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Dunkirk outguns blockbuster competition at UK box office

The winner: Dunkirk

While summer is traditionally a strong season for multiplex cinemas, it can prove a tough challenge for venues trying to offer an alternative to Hollywood blockbusters, since the most commercially potent arthouse fare tends to cluster into autumn and winter for awards season. Which means the arrival of Dunkirk was greeted by the indie-cinema bookers with a combination of relief and joy: an intelligent mainstream film they could programme without fear of embarrassment, and with appeal that cuts across the demographics.

As for the film’s subject, the second world war has been commercially unproven in recent years, and Churchill, released in June, was a box-office fizzle. On the other hand, it had the advantage of novelty: cinemagoers can hardly complain about a surfeit of films on the conflict.

In the UK, Dunkirk has opened at the top end of any reasonable expectations with a very robust £10.02m from a whopping 638 cinemas. That cinema count is higher than for the opening frames of current summer blockbusters such as War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3 and Wonder Woman. In other words, like the popular Dutch beer, Dunkirk has refreshed the parts that other films cannot reach, playing across the multiplexes and boutique cinema chains (Picturehouse, Everyman, Curzon), and also at key indie cinemas that traditionally don’t play Hollywood blockbusters: Edinburgh Filmhouse, Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester Home and so on.

Warners reports that Dunkirk scored £1.33m of its gross in Imax venues. There is also news that it has done well in venues offering projection in 35mm and 70mm – Picturehouse, for example, achieved greater seat occupancy for its celluloid presentations. Dunkirk has achieved the fourth biggest UK opening of 2017, behind Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 and Despicable Me 3. (Fast and Furious 8 was also seemingly bigger, but its debut number was boosted by significant previews.)

Dunkirk official film trailer

Despicable Me 3 cracks £30m

Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3 crossed the £30m barrier on Sunday: only the fourth film to do so this year, following La La Land, Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. The animation fell just 20% from the previous frame, once again enjoying the gentlest decline of any film in the top 10. Weekend box office of £3.08m was nearly double the amount achieved by rival Cars 3 (£1.64m). Despicable Me 3 is the only film this year to manage four straight weeks at the UK box office with £3m-plus – a feat that eluded even Beauty and the Beast. The last title to manage it was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

With state schools only just breaking up for the summer holidays, Despicable Me 3 should bump along in cinemas for the next six weeks, chasing the target set two years ago by Minions (£47.8m). Fresh animated competition for Despicable Me 3 arrived in cinemas on 24 July: the well-reviewed Captain Underpants. The Emoji Movie follows on 4 August.

André Rieu scoops annual windfall

While Dunkirk certainly pulled in older cinemagoers, its demographic profile looks positively youthful compared to the audience for André Rieu’s annual Maastricht concert. This year, the Dutch violinist and conductor grossed £1.44m for his show, which was screened in cinemas on Saturday and Sunday. That’s marginally up on the £1.41m grossed by his 2016 Maastricht concert. On that occasion, exactly one year ago, Rieu faced off against The BFG and Star Trek Beyond. He may have done even better this year had he not lost a portion of his audience to Dunkirk.

Wealth is spread more widely

For the first time since February, the box office chart showed six titles earning more than £1m at the weekend: Dunkirk, Despicable Me 3, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming (cracking £20m), Cars 3 and André Rieu. The strength in depth helped power the market overall to a 15% rise on the previous frame, as well as an even better 26% rise on the equivalent session from 2016, which was led by The BFG. The weekend overall was the sixth best from the past 52 sessions.

Admissions update

Admissions numbers, which lag behind box office in the reporting calendar, are now in for June, and they show a disappointing 10% fewer tickets sold than in June 2016. However, because 2017 started so strongly for cinema, the first six months of 2017 are 6.4% up on the same period in 2016 for admissions. So far, box office for July has been well up on July 2016, and the month should also show an admissions rise from a year ago when those numbers are finally audited.

Top 10 films, 21-23 July

3. War for the Planet of the Apes, £2,714,119 from 612 sites. Total: £12,667,484 (two weeks)

9. The Black Prince, £81,451 from 34 sites (new)

Other openers

Munna Michael, £43,036 from 53 sites

Vikram Vedha, £10,562 from three sites

Sperm Whale: Roya’s Selection, £8,204 from 11 sites

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, £4,103 from five sites

Meow, £118 from one site

The Despicable Me series has shown there is life outside Pixar and Disney, both commercially and artistically, in the blockbuster animation world, with its sentimental-querulous figurehead Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and fondness for idiosyncratic grotesques. So here we are at number three – not counting, of course, the prequel-spinoff Minions, in which Gru’s babbling army of small yellow helpers took centre stage. While all the elements that brought the first two Despicable Mes inordinate popularity are present and correct, it might perhaps be churlish to suggest that the charm is beginning to wear off – just a tiny bit.

On the face of it, this third film simply extends the sentimental undertow of its predecessors. Having acquired children (in DM1) and a wife (Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, in DM2), Gru this time discovers he has a twin, Dru (voiced, again, by Carell). Possessed of hair, a sunny outlook and substantial material possessions, Dru is pitched as the polar opposite to his surly, self-hating long-lost brother; he is also keen to re-establish the family tradition of supervillany – the very practice Gru has turned his back on. It’s only a matter of minutes before a heated sibling rivalry is raging.

Shortly before the reconnection with Dru, however, Gru and Lucy have managed to get themselves fired from their crimefighting org, the Anti Villain League, after botching the pursuit of a bubblegum-toting, Rubik’s Cube-wielding supervillain Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker). Bratt is a rather entertaining creation, even if it’s the apotheosis of the movies’ increasingly teethgrinding obsession with self-referential pop culture. Bratt is the former kiddie star of an 80s TV show and – complete with mullet hairstyle, weaponised guitar-synth and repeated challenges to dance-fights – utilises cheesy 80s style to ballast his villainous moves to take revenge for his Hollywood rejection.

The extended sections devoted to Bratt, including a prologue in which he captures a ship containing the largest diamond in the world, are Despicable Me’s best and funniest sequences, overflowing with ideas and gags. They also prompt the film’s not-all-that-imaginative jukebox soundtrack of 80s hits – Michael Jackson’s Bad, aHa’s Take on Me, Madonna’s Into the Groove. Perhaps younger members of the audience might consider them cultish ancient tunes, but to the slightly more seasoned filmgoer it’s an indication that under the eyepopping lysergic visuals there’s a basic unadventurousness to proceedings. Perhaps it’s inevitable after the impressive impact the first in the series made, with its distinctive combination of daftness and dyspepsia; a sort of closing the circle.

The Gru/Dru thread also shows the strain. It looks initially like it will provide rich easily-mined territory – including the sinister implication, apparent in their first meeting, that Dru might replace his brother in his family’s affections. But it runs out of steam pretty quickly, with little made of their rivalry other than Dru’s attempt to steer Gru back to villainy. Wiig’s Lucy is also saddled with a pedestrian am-I-a-good-mom journey which doesn’t do her character any favours either. That said: Gru’s kids are as cute as ever, particularly the youngest, Agnes, on a quest to snare a unicorn in the forest.

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, the same pairing as Minions (Chris Renaud, who joint-directed 1 and 2 has definitively moved into Secret Life of Pets world), Despicable Me 3 will certainly keep the younger elements of its audience happy, with its dose of aspartame-rush hyperactivity. But for everyone else it may prove decent rather than captivating.