Luc Besson's Film Empire Crumbles Amid Sexual Misconduct Claims

Luc Besson_Comp - Getty - H 2018
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Multiple allegations put the release of his Lionsgate spy thriller 'Anna' in doubt as the French mogul sells assets to keep EuropaCorp afloat.

Luc Besson may be watching his film empire crumble as a series of sexual assault and harassment claims leveled against the French director leaves EuropaCorp, the mini-major studio he created, unraveling with partners distancing themselves.

Besson, 59, is facing a police investigation stemming from a rape allegation filed in May by Belgian actress Sand Van Roy. On Nov. 28, five more women came forward, in a report in French investigative magazine Mediapart, alleging additional sexual misconduct. In total, nine women have accused Besson of misconduct. He has denied Van Roy's claim, and EuropaCorp has not commented on the others.

The new allegations against Besson come as EuropaCorp hangs by a thread. The filmmaker's $180 million sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was supposed to launch EuropaCorp into the major leagues. Instead it crashed, taking in just $225 million worldwide, with major losses for EuropaCorp's international partners, who pre-bought the film on much rosier forecasts.

The Valerian flop triggered a tailspin of EuropaCorp stock and a string of losses — $93.4 million posted in July, $135 million in December 2017. The studio's $40 million submarine thriller Kursk failed to sell to the U.S. after its Toronto debut and has sunk without a trace in France, bringing in $700,000 at the local box office.

Besson's corporate partners, while not publicly breaking with the director and EuropaCorp, are quietly stepping back. Lionsgate, once rumored to be eyeing a stake in EuropaCorp, has left it unclear whether Anna, Besson's spy thriller starring Helen Mirren that was set up as a return to form for the Lucy director, will ever be released.

"They secured the rights to Anna long before the first allegations against Luc Besson were raised," a source close to Lionsgate tells The Hollywood Reporter. "They are monitoring the situation carefully and do not have a specific release date for the film."

In France, EuropaCorp is slashing overhead and trying to overhaul its local distribution business. The studio confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter Thursday that it was exploring several options for its distribution arm, including a partial or complete shuttering of the division.

"EuropaCorp is working to continue reducing its overhead. In this context, EuropaCorp is analyzing the best solution for distributing films and at the same time reducing its overhead costs,” a company spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter. “At this stage, no option is preferred. Nothing has been decided."

A complete shuttering of EuropaCorp's French distirbution business, at the moment, looks unlikely. Instead, the group is exploring collaboration with other companies to co-distribute their titles in France.

EuropaCorp has pushed back its two big 2019 releases as it tries to figure out its new strategy. Anna was moved from a planned Jan.2 bow to a March 27 release in France. And Guillaume Canet’s Nous Finirons Ensemble – the sequel to his 2010 French box office smash Little White Lies, was pushed back from a planned March 27 release to a May 1 bow. EuropaCorp is believed to be in talks with French distributor Pathe to take both films for local release.

EuropaCorp’s French distribution division is a major part of the company, taking in €39.6 million ($44.7 million) over the last fiscal year, representing nearly 18 percent of the company's total revenue. But the company, which used to release around 10 films a year, has shrunk considerably, dropping to just 2-3 releases per year. Currently, EuropaCorp has no movie in production.

The company has already held a fire sale of several of its assets as it looks to slim down and repay debts of some $260 million. It has sold off its French TV division for $13 million and is in talks with French studio Gaumont for the Roissy Films library, which comprises some 500 titles.

EuropaCorp is also trawling for financial investors to help recapitalize the company.

But Besson's financial options are limited. Frequent backer Tarak ben Ammar, who was on the board of the Weinstein Co., divested his EuropaCorp stock after the closure of the film school portion of Besson's Cite du Cinema studios. STX, which partnered with EuropaCorp on Valerian, as well as The Circle and Renegades, appears to be happy to let its three-year distribution deal with the company, signed in 2017, quietly expire.

That leaves China's Fundamental Films, which ponied up $50 million for Valerian and poured $67 million into the company in 2016. But Fundamental boss Mark Gao is unlikely to come to Besson's rescue this time.

With the Beijing government cracking down on foreign investment by Chinese firms, the climate in China would make it politically difficult. Insiders report Fundamental already has sharply reduced the number of employees at its Beijing office. Fundamental declined to comment.

Pulling out of EuropaCorp would be a pricey proposal — Fundamental spent $67 million in 2016 to acquire a 27.9 percent stake in Besson's company, priced at the time at $5.90 a share, many times its current value. In an effort to regroup, Besson has been selling off EuropaCorp's assets to cover his losses. One international distributor adds, "Besson is just too toxic right now."

Patrick Brzeski and Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.

This story also appears in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.