EXCLUSIVE: EuropaCorp’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets performed miserably here in the states, and in one of the 16 markets it released to internationally last weekend — Germany — it opened under Despicable Me 3’s third weekend with $2.9 million versus DM3‘s $3.6 million. Throughout last week and the weekend, we heard that STX, which distributed in the U.S., was on the hook for only about $5M, had a distribution fee of about 10%, and that the P&A was being shouldered by EuropaCorp. Then that was disputed. Others said the roughly $60M in P&A was being shouldered by STX. What’s true? Read on.
Luc Besson’s company was on the hook for the domestic P&A it deemed necessary to be spent to open the film. But when they were looking to do a deal early on, they asked potential suitors to front the P&A money. STX, which has a multi-year marketing and distribution deal, ended up as its partner.
The movie, written, directed and produced by Besson, is based on a French comic series and is now known as the most expensive indie ever produced, with a price tag of $200M-$210M. It now has the potential of becoming one of the most expensive flops. The film stars Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Kris Wu, John Goodman and Ethan Hawke, and is based on the Valerian And Laureline comic Besson revered as a child.
Besson told Deadline in May, that if Valerian does as well as Lucy territory ($460M+), “then we’re fine.”
In Germany, Lucy opened to $5M and to No. 1 in 2014. In Germany this time around, Valerian opened to $2.9M and under a movie that has already played three weekends in a row.
Lucy grabbed $126.6M in the U.S. and opened to $43.8M, or a 2.8 multiple. Valerian opened to $17M. If Valerian has a 2.8 multiple it will top out in the states at $47.6M. And that is the best-case scenario.
Lucy made a $336.6M total internationally, which accounted for 72.7% of its worldwide gross. Using the same multiples with the best-case scenario that would give Valerian only $126.8M internationally, or $174M globally.
Around the world, each territory is said to be covering its own P&A. Lionsgate has the film in the UK and for home entertainment.
In Hollywood, as one executive pointed out yesterday when talking with Deadline about Valerian, success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. It couldn’t be more true on this picture.
Now, talk around town — which is being shouted very loudly — is about how STX will lose its shirt on Valerian to the tune of $60M. Nothing is really being said about another company: Missing from the mix of chatter is Fundamental Films in China which has upwards of $50M in equity in the picture. The company also had dropped an additional $65M-$70M (60M Euros) into EuropaCorp. That money was not allocated for P&A and was for an investment in the company, which actually was reported last year (Fundamental had acquired a 28% stake in EuropaCorp).
According to one executive with an expertise on the Chinese market, “Fundamental came in on equity on the movie in exchange for China. It’s gotta be pretty scary for them right now because it hasn’t gotten the date in China yet.”
Fundamental’s investment in the movie includes not only China but other territories, given the size of the investment, so they own a large portion of the film. We hear that all involved are working on getting a China date now for Valerian and it is on the horizon, which could make a significant difference to the bottom line.
STX is disputing the $60M P&A number, as have others who have been in the business for years who say no company would ever make a deal like that.
So Deadline started digging, and we found out what the deal actually encompasses on P&A. According to one financier with direct knowledge of the deal, the bank lender is JP Morgan which, the lender said, is in business with both EuropaCorp and STX. The way this particular deal went down is that JP Morgan gave the money to STX for P&A and that is backstopped by EuropaCorp with STX having been given liens, positions and obligations as security to be paid back by EuropaCorp. In other words, EuropaCorp has made guarantees to STX for the P&A. Despite the statements on deep background and otherwise being spun out to journalists around town right now, that, he said, is the actual deal. The amount that STX stands to lose, at most, is about $2.5M-$3M.
EuropaCorp’s stock has dipped 9.4% in trading on the Paris stock exchange over the past two days which comes only a month after EuropaCorp took a $136M write-off. Remember: Fundamental — apart from their 28% and roughly $67M equity stake in EuropaCorp — is also on the hook for about $50M in equity in the picture.
Added another executive: “Everyone is going to lose money on this. It’s sad actually. This kind of failure actually hurts the business, not just the companies with a financial stake involved.”
A big issue in this debacle has been the release date. Besson staked this date for the film more than two years ago when Valerian was scheduled to be released via RED, EuropaCorp’s distribution joint venture with Relativity. When they were looking for U.S. distribution, no specific date was locked in but those across the table were told that EuropaCorp wanted the film to go out before a certain date. There was discussion about the release date but there was no contract for the July 21 date. When the film came to STX, the July 21 date came with it even though it was on the same day that Warner Bros.’ Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was opening. There was a discussion as to what to do and whether they should move Valerian off that date. The decision was made by Besson and EuropaCorp to stick with the July 21 date.
The U.S. date hurt the film without a doubt, given the fact that they were releasing so soon after War For The Planet Of The Apes and on the same date as the Nolan film. Overseas, they didn’t release in France first either … or for that matter, release the film abroad to at least try to build buzz before it hit North America.
Deadline was also told that about nine months ago, Lionsgate was willing to make a slate deal with EuropaCorp and Fox and Universal had also shown an interest in distributing Valerian, but a top EuropaCorp executive “had the best relationships with the guys at STX so that’s why the picture ended up over there,” said one insider. When marketing the picture, all involved thought that they would be given a fair number of PLF screens (because Imax was going to Nolan) and did end up with north of 100 PLF. They over-indexed on 3D. But, again, Valerian had no Imax and was competing head to head with Dunkirk.
Other possible dates opened up along the path when Jumanji and Alien moved off their dates, but still Valerian was kept on July 21.
A year ago, Besson unveiled a small amount of footage of Valerian at Comic-Con, which was his second time at the convention. The first time, he showed drawings in an intimate setting. The second year, he unveiled a small amount footage and received a standing ovation. The momentum was building and it was palpable in the room. That was when marketing was being sheparded by the previous RED team. Between the shift between the two companies, word was around town that the film was having issues and there were reshoots being done.
The film then moved to STX and was touted at CinemaCon. The premiere came and went but with no lavish party afterwards. The July 21st never moved. “Luc Besson is such a nice guy,” said one insider. “Everyone around town feels bad for him. He just he trusted the wrong person.”
The exposure for EuropaCorp is significant. Those in the pre-sales world don’t believe what Deadline was told — that 90% of the film’s budget was sold this off around the world in pre-sales and made up by tax credits. They say pre-sales would cover more like 60%.
It’s unfortunate for Besson that the film bombed domestically as a warm reception in the U.S. would have helped to give the film a boost around the globe. But, Valerian is all but dead domestically and the thinking is that it could drop as much as 65% this weekend.
It has yet to open in the majority of big international territories, including the top markets of France (where the film bows this week), South Korea, the U.K., Russia, Mexico and Brazil. But the Germany opening gross is a big ol’ red flag.
Everyone very much respects the work of Luc Besson, the filmmaker behind this big-budget sci-fi indie film and applaud his audacity to attempt this in the pre-sales world. Arguably, the last attempt at this was Cloud Atlas — a property also largely unfamiliar to a number of audiences. That picture grossed only $9.6M in its opening weekend $27.1M domestically and $103.3M in foreign markets. It was a financial disappointment for the $100M+ budgeted pic.
Will the pre-sales ecosystem now be poisoned by this and will they ever back another $100M-plus budgeted indie? Most in the pre-sales world say yes they would back another, and point to Lionsgate’s rough performances of Divergent, Allegiant and Gods of Egypt which was then followed by the success of La La Land (albeit that film was significantly cheaper and Lionsgate told investors that it regretted not keeping the entire picture).
But this kind of capital loss is making observers nervous that the Chinese investors — which basically has bouyed many productions in Hollywood — may start heading to the exits.
Said one financier: “Looks like China is going to get burned again. We’re going to have to start hitting other planets, I think, because here we are killing yet another golden goose.”
Dalian Wanda Group chair Wang Jianlin just said this week already that it plans to focus its investments now in China after its $9.4B sale of assets.