that May.
Principal photography commenced on 23 May 2016 in Dunkirk, planned to avoid Bastille Day, and to coincide with the dates of the real evacuation.[nb 3] Production continued for four weeks on Urk, Netherlands,[nb 4] one week in Swanage and Weymouth in Dorset, United Kingdom, and for two weeks at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.[nb 5]
Filming in Dunkirk took place at the location of the real evacuation, while the street scenes were shot in nearby Malo-les-Bains because most of the buildings in Dunkirk were destroyed in the war. Shooting times on the beach and mole were determined by tidal patterns. French labour strikes and working time regulations also affected the production schedule. To minimise the need for computer-generated imagery (CGI), cardboard cut-out props of soldiers and military vehicles created the illusion of a large army. Real or scale model fighter aircraft, and real warships and private boats, provided realism that could not be achieved from CGI. Scale models were created via 3D printing. The mole set was frequently rebuilt after being damaged by bad weather. Because French authorities had prohibited pyrotechnic charges, to protect marine life, air cannons were used instead. Six thousand extras were needed for the filming in France. Early scenes of the film were shot at Weymouth harbour, and the final scenes at Swanage railway station. Universal Pictures' Falls Lake studio in Los Angeles was used for interior and exterior sets of a sinking ship and plane, with the ship interiors filmed in a water tank using stuntmen.
Crowley and marine coordinator Neil Andrea located nearly sixty ships, which Nolan had reconditioned for the shoot. These included the retired French Navy destroyer Maillé-Brézé, which was made to look like a 1940 British warship as there were no wartime British destroyers left with working engines. Three retired Royal Netherlands Navy ships were also used: the minesweeper Hr. Ms. Naaldwijk portrayed HMS Britomart (J22), Hr. Ms. Sittard portrayed HMS Havant (H32) and HMS Jaguar (F34), and MLV Castor portrayed HMS Basilisk (H11). An MTB 102 and the 1930s Norwegian steamer Rogaland were also used. Over fifty other boats included twenty actual Little Ships of Dunkirk, piloted by their owners. A small 1930s motor yacht called Moonstone served for six weeks of filming; its most demanding scenes, with up to sixty people on a boat designed for fewer than ten, were shot on the Dutch lake IJsselmeer to avoid the challenge of the Dunkirk tides.
Aircraft were equipped with dual cockpits for filming in flight. A Yakovlev Yak-52TW was modified to resemble a Supermarine Spitfire, and two Supermarine Spitfire Mark IAs, a Spitfire Mark VB, and a Hispano Buchon painted to look like a Messerschmitt Bf 109E, were also used for the combat scenes. Large-scale radio controlled model aircraft, including Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 87 bombers, were filmed crashing into the English Channel. The real Spitfires were provided by the Imperial War Museum Duxford, and owner Dan Friedkin piloted the one that was shot landing on the beach in Dunkirk. These takes had to be done within forty-five minutes, before the tide came back in. IMAX cameras were attached to the fighter planes using specially-made snorkel and periscope lenses – in the back and the front – and large-scale mockups were submerged with cable rigs for a crash scene. A Piper Aerostar enabled filming from the air, also with IMAX cameras front and rear. Dogfights over the Channel were shot by an aerial unit based at Lee-on-Solent Airfield. Hardy and Lowden spent the final stages of the shooting schedule on a cliffside in Palos Verdes, inside purpose-built cockpit gimbals, with limited contact with the rest of the cast and crew. Principal photography ended on 2 September 2016, after sixty-eight days.
The film was shot using both IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock in Panavision System 65, with more IMAX footage than in any of Nolan's previous films – an estimated seventy-five percent. The sparsity of dialogue made it possible for IMAX cameras, which are notoriously noisy, to be used as the primary format. Panavision and IMAX lenses enabled filming at night. For the first time in a feature film, IMAX cameras were used hand-held, which Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard advised as the best way to shoot on vessels.
Nolan's regular collaborator Lee Smith returned to edit Dunkirk, beginning in September 2016 after Smith had assembled shots unsupervised while filming was still in progress. Editing took place in Los Angeles with an audio mixing team of eight people. Nolan said: "You stop seeing the wood for the trees", and singled out the editing of the aerial sequences as a particular challenge, likening this to a chess game. Limited computer-generated imagery was applied to improve some scenes, but none consisted entirely of CGI. Weather continuity presented less of a challenge than was expected, with filming both in Europe and California. Multiple versions and mixes were cut to further refine the dramatic impact.
Sound designer Richard King sent two sound mixers to audio record the Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford using twenty-four microphones. Unable to find an actual dive siren of a Stuka dive bomber, King created his own to try and replicate the sound. For scenes in which ships gave out sounds of people in distress, voices were captured using an ADR "loop group". C-4 and liquid propane were blown up to record sound for the explosions. Also featured were the whistles attributed to German bombs during the Second World War.
|Blade Runner 2049|
|Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|The Boss Baby|
|Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by Hans Zimmer|
|Released||21 July 2017|
|Hans Zimmer chronology|
Hans Zimmer began working on the score in 2016. For intensity, the script was written to accommodate the auditory illusion of a Shepard tone, which had previously been explored in Nolan's 2006 film The Prestige. This was coupled with the sound of Nolan's own pocket watch, which he recorded and sent to Zimmer to be synthesised. Additional music was provided by Lorne Balfe, Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, and Benjamin Wallfisch.
"Nimrod" from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations is part of the theme, which was slowed down to six beats per minute with added bass notes to avoid it sounding sentimental. Instrumentation included a double bass and fourteen cellos played in high register. King relayed to Zimmer the sound of a boat engine, which served as a reference for the tempo. Zimmer visited the Dunkirk set for inspiration and chose not to view raw footage of the film whilst composing the score. The music was recorded at AIR Lyndhurst Hall in London with Geoff Foster as mix engineer.
|Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|1.||"The Mole"||Hans Zimmer||5:36|
|2.||"We Need Our Army Back"||Zimmer||6:28|
|10.||"Variation 15 (Dunkirk)"||
The world premiere was on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London. The film was theatrically released on 21 July, projected on IMAX, 70 mm and 35 mm film. It is the fourth Nolan film to be released in the third week of July, a period in which Warner Bros. Pictures has previously achieved success. It was Nolan's preference that the film opened in July instead of the northern-hemisphere autumn awards season. The film was initially screened in 125 theatres in 70 mm, and was the widest release in that format in twenty-five years. Dunkirk received a special IMAX screening at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, the second Nolan film to appear at the festival since Following. It will be re-released in fifty IMAX and 70 mm theatres starting 1 December, which expands to 250 additional cities the following month.
The announcement teaser debuted in cinemas ahead of Suicide Squad and was released online on 4 August 2016. According to data analytics firm ListenFirst Media, it generated the most Twitter engagement of any trailer released that week. The first full-length trailer was released on 14 December 2016, alongside a five-minute cinema-exclusive prologue shown before selected IMAX screenings of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Dunkirk was the most discussed film that week according to media measurement firm comScore. The prologue returned for a week before selected IMAX showings of Kong: Skull Island. Footage from the film was well received at CinemaCon 2017. Warner Bros. aired a TV spot to coincide with the 2017 US national basketball playoffs. The official trailer was released on 5 May 2017, after a countdown on the film's website and four fifteen-second teasers leading up to it. Dunkirk was again the most discussed film that week according to ComScore. The video game developer Wargaming included in its titles World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes missions and rewards related to the film. On 6 July, Warner Bros. released another trailer, which for the third time was the most discussed film of the week. The prologue was shown at selected Wonder Woman IMAX screenings in July. It also toured nine cities in three European countries with a mobile cinema.
Sue Kroll, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Marketing and Distribution, said that it was important that Dunkirk be marketed as a summer event movie as opposed to a period war film, to highlight its "magnificent scale and originality". This strategy was maintained throughout the campaign. To convince audiences that the film was best experienced in theatres, the prologue was never made available online. TV spots were distributed sporadically during sports games and notable television series to establish the film's themes. Social media infographics described the scale and importance of the Dunkirk evacuation. Additionally, a Google 360 Experience interactive adventure, an Amazon Alexa programme, and a 360-degree short film, were created. In partnership with fast food restaurant Carl's Jr., the film was branded on four million cups, as well as pop-ups at nearly 3,000 locations. Research saw the film appeal to twenty percent of infrequent moviegoers.
As of 16 November 2017, Dunkirk has grossed $188 million in the United States and Canada, and $337 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $525 million, against a production budget of $100 million. It is the highest-grossing World War II film of all time, surpassing Saving Private Ryan's $481.8 million.
In the United States and Canada, industry tracking for the opening weekend ranged from Variety's $30–40 million to Deadline.com's $35 million, while BoxOffice speculated an opening weekend of $55 million, and IndieWire $50 million and $500 million worldwide. Dunkirk made $19.8 million on its first day, including $5.5 million from preview screenings. It went on to finish first at the box office with $50.1 million, marking the third-largest opening for a World War II film (behind Captain America: The First Avenger's $62.1 million and Pearl Harbor's $59.1 million), as well as the fourth largest of Nolan's career. In its second weekend, it grossed $26.6 million (a drop of 44.3%), beating newcomer The Emoji Movie to the top spot. The film grossed $17.1 million in its third weekend, second to newcomer The Dark Tower ($19.2 million), and was again second in its fourth week, behind Annabelle: Creation with $10.9 million.
The film opened in France on 19 July 2017, and made $2.2 million on its first day. It was released in seven markets the following day, earning an additional $6.3 million, and on 21 July in forty-six more countries, grossing $12.7 million from over ten thousand theatres, including $3.7 million from the United Kingdom. The international debut totalled $55.4 million, including $4.9 million in France, $12.4 million in the UK and $10.3 million in Korea. The film remained number one in the United Kingdom for five weeks. It opened in China on 1 September in the top spot, grossing $30 million from its weekend debut. Its opening weekend in Japan earned $2.9 million from 444 screens.
Dunkirk was praised for its screenplay, direction, and cinematography. Some critics called it Nolan's best film to date and one of the greatest war films ever made. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an approval rating of 92% based on 354 reviews, with an average of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dunkirk serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a writer-director in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honors the fact-based story." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 94/100 based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". According to AlloCiné, it has an average note of 4.1/5, based on 25 critics. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film five out of five and called it Nolan's best to date, saying that he "surrounds his audience with chaos and horror from the outset, and amazing images and dazzlingly accomplished set pieces on a huge 70mm screen, particularly the pontoon crammed with soldiers extending into the churning sea, exposed to enemy aircraft". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter also lauded the film, calling it "an impressionist masterpiece" and writing: "Although the film is deeply moving at unexpected moments, it's not due to any manufactured sentimentality or false heroics." Peter Debruge of Variety praised the plot (although calling Zimmer's score "bombastic"), writing: "Nolan has found a way to harness that technique in service of a kind of heightened reality, one that feels more immersive and immediate than whatever concerns we check at the door." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times described the film as a "tour de force of cinematic craft and technique" and lauded Nolan's elastic approach to narrative. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle called it a "triumph" and "masterpiece", commending Nolan's unique approach to directing a war film and praising the performances. The Economist labelled Dunkirk "a remarkable film" and a new classic. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times said it was one of the best war movies of the decade, describing it as "tight, gripping, deeply involving and unforgettable ... triumph in filmmaking". Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A", calling it the best of 2017: "By the end of Dunkirk, what stands out the most isn’t its inspirational message or everyday heroism. It’s the small indelible, unshakeable images that accumulate like the details in the corner of a mural." Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film five out of five, lauding it as "a work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur".
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it his first four-star rating of 2017 as "maybe the greatest war film ever", adding: "There's little doubt that [Nolan] has, without sentimentality or sanctimony, raised that genre to the level of art...with the resonant force of an enduring screen classic." He also called it the first major Oscar contender of the year. Michael Medved awarded it 4/4 and called Hardy's performance "outstanding", and the action "seamless", declaring: "This is not only the best WWII movie since Saving Private Ryan, it is very simply one of the greatest war movies ever made." Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gave it a score of 3.5/4, despite not liking the film, stating that he "loathed parts of it and found other parts repetitious or half-baked. But, maybe paradoxically, I admired it throughout, and have been thinking about it constantly." Jacques Mandelbaum of Le Monde praised the film's realism, but was disappointed that it ignores the part played by French troops. Kevin Maher in The Times gave it two out of five, saying: "[Dunkirk] is 106 clamorous minutes of big-screen bombast that's so concerned with its own spectacle and scale that it neglects to deliver the most crucial element—drama." He suggested that Dunkirk felt like a Call of Duty video game. David Cox of The Guardian felt the film had historical inaccuracies, a paucity of female characters, small scale, a thinly characterised cast and lack of suspense.
The film received praise for its generally realistic representation of the historical evacuation. It accurately depicts a few Royal Air Force planes dogfighting the Luftwaffe over the sea, limited to one hour of operation by their fuel capacity. In 1940, destroyers and fighter planes were indeed held back from battle, as the Royal Navy and Air Force would have been the sole defenders against invasion. Also praised were accurate depictions of how a small boat attempted to evade aerial attack, and how soldiers returning to England saw a civilian population largely unaware of or unaffected by the war. British officers did initially refuse to evacuate French soldiers, although Churchill later insisted that the French be evacuated alongside the British. The overall realism of the film was acknowledged by surviving Dunkirk veterans, although Branagh said that some thought it "was louder than the battle".
However, although some events are based on true history, the characters and the storyline are fictional. Branagh's role is a composite character based partly on the actions of James Campbell Clouston. When the beach scenes were shot, the weather was worse than during the real evacuation; Nolan explained that this helped to understand the danger faced by the pleasure boats. In one scene, an officer gives a salute without wearing his military beret, which a veteran pointed out as inaccurate protocol. The German planes had noses painted yellow in the film; this was not actually done until a month after Dunkirk. The involvement of French, African, and Indian soldiers was either limited or left out. Modern shots were used for the aerial photographs, whereas in reality the town was substantially in ruins by the time of the evacuation. The design of the leaflets dropped from the air demanding the British surrender was artistic and not one used in 1940.