After Stateside Flop, Luc Besson’s ‘Valerian’ Starts Strong In France

The French director’s sci-fi epic finished first at the French box office.

Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets started strong at the French box office, topping 1.3 million admissions on 970 screens over the opening weekend in his native country.

The numbers make it the third-highest debut of the year behind The Fate of the Furious, which opened with 1.41 million admissions, and Despicable Me 3, which opened with 1.39 million tickets sold.

Despicable Me 3, which opened on July 5, is still going strong in theaters and finished in third place over the weekend. Both are considered French films and have local support as the Despicable Me franchise is produced by Paris’ Illumination MacGuff and Besson’s EuropaCorp is based in Paris.

After its dismal opening in the U.S., Besson is betting on international box office to save his sci-fi epic, which cost upwards of $180 million to make. It opened in fifth place at the U.S. box office last weekend with just $17 million.

It has made just $30 million in the U.S. since its release July 21.

Still, Besson’s Lucy, which went on to a $430 million global box office on a much smaller $40 million budget, opened with a stronger 1.51 million admissions and on only 615 screens when it bowed in August 2014.

Valerian’s opening puts it above the opening of Transformers: The Last Knight, which appeals to a similar audience and went on to 1.3 million admissions in four weeks on screens, a number Valerian topped in its first five days.

Valerian’s opening at the beginning of France’s month-long traditional summer vacation could prove a successful perch for the film. Aside from War for Planet of the Apes opening this week, Besson’s sci-fi epic won’t have major competition until September and no big Hollywood blockbuster until Thor: Ragnarok opens in October.

Transformers is a franchise and kind of ‘take the money and run’ because there was [Spider-Man: Homecoming] opening two weeks after. They had a short window to gain an audience,” said analyst Eric Marti, general manager of Comscore. “Valerian has an open market for six weeks.”

It also won’t face as much competition from Dunkirk, which has dominated the U.S. and U.K. box office. Though the WWII epic was shot in the north of France, the story of the British rescue doesn’t loom as large in French war lore as it does in English-speaking countries.

Still, if Besson hopes to repeat the profitability of Lucy, which earned $430 million worldwide, he will be counting on China, where the film is set to be released Aug. 25.

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