An ambitious director who avoids email, cellphones and social media. A pop star with 30 million Twitter followers and legions of online fans. It might not sound like a natural fit, but One Direction star Harry Styles has emerged as a secret weapon for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
It’s not just that Styles’ performance as a young British soldier is strong (it is). It’s also that for months, Styles’ fans have been mounting an impromptu publicity campaign for Dunkirk, Nolan’s World War II film that’s earned rave reviews and opens this weekend.
At Tuesday’s premiere in New York, Styles-mania was in session. Countless women and girls were in the crowd, ranging in age from pre-teens to mid 30s. Some had been camping out all night to catch a glimpse of Styles, and others had arrived at 6 a.m. One fainted, likely from the heat.
And online, at the forefront of this Dunkirk/Styles mania is @StylesMovieNews, a Twitter account with close to 50 thousand followers dedicated entirely to Styles movie news (impressive, as this is the musician-turned-actor’s first film credit). To compare, the largest following for a Christopher Nolan fan account,@NolanFans, is at just over 19 thousand.
Sasha Wedge, who runs @StylesMovieNews, began the account soon after Styles’ casting in March 2016. She says the interest in the account is truly worldwide, with fans sending in photos of Dunkirk advertisements from all over.
“One minute, someone will be sending me a photo of a bus in Sydney, Australia with Dunkirk all over it. The next I’ll be looking at a poster outside a cinema in the Netherlands, or some flyers being handed out in Japan,” Wedge tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Keeping up with Dunkirk mentions on Twitter will also reveal, however, some Nolan fans and general Twitter users dismiss Styles’ large legion as not legitimately interested in the film. Yet, Wedge and her followers insist that they’re not simply fawning over the pop star.
“It was never supposed to be all about Harry,” Wedge says of her account, pointing out that the Styles community has immersed itself in other aspects of Dunkirk as well as formed a “Twitter Movie Club,” in which fans have been versing themselves in Nolan’s other work.
Wiktoria Look, a dual Nolan-Styles fan prior to Dunkirk, has been an active follower of Wedge, as well as an active member of her movie club.
“Many have seen the Batman movies, but for people to watch Following and Memento — movies that were so crucial in Nolan’s career yet often unnoticed — it was something else,” Look says. “I’m sure the fans will carry on supporting Nolan’s work beyond Dunkirk. They seemed very impressed.”
Wedge, Look and the club convened this past Saturday when Inception aired on UK television network ITV — during which Look contributed by tweeting out graphics explaining the film’s multiple layers.
The year-plus of wait between Styles’ casting and the film’s release has brought on a lot of interaction between Wedge, Look and other fans. “We’ve spent countless hours speculating the plot, the score and the nonlinear editing,” Look says. “We know the payoff will be huge.”
Yet, Wedge and her community have also encountered some who assume that they have no knowledge of the history, to which Wedge is quick to point out that most people didn’t learn about Dunkirk in school.
“Ironically, I think a lot of Harry fans probably know more about the Dunkirk evacuation than your general movie-goer, because we’re dedicated enough to do our research,” Wedge says of the World War II evacuation of more than 330,000 Allied troops surrounded by German forces on the beaches of France. She has since made education a priority, pinning a tweet of a four page essay recounting the events, which has more than 1,500 retweets.
Here’s everything you should need to know about Dunkirk and what happened! Hope it helps! pic.twitter.com/OOfyeYwDi5
— Harry Dunkirk News (@StylesMovieNews) May 2, 2016
Now, Wedge can name some civilian ships and naval destroyers by simply looking at them. Last fall, she organized a fundraiser for the restoration of the Dunkirk little ship Skylark IX, a boat that rescued more than 600 men and, once restored, will be used to help educate youth about the history.
“I wanted to use the influence I had to make sure that as a fandom, we could prove that we actually really care about the subject,” Wedge said. The #SaveSkylark fundraiser, which got the attention and involvement of Harry Styles’ mother, raised 6,000 pounds toward the ship’s restoration.
In addition to history, some Styles fans have adopted another passion of Nolan’s: the 70mm film format. Nolan has long championed shooting on film and showing his movies in the largest format possible. Now, a number of Styles fans have taken on that cause, with it becoming fashionable to buy tickets in Nolan’s preferred format. Both Look and Wedge will be attending the film with others from Twitter at Manchester’s IMAX 70mm theater.
Despite those who aim to put Styles fans down, plenty of the Nolan faithful are welcoming the growth in their own community. Wedge has had pleasant interactions with some of the @NolanFans community, one of them being Anton Volkov, creator of Trailer-Track and current president of the University College London Film Society — a position Christopher Nolan held himself when he ran the group from 1992-94 with his now-wife and longtime producing partner Emma Thomas.
“People may look down at that fanbase, but they are, even if you’re just looking at it from a marketing perspective, a great asset,” Volkov said. “There is so much potential, especially, with fanbases like the Harry Styles fanbase or these female-led fanbases that have so much power and reach on social media.”
And as Styles’ co-star James D’Arcy told The Hollywood Reporter at Dunkirk’s New York premiere of the notion that Styles might in someway overshadow the movie: “He’s a big star, but it’s a Christopher Nolan film — that trumps everything.”
— With reporting from Ashley Lee