Author: Gus Baker
A Failed Gamble
For those of you who tuned in to our Valerian Podcast, you know that I believed from the start that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was destined to bomb. Unfamiliar source material in major markets, an exorbitant budget, and a tepid response from critics spelled doom and gloom for Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline before they even embarked on their epic journey to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets.
By the Numbers
Based on the popular French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Hollywood’s latest attempt at turning comic book media into a movie franchise. Given the relative obscurity of the source material in major movie markets (US and China), French motion picture company EuropaCorp took a major gamble when it greenbelt Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets with a 180 million dollar net production budget. Thus, to make a splash in major markets, Valerian would require both a successful international marketing campaign and positive reception from major critics.
Unfortunately for EuropaCorp, neither came to fruition. The film was met with a lukewarm reception from American critics, who gave it a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, the film only managed to gross $185 million combined outside the United States and Canada. That combined with the domestic gross of $40 million falls far short of the $400 million needed to break even after accounting for marketing and distribution costs.
Will Major Valerian Return to the Silver Screen?
My guess would be no, or at least not anytime soon. The film has not made nearly enough money to justify a sequel and despite being hugely popular in France (where it grossed nearly $37 million), there is no demand from fans in major markets for a Valerian franchise. If the film manages to spawn a new media in major markets, it’s possible the franchise may gain traction over time, but as it stands now it looks like the Valerian universe may be dead in the water. A major concern is that the film’s lack of success will discourage studios to adapt lesser known material into major movies. My hope is that studios will experiment with franchise-launching film with lower budgets, which would put less pressure on them to make multiple hundreds of millions.