10 Fascinating Facts About Dunkirk

Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Following three trips to Gotham City, a voyage through a wormhole, and an exploration of our own dreams, director Christopher Nolan set his sights on something far more grounded—and personal—with 2017’s Dunkirk. This intense World War II tour de force tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation, where hundreds of thousands of Allied troops miraculously escaped utter devastation by the Germans with the help of military ingenuity and waves of intrepid civilians. What was seen as a calamitous retreat turned into a legendary tale of the early years of WWII. Here are 10 facts about the Oscar-nominated movie it inspired.

1. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN TOYED WITH THE IDEA OF SHOOTING WITHOUT A SCRIPT.

Christopher Nolan's movies are known for having twisting plots and plenty of memorable dialogue, but for Dunkirk, the director wanted to pull back and allow the story to unfold in a much more natural, improvised way. While the end product is light on plot and dialogue, the original idea was far more radical, with the director thinking about shelving the script altogether.

“I said, 'I don’t want a script. Because I just want to show it,' it’s almost like I want to just stage it. And film it," Nolan said in an interview published alongside the Dunkirk screenplay.

His wife and producing partner, Emma Thomas, brought him back down to earth, with Nolan saying, “Emma looked at me like I was a bit crazy and was like, okay, that’s not really gonna work."

2. IT’S HIS SHORTEST FILM SINCE HIS FIRST.

Though Dunkirk did wind up with a script, it wasn’t a lengthy one, coming in at just 76 pages. After 2014’s Interstellar took some heat for its three-hour runtime, Dunkirk reversed course and settled in at an efficient 106 minutes. This is the director’s shortest film since the 70-minute runtime of his first movie, The Following (1998).

3. ACTUAL DUNKIRK VETERANS CLAIM THE MOVIE IS LOUDER THAN THE ACTUAL BATTLE.

Dunkirk strove for—and mostly accomplished—a real sense of historical accuracy, but one aspect of those epic on-screen battles was even more extreme than what the soldiers actually experienced during the ordeal in 1940. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, one of the movie’s stars, Kenneth Branagh, explained that 30 veterans of the battle came to the movie’s UK premiere and many said that the mayhem in the movie was far louder than the real thing (which he also said really "tickled" Nolan to hear).

This noise discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the amount of land on the beaches was so vast that much of the bombing noise would simply drift away on the wide-open air, according to Branagh. In the movie, though, every explosion is upfront for the audience to hear, all for the sake of immersion, though most of the veterans also agreed that nearly everything else was almost exactly as they remembered.

4. HARRY STYLES WAS CAST BECAUSE OF HIS “OLD-FASHIONED FACE.”

British singer Harry Styles poses for a photograph upon arrival for the world premiere of 'Dunkirk' in London on July 13, 2017
TOLGA AKMEN, AFP, Getty Images

Though the film's cast was filled with newcomers and theater actors, there were a few familiar faces filling up the screen. And the most recognizable, and controversial, of those was Harry Styles of the British boy band One Direction. Word of his casting made waves online, and it would be easy to assume that he landed the part solely due to his popularity among younger audiences. But Nolan had a much different reason for giving Styles the part, saying: "He has an old-fashioned face ... the kind of face that makes you believe he could have been alive in that period."

That old-fashioned face had to send an audition tape to the movie’s casting director just like anyone else, which was then forwarded to the director. Styles eventually got the gig, and the enormity of the choice was lost on Nolan, who even remarked: "I don't think I was that aware really of how famous Harry was."

5. MICHAEL CAINE MADE A CAMEO.

Apparently you can’t have a Christopher Nolan movie without Michael Caine. He has played world-weary mentors and companions in every one of the director’s movies since 2005’s Batman Begins, but for a while it looked like there wouldn’t be a place for the iconic English actor in this WWII movie. Well, the wily Caine did manage a cameo of sorts, as the voice giving orders to the British fighter pilots over the radio.

When asked about this unpublicized appearance by film critic Stephen Witty, Nolan responded, “Yes, good for you for spotting him. It's shocking to me that a lot of people haven't, when he has really one of the most distinctive voices in cinema. I wanted very much to squeeze him in here. It's a bit of a nod to his character in Battle of Britain. And also, it's Michael. He has to be in all my films, after all.”

6. TOM HARDY’S EYES MADE HIM PERFECT FOR THE ROLE.

Tom Hardy is another actor synonymous with Nolan's movies, with the most high-profile being Bane in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises. It was this part, with most of his face hidden behind a mask, that made the director “beg” the actor to play the fighter pilot in Dunkirk.

"I’ve had great experience hiding Tom behind masks and showing that he can act with only his eyes," the director told USA Today. "It's all there, he has the most expressive eyes. He can pull the audience into the moment in an amazing way even with most of his face covered."

7. MOST OF THE MOVIE WAS SHOT USING IMAX CAMERAS.

Nolan and his team are huge proponents of filming movies with IMAX cameras, and Dunkirk was their biggest undertaking to date. Unlike his other movies, where only certain key scenes would be filmed with the notoriously expensive and bulky cameras, around 70 percent of Dunkirk was filmed for the extra-large format.

And the IMAX scenes couldn’t just be static; cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema worked with Panavision to find ways to make the cameras more adaptable to allow them to better follow the kinetic frenzy of battle. This included snorkel lenses for shots in tighter spaces—such as a cockpit—and a rig that allowed the camera to be attached to the wing of a plane to get some of those breathtaking aerial shots.

8. THE MOVIE’S “TICKING” SCORE WAS INSPIRED BY NOLAN’S WATCH.

There’s a simple trick behind the pulsing, ticking score Hans Zimmer wrote for Dunkirk: an actual watch. In an interview with Business Insider, the director revealed:

“Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking and we started to build the track out of that sound and then working from that sound we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there's a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we've never been able to achieve before.”

With time itself acting as such a driving force behind the action of the movie, the “tick, tick, tick” of the score is integral to the feelings of suspense the director was trying to accomplish.

9. THE SCRIPT WAS WRITTEN WITH MUSICAL PRINCIPLES IN MIND.

Taking the marriage of music and script one step further, Nolan wrote the movie in the style of a “Shepard tone,” which he described as “an illusion where there's a continuing ascension of tone. It's a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range.”

This is something composer David Julyan included in the director’s 2006 movie The Prestige and was even used for the sound of the Batpod in The Dark Knight films. For Dunkirk, both the score and the story structure take advantage of the illusion to heighten the tension.

“I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there's a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity,” Nolan said.

10. NOLAN AND THOMAS'S OWN TRIP ACROSS THE ENGLISH CHANNEL IN THE 1990s INSPIRED THE MOVIE.

 Producer Emma Thomas and director Christopher Nolan arrive at the premiere of 'Batman Begins'
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

The kernel for the idea that would become Dunkirk came when Nolan took a real-life voyage across the English Channel with then-girlfriend (now-wife) Emma Thomas just as the rescue boats during the actual ordeal did decades earlier. As he told the Toronto Star, the trip completely changed his perception of the danger these people faced:

“It was really, really tough; the channel is no joke. It took us about 19 hours to get there, much longer than we thought. We were absolutely freezing. It felt dangerous and impossible and that was without people dropping bombs on us and going into a war zone. And so that cemented for me an absolute respect for the people in real life who did this extraordinary thing.”

The idea for Dunkirk stuck with him since that trip, and he worked to build up enough of a reputation in Hollywood to raise the funds that would allow him to get the movie done properly. "We felt now was the time to capitalize on that trust and relationship," Thomas said. "It very much felt like the sum of everything we've learned in prior movies."

The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time Worldwide

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Marvel Studios

Ever since Avengers: Endgame was announced, Hollywood insiders had no doubt it would be a box office smash. But few people could have predicted just how big of a dent the movie would make in its opening weekend alone. The latest MCU movie demolished all previous box office records by making a cool $1.2 billion in just its first few days in theaters.

It's the first film in cinema history to cross the billion-dollar mark in its opening weekend, and knocked its predecessor—Avengers: Infinity War—from the top spot in terms of opening weekends by almost double (Infinity War broke records a year ago when it made $640 million worldwide during its first weekend in theaters). After grossing $2 billion in record time, and knocking James Cameron's Titanic out of the number two spot of biggest blockbusters, Avengers: Endgame has now officially unseated yet another Cameron film, Avatar—which has held the number one spot for 10 years—to become the highest-grossing movie of all time.

  1. Avengers: Endgame (2019) // $2,790,200,000

  2. Avatar (2009) // $2,789,700,000

  3. Titanic (1997) // $2,187,500,000

  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) // $2,068,200,000

  5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) // $2,048,400,000

  6. Jurassic World (2015) // $1,671,700,000

  7. Marvel's The Avengers (2012) // $1,518,800,000

  8. Furious 7 (2015) // $1,516,000,000

  9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) // $1,405,400,000

  10. Black Panther (2018) // $1,346,900,000

  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) // $1,341,700,000

  12. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) // $1,332,500,000

  13. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) // $1,309,500,000

  14. Frozen (2017) // $1,276,500,000

  15. Beauty and the Beast (2017)// $1,263,500,000

  16. Incredibles 2 (2017) // $1,242,800,000

  17. The Fate of the Furious (2017) // $1,236,000,000

  18. Iron Man 3 (2013) // $1,214,800,000

  19. Minions (2015) // $1,159,400,000

  20. Captain America: Civil War (2016) // $1,153,300,000

  1. Aquaman (2018) // $1,148,000,000

  1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) // $1,123,800,000

  2. Captain Marvel (2019) // $1,120,100,000

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) // $1,119,900,000

  2. Skyfall (2012) // $1,108,600,000

Box office totals courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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