It was only reported last month by Cineuropa that Luc Besson's upcoming space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was going to be quite the financial extravaganza. Its budget came in at a massive €197.47 million. That's around $223 million. The film is being reported as Luc Besson’s highest budgeted film to date, and the most expensive film ever produced in France.
On paper, a film with a brand-new IP (albeit based on a well-loved comic series) costing $223 million would seem to be a major gamble. However, director Luc Besson recently stated that the film carried zero financial risk, as a vast majority of the film's budget was already covered by pre-sales. His quote from the Screen Daily interview is as follows:
Like every film company, we will only greenlight a project if at least 80% of its budget is covered. With Valerian, we’ve covered 96% of the budget with pre-sales. I heard that a newspaper did write a bit of shit about the company but actually this newspaper belongs to another company that is going to release a film at the same time. It sounds to me like a very, very below-the-belt attack. The risk to EuropaCorp is 4% of the budget so there’s no actual financial risk. The risk for the company is more one of notoriety. If the film is a big flop, we’ll lose credibility for making these sorts of films. The risk is not financial, but rather human.
It is a massive achievement for EuropaCorp to have covered all but 4 percent of its budget, as this lightens the burden of the film needing to be a major financial success. So, what does Besson mean when he says the film’s budget is covered by pre-sales? According to New York Entertainment Lawyers Hrbek Law LLC, "pre-sales" means the following:
Obtaining a pre-sale distribution agreement is one of the best ways of getting financing for the picture. Essentially, the filmmaker negotiates a deal with a foreign distributor in which the foreign distributor promises that, provided the filmmaker completes the film, the distributor will pay a pre-negotiated fixed fee for the distribution rights in the distributor's particular foreign country or territory.
While Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a gorgeous looking film, it is an untested space-opera IP. While space operas such as Star Trek or Star Wars carry little risk, Valerian is in uncharted waters. For example, just a few years ago the film Jupiter Ascending tried to enter into the world of big budget space adventure. Like Valerian, that film had big-name stars and a renowned director duo with the Wachowskis. However, that film crashed and burned under the weight of its almost $180 million dollar budget, plus a narrative many felt took itself much too seriously.
For every Jupiter Ascending, there is a Guardians of the Galaxy, which swept audiences away in a flood of action and fun. The question is: What kind of film is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? Recent trailers have show the film to be a rollicking adventure in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy, which (if that is the case) could help the film be a massive hit.
What Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has going for it is that it was not created to be an American film. For the most part, director Luc Besson has been an international director, and it is looking as if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will continue that trend.
What does Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets need to earn in order to be viewed as a hit film? First, EuropaCorp needs to earn 4 percent of the budget, which amounts to a mere $8 million dollars. Second, the film needs to earn at least $50 million in the United States. According to Box Office Pro, the film is tracking at an opening north of $24 million and a final domestic total of $70 million.
However, international numbers is where Besson shines, with Lucy and Taken 2 & 3 earning over 70 percent of their final tallies overseas. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a film tailor-made for 3D, and looks very close to creating an Avatar-like world. These type of films are loved in Asia and Europe, it would not be hard to imagine the film crossing $400 million internationally.
If Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does manage to lure audiences — in a summer that has seen mega franchises take a big hit — then it is possible for it to cross $450 million plus worldwide. We may be seeing many more adventures staring Agent Valerian for years to come.
Check out the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:
Are you planning on seeing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets next month?