Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets started strong at the French box office, topping 1.3 million admissions on 970 screens over the opening weekend in the director’s native country.
The numbers make it the third-highest debut of the year behind The Fate of the Furious, which opened with 1.41 million admissions, and Despicable Me 3, which opened with 1.39 million tickets sold.
Despicable Me 3, which opened on July 5, is still going strong in theaters and finished in third place over the weekend. Both are considered French films and have local support — the Despicable Me franchise is produced by Paris’ Illumination MacGuff and Besson’s EuropaCorp is based in Paris.
After Valerian‘s dismal opening in the U.S., Besson is betting on international box office to save his sci-fi epic, which cost upwards of $180 million to make. It opened in fifth place at the U.S. box office last weekend with just $17 million. (It has made just $30 million in the U.S. since its release July 21.)
Still, Besson’s Lucy, which earned $430 million at the global box office on a much smaller $40 million budget, opened with a stronger 1.51 million admissions and on only 615 screens when it bowed in August 2014.
Valerian’s opening puts it above Transformers: The Last Knight, which appeals to a similar audience but netted just 1.3 million admissions in four weeks, a number Valerian topped in its first five days.
“Transformers is a franchise and kind of ‘take the money and run’ because there was [Spider-Man: Homecoming] opening two weeks after. They had a short window to gain an audience,” said analyst Eric Marti, general manager of comScore. “Valerian has an open market for six weeks.”
It also won’t face as much competition from Dunkirk, which has dominated the U.S. and U.K. box office. Though the WWII epic was shot in the north of France, the story of the British rescue doesn’t loom as large in French war lore as it does in English-speaking countries.
Still, if Besson has any hope to repeat the profitability of Lucy, he will be counting on China, where the film is set to be released Aug. 25.