What does the future hold for Valerian after its underwhelming US opening?
Luc Besson’s beleaguered $180m wannabe blockbuster Valerian And The City Of Thousand Planets found respite in France on Wednesday (July 26) as it posted a healthy opening box office performance.
The first screening of the day at 9am at the UGC Ciné Cité des Halles multiplex in central Paris – in the presence of Besson – drew 540 spectators over two theatres, making it the best opening screening of the year in Paris.
By comparison, My Cousin Rachel came in second with 47 spectators followed by Walk With Me with 20 admissions.
Admission numbers at the first screenings of new releases at the UGC Les Halles are closely observed by the French cinema industry as an indicator of how films are likely to perform overall.
Besson’s presence was a draw but the positive numbers played out across Paris as the film drew 5,306 spectators on 27 copies by 2pm, for a screen average of 197 admissions per screen.
By comparison, recent hit Dunkirk drew 3,145 spectators on 33 copies in Paris, for a screen average of 95 admissions per screen up to 2pm when it was released last week.
The strong Paris opening bucks a negative box office trend for Valerian which had a disastrous first weekend in the US, where it took $17m, to trail behind Dunkirk which grossed some $50m, as well as lacklustre performances in key markets such as Germany.
It also flew in the face of French critics who reviewed the feature as harshly as many of their US counterparts.
Le Monde described Valerian as a “series of intergalactic post-cards” while Liberation summed it up as “a counterfeit space opera, fed by borrowed ideas, constructed around simplistic challenges.”
The healthy opening also offered respite to both Besson and EuropaCorp, which saw some 9% knocked off its share price on the Paris bourse on Monday as news of the poor US performance for Valerian hit the market.
Besson has said that EuropaCorp’s financial exposure is less than 10% of the budget of Valerian but its failure at the box office could have a long-term impact on the company’s reputation and ability to attract investment and secure pre-sales on big budget features in the future.
It remains to be seen whether the opening box office momentum will continue across France, and perhaps even gather steam.
It seems unlikely, however, that Valerian will out-perform the $463m worldwide gross of Besson’s English-language sci-fi hit Lucy, either at home or internationally.
Show must go on
In the face of the poor reviews and box office blues, it has been a case of the show must go-on for Besson and key cast Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne and singer Rihanna.
They have been hitting the red carpet at premieres across Europe, touching down in London and then Paris this week ahead of the UK and French releases.
In an interesting twist for the French version, Canadian director Xavier Dolan dubs DeHaan. Singer and actress Soko dubs co-star Delevingne.
Besson has revealed in interviews that Dolan, who worked in dubbing before breaking through as a film-maker, had requested the voice role, having previously dubbed DeHaan in other films.
Behind the scenes, a source close to EuropaCorp said the company had hoped for a better result in the US, but was now focusing on the international market, where Besson’s films tended to perform best.
After Europe, the next big push will be into Asia where key release dates include August 4 for Taiwan and August 30 for South Korea.
In China, EuropaCorp’s Chinese partner Fundamental said it was still awaiting confirmation of the film’s release date from state film agency China Film.
China is currently in the middle of one its so-called “domestic film protection months”, during which few imported films are given permission to play theatrically in a bid to boost the box office performance of local productions.
The film’s release in the territory – where a 9,000-screen release was originally scheduled – is a key plank of the international strategy for Valerian.