While “Dunkirk” and “Girls Trip” found success at the box office, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” did not. Produced by EuropaCrop and distributed by STX, Luc Besson‘s latest sci-fi odyssey cost a reported $180 million to make, but only saw an estimated $17 million in its domestic opening. That put it in fifth this weekend, failing to even beat a third-week “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which made $22 million.
EuropaCorp, which is owned by Besson, won’t take a big financial hit, as it brought in outside investors and sold distribution rights to mitigate the cost of the blockbuster, but it will have to rely on overseas markets to find profits, as U.S. audiences have largely rejected the film with a B- CinemaScore rating and a 54 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here are three reasons why the film couldn’t find traction.
1.) Poor casting
From both a critical and marketing standpoint, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne seemed to be the wrong pair to cast in the lead roles of space agents Valerian and Laureline. While many critics had praise for Besson’s direction, most seemed to agree that the two had poor chemistry and put out performances that were not as vibrant as the worlds they were surrounded by.
On the marketing side, DeHaan and Delevingne remain unproven as blockbuster box office draws.
DeHaan’s most prominent role in recent years is as Harry Osborn (a.k.a. The Green Goblin) in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” while his lead performances have been in the art house biopic “Life” and, earlier this year, in the mid-budget flop “A Cure for Wellness.” Delevingne, meanwhile, appeared as the Enchantress in the critically panned “Suicide Squad.”
With DeHaan and Delevingne’s lack of recognizable roles, audiences who weren’t sold on the unfamiliar story of “Valerian” weren’t exactly going to be intrigued enough to turn out in theaters just to see them. That left pop star Rihanna to serve as the main draw in the cast, with her face joining the others on the film’s posters even though her character, the shape-shifting dancer Bubble, only has a small bit of screen time midway through the film.
2.) Unfamiliar story
The trailer for “Valerian,” along with promoting Luc Besson as director, notes that the film is based on the “groundbreaking graphic novel” by Pierre Christin, “Valerian and Laureline.” While the graphic novel is a hit in Europe, especially in its home country of France, it’s an unfamiliar IP in America. Many moviegoers were left confused as to what the story was supposed to be that connected all the colorful worlds in the trailer. Like the Western adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” the push to show the film’s lavish world-building came at the expense of pushing a story that audiences could understand and stakes that can make them care.
It remains to be seen how European audiences who may be more familiar with Besson’s source of inspiration will react to the film, which still has to open in several major international markets, including France, China, South Korea, the U.K., Russia, Mexico and Brazil. But one warning sign might have already come from its release in Germany, where it made $2.9 million. That was good for No. 2 in that market, finishing behind “Despicable Me 3,” which is in its third week.
3.) “Guardians of the Galaxy”
It would be easy to cynically say that “Valerian” is proof that audiences won’t go out to see a movie that isn’t based on familiar IP, but recent hits like “Get Out” and “Baby Driver” prove otherwise. More likely, the rejection “Valerian” received from critics and at the box office show that while an intergalactic romp through colorful worlds can be fun, the story and characters need to deliver as much as the setting.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” and its sequel are proof of this, winning fans over with lovable characters and a heartfelt story, while weaving a galaxy where a trading outpost is built out of the skull of a creature large enough to consume moons. “Guardians” raised the standard for pulpy space adventure, and “Valerian,” with reviews critical of its acting and script, couldn’t deliver, and audiences left it behind.