‘Valerian’ Looks to China After Tanking in Most Markets

Valerian
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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is shaping up to be one of the biggest flops of the year. Considered the most expensive independent film ever made, the $180 million sci-fi epic never recovered from its crash at the U.S. box office on its opening weekend and has under-performed in most overseas markets.

With China, South Korea, Spain, and Italy left to open, “Valerian,” based on a French comic book, has grossed $93.3 million overseas, including an estimated $39.2 million from the U.S. as of Monday. It has made just over $130 million globally. By contrast, EuropaCorp’s 2014 action-thriller “Lucy” — whose budget was $40 million — had passed $100 million in the U.S. at the same stage and had grossed more than $130 million worldwide, with 44 additional foreign territories still awaiting its release. In other words, it cost significantly less, had made nearly as much, and still had many more markets left to open. “Lucy” would end its run with an impressive $463.4 million in global ticket sales.

Even in France, where “Valerian” has clinched its best results so far, the film has grossed an estimated $30.5 million in a little more than three weeks — again well below “Lucy,” which earned about $37 million after its third week in France.

The release in China, set for Friday, could give “Valerian” a significant push, but even in the best-case scenario, it will be a challenge for “Valerian” to reach its break-even point, which analysts believe is over $400 million globally, or even to pass the $300 million mark that EuropaCorp said would allow the company to kick off a new franchise and recruit investors for a sequel.

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Even if “Valerian” proves successful in ancillary markets, executives at rival studios currently estimate that “Valerian” could lose roughly $100 million from its theatrical release, though not all that loss would be borne by EuropaCorp.

A spokesperson for EuropaCorp acknowledged late last week that the film has failed to meet expectations in the U.S. and other English-speaking territories (Canada, Australia, U.K.) but argued that “Valerian” has performed well in France, as well as in Russia, where it opened on Aug. 10 and ranked first with $5.6 million (three times better than “Annabelle: Creation”) during its first weekend.

The stakes are particularly high for Fundamental, “Valerian’s” distributor in China and other Asian territories, which invested 60 million euros in EuropaCorp to become its second-largest shareholder a year ago, and put an additional $50 million into “Valerian.”

The hope is not only for “Valerian” to outpace the $45 million that “Lucy” grossed in China, but to rack up at least $100 million in China and South Korea, said Alexandre Koller, an analyst at Gilbert Dupont.

Fundamental is expected to roll out the movie on 5,000 to 7,000 screens in China, on a par with “Lucy.”

“We will really stay quiet until the film release and we have a clear view on where we will land,” said Fundamental.

So far, “Valerian” has received mixed reviews, including a 6.7 score out of 10 for audience anticipation on Douban, the influential Chinese listings and database site. But the movie has a couple strong marketing hooks, such as director Luc Besson, who has become a brand name in China and has a solid fan base there. The movie’s casting could click with Chinese audiences. The film has pop-culture cachet because its cast includes Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, and Kris Wu, a Taiwanese actor and model.

“Valerian,” however, may have to scramble for screens in China with two other anticipated Western films, “Cars 3” and “Baby Driver,” also set for a release on Aug. 25, following a six-week summer blackout without any new Hollywood titles.

While EuropaCorp took steps to mitigate its risk, bringing in nine different equity partners and selling rights to foreign distributors, one insider said that despite those moves, the studio could lose $20 million. That’s without taking into account the cost of the prints and ads (P&A) for the U.S., which is estimated at $60 million. STX, which distributed the film in the U.S., put up the P&A and will recoup it from the theatrical run before the equity investors receive their money, according to an industry source.

Because different distributors own the foreign rights to the film in different markets, some will make money. Others, who have the misfortune of handling the rollout in territories where the picture has not been embraced, will lose millions.

Then there’s a question of optics. The failure of “Valerian” is a major embarrassment for EuropaCorp. The studio has suffered a string of money losers such as “The Circle,” “Miss Sloane,” and “Shut In,” and has essentially shuttered its stateside theatrical marketing and distribution operations.

Koller predicts that if the movie ends up making less than $300 million globally, EuropaCorp will need to raise more capital. He said that the company would also be forced to concentrate their activity on TV series such as “Taken,” while producing fewer films with more modest budgets.

Besson, whose credits include “The Fifth Element” and “The Professional,” has some experience with rejection. At the premiere of “Valerian” in Paris last month, he noted that, apart from “Lucy,” none of his films was successful in the U.S. They only became cult hits later on home entertainment platforms.

Seth Kelley contributed to this report.

For the record: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that EuropaCorp backed “The Disappointments Room.” 

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  1. Paruru Kan says:

    I really LOVED THE WHOLE MOVIE!!!!

    ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE.

    SORRY.

    Valerian; 9,8 7 10

  2. Maggie Calabros says:

    OK so some liked it and some didn’t. What I find more interesting is the seeming glee with which VARIETY touts financial clunkers (not just this one); the pub seems to delight in stating how much money its creators/distributors stand to lose and how awful the specific b.o. receipts have been. And over and over again.
    Seems to me as the industry Bible, VARIETY ought to champion our products, hope for the best, even encourage participation in big-ticket items so the genre/investment/prospects do not wither.
    VALERIAN is not terrible, has some visually stunning set pieces, comes from a respected Director who put a lot of heart into it, and is not quite as mindless as some critics would have you believe. Show some respect.

  3. Chris says:

    There has been a huge push by the american studios to bad mouth this movie as it was/is a threat to them …. And it worked in America….people are brain washed by America saving super heros and stormtrooping fashists in a franchise about dispair…..hope and collaboration in a movie never mind a sci-fi movie are foriegn to Americans and British….Valerian is a very good movie with a lovely message at it’s end , such as star trek use to deliver….p.s. note the online backlash against the new Star trek series before it’s even started, the same american studio machine is behind that also….give then the finger buy Valerian in DVD and watch the Star trek series when it comes out

  4. Weary says:

    The public are a fickle bunch.

  5. Alan Baldasari says:

    No problem with this film, l saw it twice. And as far as the acting, Dane Dahaan did a great job with twists and turns of emotions all over, very good for a relatively newcomer. And all the humor between the two main actors was great and well received. So why did critics slaughter it in America,( l almost didn’t even go see it). Really l don’t know why. l’ d even see it again (or definitely get the blue ray or DVD) Maybe they didn’t like it because they didn’t understand the it,, which l really enjoyed for a space or futuristic story. See it at least on DVD, it’s worth it even for the visual ride. I’m a third year fim student, and l have to admit it left me even wanting more stories from this City of a thousand planets.

  6. Mark says:

    Like the awful flop john carter, valerian will not recoup it’s cost in China. It is a terrible film. Not as bad as john carter, but close. At least valerian had some marketing. No amount of marketing would have save a mess like the horribly written and directed john carter.

  7. IT--//--it says:

    RED CHINA handover TREASON was –massively— PULLED OFF

    USURY–INTEL Hollywood franchise slum KEEPS you looking the other way

  8. BobbyB says:

    Valerian was totally worth the price of admission and then some! I was more entertained by it than either of the new Star Wars flicks. SW is trying to recapture that old feeling where Valerian created a whole new universe that was stunning. I hope it makes enough so that we get more. Looks like a long shot now, but I’ll still hope. I recommend it to ANY sci-fi fan. It’s better than you think!

  9. Spider says:

    This flick was actually good. Yes, the leads were miscast, but once the audience gets over it within the first 5 minutes, the movie is an enjoyable, visual ride. There is actually a story in this and it is not a boring one. This is one film that is going to catch on when it gets issued on Blu-ray/DVD.

    • Jay! says:

      Agreed. Loved the film, had no idea who the stars were and why I should care about them. Unlike Luke, Leia and Han, the chemistry built between the leads didn’t grip me. Unlike Corbin and LeeLoo Dallas, the actors playing the characters didn’t bring a preconceived type to the role. And there weren’t too many (if any) cameo-level roles filled by scenery-chewing vets (Brion James, Tiny Lister).

      Thx,

      Jay!

  10. loco73 says:

    Luc Besson tried to recapture the fun and indelible characters and visuals of “The Fifth Element”, a movie I love, but instead delivered a bloated cacophony of sights and sounds, an intelligible avalanche of special effects, capped by two leads with no screen presence, chemistry or talent for that matter.

    The worst thing about the movie was, how boring it ended up being, something that shouldn’t have happened give the amount of eye candy rolling by at dizzying speeds.

    It was an empty spectacle devoid of any heart or brains…

  11. No release in Japan. As if Japan dosent matter :( I want to see this in imax sooooo bad.

  12. Liam Scanlan says:

    If this thing bombs in China, Besson will most likely kiss both his career and his EuropaCorp studio goodbye. I’m worried! :(

  13. frederick@dreamerchant.com says:

    Luc Besson is an excellent director caught up in “a passion project”, a type which usually proves more passion than persuasive.

  14. Jimmy Green says:

    The fast pace of the film and the visuals make it a wonderful experience. It should have done better and deserves to be seen.

  15. Fernando says:

    Besson has forgotten one of the important lessons of film making: kill your darling. Her should never have started with this project, looking at how well Marvel has mastered this story territory.

    And how can the vfx look so mediocre with such a large budget? Mind boggling.

  16. Jon says:

    China has no history with this kind of science fiction. If it couldn’t crack the U.S. and Euro markets, where Heavy Metal-style sci-fi has been a thing for decades, what hope does it have in China? Sure, the sparkly visuals and 3D will draw sizable crowds, but I can’t see them being big enough to put this picture in the black.

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