Ready to hear some crazy numbers? Luc Besson's upcoming sci-fi space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will make quite the financial splash, with a massive budget of €197.47 million. That's around USD$225 million. That figure alone is enough to earn the movie the title of not only Besson's biggest film yet, but the most expensive movie ever made in France — and possibly Europe!
Judging by the recent dazzling trailer release for the film, it's easy to see where that money's been spent. Valerian's massive world, stunning visual effects, and wealth of alien species would easily eat up a budget of that size. And if Besson's learned anything from making such iconic films as The Fifth Element, it's that good sci-fi doesn't come cheap.
Besson Fought To Keep Production (Mostly) In France
Parisian-born Besson may now call the United States home, but he's still a proud Francophile. It's for this reason that he was intent on keeping Valerian's production in his homeland — a feat he wasn't able to accomplish with The Fifth Element.
And yet it almost didn't happen at all. France grants tax credits to both French-language French films and foreign, English-language movies filmed in France. Unfortunately, as a French film with an English script, Valerian didn't fall into either category. According to The Telegraph, producing the film in France would mean Besson would miss out on an estimated €15–€20 million in tax credits.
So it was with heavy heart that Besson resigned himself to making his film in cost-effective Hungary. Fortunately, the French government — eager not to miss out on such a boost to its economy — stepped in and changed the tax credit requirements to include English-language French films. And France had Besson's business once again.
Valerian Is Big Budget, But So Was The Fifth Element
Twenty years ago, The Fifth Element's $90 million budget was so massive that Besson struggled to get film companies to finance it. At the time the most expensive European film ever made, it was considered too high risk for many studios. Eventually, The Fifth Element was picked up by Columbia Pictures.
With haute couture fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier signed on to create the film's costume wardrobe, the artiste went all out to bring his vision to life. The end result? More than 900 costumes were created and used in the film. For the typical fashion designer, that equates to roughly 10 collections.
Ever meticulous, each morning Gaultier personally checked each costume to be worn in that day's filming before the garments went to set. He spared no expense, with a single jacket costing $5,000. You can imagine how the designer's attention to detail and craftsmanship pushed the film's budget skyward.
Does A Big Budget Equal A Great Film?
The Fifth Element's record-breaking budget might have been a gamble, but it's a gamble that paid off. It earned almost three times its expenses, pulling in $264 million at the box office to make it one of the most financially successful French films ever made. It was applauded for its use of visual effects and has become a firm cult classic.
For Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the director's chance to present his singular vision once again and achieve what wasn't possible 20 years prior. Not only is he building on an established concept with new visual effects technology, but he's taken inspiration from groundbreaking, VFX-heavy films like Avatar to push Valerian's aesthetics to the limit.
Valerian will open against Dunkirk, which may give it a good chance to earn a decent profit, given the differing genres. Mind you, the size of the budget is by no means indicative of the success of a film. But considering the way Besson allocated The Fifth Element's funds, Valerian's budget might prove to be money well spent after all.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens July 21.