Just two years old, STX Entertainment stood side by side with the big boys as it unveiled its 2017 slate at CinemaCon, now bolstered by a new partnership with Luc Besson’s Europa Corp and three upcoming Besson films.

“A lot of Hollywood wanted Europa very badly and we’re honoured that they chose STX as their new home,” says STX chairman and presenter Adam Fogelson, who also boasted how his studio runs on a staff of just 90 across all departments.

Following the phenomenal success of last year’s biggest-selling R-rated comedy Bad Moms (the first R-rated comedy to get an Cinemascore of A since The Hangover), STX have shifted up a gear.

Fogelson recounts how STX first opened an office two years ago: “We had department heads but no films and no staff yet – we had extremely ambitious plans to release three films by the end of the second year, and to do that on a budget which is a micro-fraction of that of the legacy studios. Instead we released ten films in 19 months, five of which starred or were directed by women.”

Pointing to Luc Besson’s knack of identifying future female superstars – including Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich – Fogelson adds Cara Delevigne to the list, whose talents are showcased in Besson’s upcoming sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson tells STACK it’s a film he’s wanted to make since he was ten years old. “It was originally a two-page comic published once a week and my father used to buy it for me. Every Wednesday I would look forward to reading those two pages. No Internet, no nothing, so you would have to wait a whole week to read more of the story.

“Loreli, at the time, was the first female superhero I had ever seen, and I was in love with her,” he says, introducing us to his latest leading lady, Delevigne, who now embodies his childhood fantasy on screen.“I always look for someone who has humanity… who you can trust. If you look at Cara’s Instagram, you would think she was crazy but, in life, she is grounded.

“The guy who created [Valerian], Jean Claude Mezieres, who I worked with on The Fifth Element, kept asking me: ‘Why are you doing this stupid f–ing film when we could be doing Valerian?’ At the time my answer was: ‘It’s not possible when there are only two characters and 1,000 aliens. But then James Cameron made the technique possible with Avatar, so now only imagination is the limit.

Europa Corp’s third film with STX this year will be The Renegades. Written by Besson, it’s perceived as the start of a new franchise in the mid-budget action genre, featuring a fresh ensemble cast including Ewen Bremner, Sullivan Stapleton and headed by veteran J.K. Simmons. This band of army SEALS undertake daring missions including retrieving stolen Nazi gold from the bottom of a lake in war-torn Bosnia.

One of STX’s most exciting releases is Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain – both of whom took to the CinemaCon stage.

Sorkin’s directorial debut is the true story of Molly Bloom, a woman who ran the most notorious and exclusive poker game in the US – her guests included world leaders, billionaires, athletes, rock stars and movie idols. When Bloom was arrested and urged to testify, all the world was watching.

“It’s a lot of fun to tell a story that people think they already know, but there’s so much more to this story than the tabloid version of it,” Sorkin says.

Chastain agrees: “I was familiar with the book and the tabloid stories, but to sit down with the real Molly Bloom and discover the incredible human being that she is was amazing. Also, there’s nothing better than Aaron Sorkin dialogue and to be able to do that was such a pleasure and an honour. I also really like that the film explores female power and what that means in society. That’s something that has always inspired me, and Molly’s journey takes us right into that world and explores her power.”

Giggling as she relates Sorkin’s unusual directing process of actually voicing her lines before she does, Chastain says: “I had to tell him, ‘Listen, I’m never going to be as good a Molly as you are.’”

“Directing Jessica is like driving a Lamborghini,” Sorkin notes. “You really don’t have to put your foot on the pedal too much. She is just phenomenal and so is Kevin Costner, Michael Cera and Idris Elba, although the movie is all on Jessica’s shoulders.”

Also among STX’s upcoming slate is The Circle, based on Dave Eggars’ bestseller. This thriller is at its best when Tom Hanks’ sinister figure tells Emma Watson’s recruit, “Knowing is good but knowing everything is better.”