Luc Besson’s Sci-Fi Comic Book Epic Tanks

Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets poster

If you want to go see Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets, based on a European comic book series, on the big screen, you’d better do it soon. Luc Besson’s visual extravaganza, made for somewhere between $170 and $200 million, just opened in the US, and it took in only $17 million, coming in fifth for the weekend.

With more digital projection systems, it’s a lot easier to swap out underperformers and give more screens to, say, Wonder Woman (now the number one movie of the summer) or the more-successful-than-expected Dunkirk. Which is why opening weekend is so much more important than it used to be, and why films have a much shorter overall run.

Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets poster

Personally, I wasn’t interested, once I heard that the comic series was named after both heroes, Valérian (played by Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), but the movie only got the boy in the title. Plus, the trailer was full of overwhelming images without much story to grab onto.

If I do feel the need to see Besson’s vision of the future, I’ll watch The Fifth Element again. Which oddly, was the most expensive French movie ever made in 1997, and now this one is the most expensive French movie ever made. Maybe someone should rein him in next time. Or maybe they’re expecting this to make its money back over time.


  • James Schee

    I don’t consider myself a comic historian or anything. But when I have never heard of a comic it doesn’t bode well for general audience.

    Which doesn’t mean there’s no chance if success, most people had never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy, but its trailers were so fun. This I can’t tell you what the hell is going on except people in space ships. I didn’t even know who Valerian was until this.

  • It was the worst of both worlds — few people in the US had heard of the comic, so it gave it a tinge of stupid action, while comic fans were confused and put off.

  • Ramsey

    I still found it more realistic than Dunkirk

  • Don’t worry — it’ll do well in Europe, where the comic is very well known. Will it do well enough to recoup all its costs? I don’t know, but “Valerian” is beloved and revered over there, even if it’s a non-starter in America. With any luck, it’ll become the same kind of cult classic “The Fifth Element” became in the aftermarket in people’s homes.

    As for removing Laureline’s name from the movie title — I don’t know why, but I think they just wanted a shorter title. Putting both their names in the movie’s title gets a little tongue twisty with all those repeated consonant sounds.

    If you’re concerned for the authenticity of the series title, imagine the movie with the comic series’ original title, “Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent.” The series wasn’t known as “Valerian and Laureline” until 2007, just before the original creators “ended” the series. (Yup, new creators are coming on board to do more books soon, from what I understand.)

  • Lycheyhey

    The comic is called”Valérian” in a lot of it’s iterations, including the original French, the Finnish and Portuguese versions (Linda och Valérian in Sweden though :D ), and some of the individual books are also named “Valérian and “, so that not entirely their own idea. Not that it wouldn’t have been much better to have Valérian And Laureline as the title.

    The comics are very popular in Europe. Much like Moebius’s work and Asterix comics, they’re more or less considered part of the cultural heritage by now. Like Fifth Element was based on Moebius’s style, so was this wholly based on the original comics. Besson is French. He has a very common French pride in whatever culture is produced in his country.

    As far as the pretty imagery goes: that’s entirely from the books. That’s pretty much the sole purpose of them. They’re fairly light on the story complexities and focus mostly on marveling the spectacular that is that universe and having adventures. I’m really just curious how the weedy male lead pulled off Valerian and if the sulking transmutator of Bluxt is there.

  • According to BoxOfficeMojo: “90% of the budget was reportedly covered with foreign pre-sales, equity financing and tax subsidies.” ( )

    Aside from Lucy & The Fifth Element, Besson’s movies have never done terribly well at the box office in the U.S. And those two movies had huge bankable American stars at their center. So I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised at the performance of Valerian, especially coming as it does at a time in the summer when fans of big splashy comic book action films have already had their fill (Guardians 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man…)

    On the plus side, the Valerian movie has been a huge boon for Cinebook, who have been Johnny-on-the-Spot with sizable collections of the graphic novels out in time for the pre-movie hype.

  • Jim Kosmicki

    one possible correction to an earlier comment: The Fifth Element actually did pretty well on its initial release according to Box Office Mojo

    it was the #1 movie for its first 2 weeks and the #2 and then #3 for the rest of its first month. I will agree that it picked up most of its cult status on home video, but it did well as a new release too.

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