Expensive movies bomb all the time, but what happens when a big budget film is independently financed by a small company and then bombs? We’re about to find out. Luc Besson financed his ambitious passion project ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ through his company EuropaCorp. Based on Besson’s favorite comic book ‘Valérian and Laureline’, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières, the film cost approximately $200 million to produce and is the most expensive in French history. It made an estimated $229.5M and now it appears that EuropaCorp is on the chopping block as a result.
EuropaCorp has turned to its primary lender JP Morgan to find an investor who can either inject equity capital into the company in order to restructure it and pay off a portion of its debt or to buy it outright by the end of the fiscal year, which is on March 30. The studio currently plans to greatly reduce its film slate– focusing on two or three English language films a year and two French language movies and focusing on international sales. As it stands, EuropaCorp’s losses are €119.9 million (roughly $146.8M American) and its debt is €230 million ($281.6 million). The company has already sold off its TV division for €11 million. It has also announced plans to lay off 22 employees (out of 79). JP Morgan currently holds EuropaCorp’s assets in escrow, meaning that these assets, including its library (which includes such big hits as the ‘Taken’ and ‘Transporter’ franchises), are frozen.
Last year, deputy CEO Edouard de Vesinne was ousted. CEO Marc Shmuger then exited the company as well, in December. Besson currently serves as the CEO.
‘Valerian’ isn’t the only major loss leading to this situation, although it is certainly the biggest. Last year, the company also released the flop ‘The Circle’ starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. That movie received very little promotion and was trashed by critics, resulting in another loss for EuropaCorp. Its films ‘Shut In’ and ‘Miss Sloane’ were also flops.
One potential investor is Tarak Ben Ammar, owner of Eagle Pictures, Italy’s largest independent distributor. He already owns a 25% stake in Besson’s studio Cite du Cinema, outside of Paris and is a shareholder of The Weinstein Company and board member of Vivendi. But word is that Ben Ammar is only interested in investing, not taking on the responsibility of being the majority shareholder of EuropaCorp.
Another potential buyer/investor is Lionsgate, but the US studio did not offer a comment on the matter.
EuropaCorp would rather have an investor/buyer who can pitch in the needed capital, otherwise they will be forced to sell off its assets piecemeal. France’s TF1 is interested in acquiring just the studio’s back catalog.
Big studios can swallow flops more easily, especially if they score a few big hits that cushion the blow. But with ‘Valerian’ and the rest of EuropaCorp’s offerings, the loss was just too much. Regardless of what happens to the company, Besson should remain an in-demand director, even if he’s not releasing them through his own imprint. We’ll let you know if there are any updates.