The film "The 5th Element" was one of the French director's favourite projects and had been on his mind ever since he was a child. The project started in the 1990s by Gaumont (the oldest existing film production company in the world) and Warner Brothers and was then temporarily stopped by the Americans because the production costs climbed up to more than 100 million dollars. Only when Besson achieved commercial success with "Leon the Professional" with Jean Reno and the still very young Natalie Portman, Warner Brothers hazarded the 5th element a try.
By the way, the fear was justified, in the USA the box office results were disappointing, only the more than doubled box office, which could be achieved worldwide, made him a success. And for almost 20 years, until "Lucy" in 2015, it was also considered to be Besson's commercially most successful film.By then, however, the Frenchman was already thinking about the next film he absolutely wanted to make: "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets". However, the dream of making a feature film out of the French comic "Valerian et Laureline" turned into a nightmare.
Besson's company is said to be deep in debt with about 220 million euros, about 180 million are divided among more than 20 banks, and the film financing company Vine is in the creditor queue for the rest. "Valerian" set two records at once, it’s the most expensive European film of all time with more than 190 million production cost and probably the biggest flop of all times. In France and in the USA the film earned about the same small amount, in China about a third more.
Considered one by one, these results are not that bad with about 40 million in the USA and at home and about 60 in China, but a little more than 220 million worldwide are far, far away from break-even. Europacorp's share price fell from 14 euros issue price to around 80 cents. Besides the free float, one third of the company has been owned by Fundamental Film Hong Kong since 2016 and one third by Besson itself.
However, his days in the operative management are probably gone, French newspapers report that none of the creditors or owners want to see him in the management. Furthermore, Besson also faces several accusations of sexual assault, which he vehemently denies. One case was dropped by the public prosecutor's office, but several new proceedings were started. Although, Besson is unlikely to be able to pay the same redemption sums as the US producer Harvey Weinstein (44 million dollars). Even though Besson won’t have to worry about paying necessities, he has approved an annual salary of more than 4 million euros, and for "Valerian" another million on top, despite the crisis and debts.
In addition to a new boss, a new concept is now being sought. At the moment they are testing whether the "old stuff" and Besson's successes could be turned into a series, his latest film "Anna" will be launched this summer, but this alone won’t save the company.
In conclusion: Besson's idea to counter US-American entertainment cinema with a European version has obviously failed. The reasons are probably not that easy to point out: Certainly, reason number one was "Valerian", as Besson took full risk for this one, and private withdrawals where only the cherry on top. Whether a "better" Valerian could have prevented everything? Maybe, but as they say, there is no use in crying over spilled milk.