LOS ANGELES — It's a win for Dunkirk at the box office this weekend. Studios estimates on Sunday show the Christopher Nolan World War II epic earned an estimated $50.5 million to top the charts.
The raucuous comedy Girls Trip, starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish and Jada Pinkett Smith, also beat expectations, taking second place with $30.4 million and breaking summer's R-rated comedy slump.
Dunkirk was far from an inevitable summer success, but stellar reviews (including for One Direction star Harry Styles in his first movie role), awards buzz and hype around the film's large-scale production helped drive people to the theater.
"We're beyond thrilled with this exceptional achievement for Dunkirk," says Jeff Goldstein, who heads distribution for Warner Bros. "The critical reception worldwide has been consistently effusive. It really propelled this movie that wasn't an obvious win."
Audiences were 60% male and 76% over the age of 25 for the PG-13 rated film.
"It became a must-see event," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
Drawing quite a different audience was the buddy comedy Girls Trip, about a group of girlfriends who head to New Orleans for a weekend of fun. The audience was 79% female, 59% African American and 50% under the age of 30.
"Girls Trip was a perfectly counterprogrammed box-office surprise," says Dergarabedian, faring far better than R-rated summer flops like Baywatch, Rough Night and The House.
Notably, audiences gave it a stellar A-plus grade on CinemaScore, suggesting the film will have long-term playability.
"When the taste for entertainment and comedy has been somewhat underserved, it is not because people aren't interested in laughing, it's that they're waiting for something funny to come along," says Nick Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "One of the great things about this comedy is that it's really funny."
Not so successful was Luc Besson's nearly $180 million sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which earned $17 million from North American theaters for a fifth-place start.
It came in behind Marvel's teen-oriented Spider-Man: Homecoming, in third in its third weekend with $22 million, and War for the Planet of the Apes, the last film in the Apes trilogy, in fourth in its second weekend with $20.4 million.
It's more about the international returns for Valerian, but it's hard not to see Besson's return to sci-fi, starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, as a disappointment, Dergarabedian says. Not adjusted for inflation, Valerian earned basically the same as The Fifth Element, which came out 20 years ago. For comparison, Besson's film Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, opened to $43.8 million in 2014.
Overall, the year remains flat and the summer season looks unlikely to make up for its deficit.
Still, Dergarabedian thinks there's a silver lining in the quality of the films that have come out this summer.
"Despite the weekend being down close to 10%, the currency that was most valuable is the currency of goodwill," Dergarabedian says. "Nobody can say that Hollywood threw the same old stuff at the wall this weekend."
Final figures are expected Monday.
Contributing: Kim Willis