13 Futuristic Facts About The Fifth Element

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If The Fifth Element—which was released 20 years ago today—isn't the goofiest, most outlandish sci-fi action movie ever made, it's not for lack of trying. Luc Besson's 23rd-century spectacle features a breakout performance by Milla Jovovich, and had Bruce Willis saving Earth from a giant rock one year before Armageddon. You probably think it's either great or terrible—there's not much in-between on this one. If you're on the "yes" side, here's some knowledge to add to your multi-pass next time you watch it. 

1. Léon: The Professional helped it get made. 

Mad Frenchman Luc Besson had five features under his belt when he started working on The Fifth Element in 1992. But his respectable track record wasn't enough to pull in the kind of financial backing he needed for a futuristic sci-fi adventure. So after some pre-production work (including meeting with designers; see below), he put The Fifth Element aside and—in the course of 11 months—wrote and directed Léon: The Professional, starring Jean Reno, 13-year-old Natalie Portman, and future The Fifth Element villain Gary Oldman. Léon's strong showing ($45 million worldwide, on a $16 million budget) gave the people who controlled the purse strings more confidence in Besson's ability to make The Fifth Element a success, and the project was put back on track. 

2. Besson kind of wishes it had taken even longer to get it made. 

He explained to The Playlist: "I was a little bit frustrated because I made the film right before all the new effects arrived. So when I did the film it was all blue screen, six hours, dots on the wall, takes forever to do one shot. Now, basically, you put the camera on your shoulder and then you run and then you add a couple of dinosaurs and spaceships." He said he'd love the chance to make another futuristic sci-fi film—maybe even a sequel to The Fifth Element—now that technology has made it easier. 

3. It was inspired by French comic books. 

As a teenager in the 1970s, Besson devoured his countrymen's comics (called "bandes dessinées" there—"drawn strips"), especially the sci-fi titles by artists like Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean "Moebius" Giraud. Besson enlisted those two to head up the production design team for The Fifth Element, and used their sketches and storyboards extensively. Giraud and Alejandro Jodorowsky later sued Besson for plagiarizing their comic The Incal in The Fifth Element, but the case was dismissed. (Giraud had, after all, worked directly with Besson on on the film.) Jodorowsky later said it was the comic's editor who'd filed the lawsuit, not him and Giraud. 

4. It borrowed some ideas from Plato.

Maybe you knew this, but Luc Besson didn't. He conceived The Fifth Element as a teenager in the 1970s, taking the four classical elements (earth, water, wind, and fire) and combining them to make a fifth (life). Turns out that a lot of ancient people had already come up with the same basic concept, including the Greek philosopher. Besson said, “When my father came across Plato’s writings on the subject, he came to me with the book and said, ‘Do you know that your movie is a remake?’ I read it, and was amazed to see the similarities between what Plato had written and what I had put into the script”

5. Besson is a hands-on director. Literally.

Besson usually operates the camera himself, which means he's right there in the middle of things rather than off to the side. He doesn't call "cut" between takes (he doesn't like to stop the momentum), but will instead simply talk to the actors and tell them what he needs. And if an actor isn't quite where Besson needs him or her to be, he'll take the actor by the shoulders and move him or her manually. For the actors who hadn't worked with Besson before, this informality took some getting used to.

6. Chris Tucker's role was meant for Prince, who thought the costumes were too effeminate. 

According to costume designer Jean Paul Gaultier, Besson had lined up Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Prince to play the leads in 1992, before financial problems delayed the project. (It's not clear whether any of them had officially signed on or were merely considering it.) Besson arranged for Gaultier to meet with Prince when the singer was in Paris so he could show him sketches of his designs. The meeting proved awkward (as one assumes many meetings with Prince are), and The Purple One later told Besson that he found the costumes "a bit too effeminate." It's entirely possible that the production delays would have prevented Prince from committing anyway, but it's fun to think about what Ruby Rhod would have been like in different hands. Quieter, probably.

7. At the time, it was the most expensive non-U.S. film in history.

It cost north of $70 million, or about the same as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released the same year. 

8. Nobody can agree on what year it takes place in. 

The first scene is explicitly set in 1914. Everything after that is said to be "300 years later," which we understand is just an approximation. Korben Dallas's alarm clock says the year is 2263. But the notes on the 1997 DVD edition say 2257, and Besson says 2259 in his book The Story of The Fifth Element

9. The cast didn't know what the Diva looked like until they saw her onstage.

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Besson wanted to capture everyone's natural astonished reactions the first time they saw the Diva Plavalaguna. To achieve this, he simply kept the actress (his then-wife, Maïwenn Le Besco) hidden behind a curtain until the time came to film her entrance. So while the idea of an outlandish blue alien hanging around the craft services table with Bruce Willis is amusing, it didn't happen that way.

10. Some of Milla Jovovich's high kicks were performed by a "leg on a stick."

The actress trained for her fight scenes, but she was still mostly a novice. In particular, she couldn't kick very high. As she explained it, they worked around this by using a (presumably fake) leg on a stick, held just below the frame. She would move her body as if to kick, and the leg operators would swing the thing up into the frame. Movie magic! 

11. Gary Oldman doesn't like the movie.

In 2014, Oldman told Playboy that he "can't bear it." To be fair, he doesn't seem to have much fondness for most of the movies he's been in.

12. It offered Luc Besson the opportunity to ruin his second marriage and launch his third.

The director had been married to Maïwenn Le Besco, who plays the Diva Plavalaguna, since 1992 (when she was 16 and he was 33, but that's another story). She didn't want to be in the film, adhering to the old adage that married people shouldn't work together and co-workers shouldn't marry each other. But when the actress Besson had cast as the Diva dropped out, Le Besco took the part and gave a memorable performance. Alas, Besson didn't share his wife's policy of not mixing work with relationships. He left her during the production for Milla Jovovich, whom he married at the end of 1997 and divorced two years later. He was also married once before Le Besco and once (so far) after Jovovich.  

13. A famous fashion designer worked his fingers to the bone to get the costumes right. 

Jean Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible of the fashion world who once gave Madonna conical breasts, designed the futuristic costumes for The Fifth Element—more than 1000 of them. He didn't just design them, either: For crowd scenes, where there might be hundreds of extras wearing his costumes, he'd go around making adjustments to ensure everyone looked right before the cameras rolled. So take a moment to appreciate the details next time you watch the movie, OK?

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The 45 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Ryan Gosling stars in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011).
Ryan Gosling stars in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011).
FilmDistrict

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 45 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Uncut Gems (2019)

Adam Sandler is Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who sees opportunity in every game and in every customer who walks into his Diamond District jewelry store. When NBA player Kevin Garnett insists on taking a rare opal out on loan and giving his championship ring as collateral, Howard can't resist the urge to use it as fuel for his vice. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the film has been called among the best of Sandler's career. —Jake Rossen

2. The Irishman (2019)

Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-making epic brings together three of the mob genre’s heaviest hitters in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. But the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who alleged he befriended and then betrayed union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), isn’t your typical organized crime movie. It takes its time to examine the toll of a criminal life, from the alienation of Sheeran’s family to the fate that awaits old men no longer capable of resolving their problems with violence. The de-aging effects aren’t always convincing, but Scorsese’s ability to weave a captivating gangster tale remains timeless. —JR

3. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family. —JR

4. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators. —JR

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Fans of the Coen brothers get a trail mix of stories in this anthology set in the Old West. A gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson) proves to be a little too arrogant when it comes to his skills; an armless and legless man (Harry Melling) who recites Shakespeare for awed onlookers begins to grow suspicious of his caretaker’s motives; a dog causes unexpected grief while following a wagon train. Knitted together, the six stories total are probably the closest we’ll get to a Coen serialized television series that this feature was once rumored to be. —JR

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may have been in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town. —JR

7. Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón’s tribute to his upbringing in 1970s Mexico City tells the story of a housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) watching over the children of her employers after their father runs off with his mistress. Cuarón’s film is a living photograph, an intensely personal story that holds no major surprises aside from the sheer craft it took to make it a reality. —JR

8. Shot Caller (2017)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) stars as a man who undergoes a startling transformation from meek inmate to violent and hardened criminal in this hard-boiled crime tale. —JR

9. Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig received acclaim—and two Oscar nominations—for her directorial debut about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) who struggles with family commitments and a desire to head to college across the country. —JR

10. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) turns in a reserved performance in this quiet character drama about a broken-down rodeo rider who manages a motel in Alaska. When a killer (Christopher Abbott) comes to town, Bernthal will have to find the courage to protect the life he's built for himself. —JR

11. Molly's Game (2017)

Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) adapted the book by Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier who shifted her focus to high-stakes card games for Hollywood's elite. Jessica Chastain is a force as Bloom, who orchestrates a thriving underground business before she's forced to orchestrate a way out of the legal consequences. Idris Elba co-stars as the lawyer who assists her. —JR

12. Okja (2017)

If you didn’t think the adventure of a young girl and her super pig could make you pump your fist in the air, it’s time to check out this quirky firecracker from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. Thought-provoking and breathtaking? That’ll do, super pig. —Scott Beggs

13. Green Room (2016)

Here's a film that starts with an uncomfortable arrangement (a young punk band has booked a gig for a den of Nazi skinheads) and descends from there into expertly crafted cold-sweat terror. Though it's primarily a siege scenario, the band barricading themselves in the dressing room after witnessing a skinhead-on-skinhead murder, the story goes in more directions (figuratively and geographically) than you'd expect. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier never lets it get stagnant. He barely lets you catch your breath. —Eric D. Snider

14. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins’s trailblazing film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, chronicles the life of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes each play the character at different ages) as he grows up under the burden of his own and others’ responses to his homosexuality. It’s a stirring portrait anchored by phenomenal performances (including an Oscar-earning turn from Mahershala Ali). —SB

15. Swiss Army Man (2016)

Vibrant, effervescent, and deeply weird, Paul Dano stars in this musical collage as a depressed loner stranded on an island until he finds a talking, farting corpse played by a very post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe. They save one another and, together, attempt to get back to civilization while singing the praises of Jurassic Park. —SB

16. The Witch (2015)

Delicately crafted with an eye toward historical accuracy, this existential horror film focuses on a New England farming family in the wilds of 1630 who believe a witch has cursed them. Anya Taylor-Joy’s standout performance acts as a guide through the possessed-goat-filled insanity. —SB

17. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks. —JR

18. Snowpiercer (2013)

Years before Bong Joon-ho made Oscar history in 2020 with Parasite, he adapted French graphic novel Le Transperceneige into Snowpiercer (which was recently turned into a television series with Jennifer Connelly). In a dystopian future—in sci-fi, there may not be any other kind—a train carrying cars separated by social class circles the globe. Soon, the have-nots (led by Chris Evans) decide to defy authority and get answers from those in charge. —JR

19. The Master (2012)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a steady but absorbing tale of a World War II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a charismatic philosopher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose teachings soon become the focus of a cult movement. Both Phoenix and Hoffman were nominated for Academy Awards. Of the films he has directed, which include 1997’s Boogie Nights and 2004’s There Will Be Blood, Anderson has said The Master is his favorite. —JR

20. Drive (2011)

On paper (like in the pulp novel it's based on), Nicolas Winding Refn's tale of a taciturn getaway driver whose life spins out of control is familiar. But on the screen, the combination is uniquely intoxicating—a fresh, lurid, melancholy neo-noir with a hint of existential crime thriller and, for some reason, an '80s-ish techno-pop soundtrack. Spinning its uncommonly entertaining yarn out of perilous characters and nightmarish scenarios, it feels dazzlingly original. —EDS

21. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Matthew McConaughey is Mick Haller, a lawyer who likes doing most of his business from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. When he accepts a case involving the son of a wealthy family, Haller discovers some disturbing similarities with an older case. —JR

22. The Town (2010)

Ben Affleck stars in and directs this deftly-constructed heist film about a career criminal who puts his team at risk when he begins a relationship with the employee of a bank he recently robbed. Going straight won't be easy—not with a Fenway Park robbery on deck. —JR

23. The Social Network (2010)

This exhilarating account of how a total jerk started Facebook is even more alarming given what we've learned about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook since then. Jesse Eisenberg's crisp lead performance, Aaron Sorkin's verbose dialogue, and David Fincher's energetic direction combine to make this a cautionary tale of Shakespearean proportions. It might be the best document of how the internet and social media have fundamentally changed us. —EDS

24. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

A rare adaptation for writer/director Edgar Wright brings Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular graphic novel series to life. Michael Cera is perfectly cast in the title role as an awkward young man who is determined to win the heart of the woman he loves (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) by literally winning video game-style battles against her “Seven Evil Exes.” Wright throws every trick in his book at the screen, and the result is a film you can watch again and again. —Matthew Jackson

25. A Single Man (2009)

Fashion designer Tom Ford turned in an impressive directorial debut about a closeted gay man (Colin Firth) in 1962 California who tries to keep himself together after the death of his longtime companion. Firth is incredible as an aching heart who can't bear to share the truth of his life in a world quick to judge him. —JR

26. A Serious Man (2009)

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a man whose faith is being tested at home, at work, and all points in between. A Serious Man is equal parts dark comedy and existential drama, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of why the Coen brothers are masters at their craft. —Jay Serafino

27. An Education (2009)

Romance and regret intertwine in this lush period drama about a young woman (Carey Mulligan) who falls for a man with a murky past (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1960s London. —JR

28. There Will Be Blood (2007)

It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher. —EDS

29. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Following the end of the Spanish Civil War, a young girl (Ivana Baquero) escapes the turmoil of her militant stepfather and ill mother by exploring a hidden labyrinth that houses a variety of strange creatures. Director Guillermo del Toro was praised for his specialty: weaving a fairy tale with sharp edges. —JR

30. Inside Man (2006)

Director Spike Lee puts a spin on the heist film genre: Clive Owen is a bank robber who has a plan for getting out of a bank surrounded by cops, including hostage negotiator Denzel Washington. —JR

31. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry collaborated on this deeply affecting story of a man (Jim Carrey) who realizes he can cure his heartbreak over a lost love (Kate Winslet) by having the same memory-erasing procedure she had. But affairs of the heart aren't so easily dismissed. Kaufman won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. —JR

32. The Notebook (2004)

Ryan Gosling developed a reputation for charming audiences in this adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel. When Gosling and Rachel McAdams fall in love, class separation keeps them apart. —JR

33. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this film about a talented boxer (Hilary Swank) who rises through the ranks to become an accomplished fighter. Both she and her coach (Eastwood) soon find themselves in a different kind of fight. —JR

34. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

The controversially sensual road movie that put Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna on the international map scored an Oscar nomination for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It's hard to believe he followed up this drug-and-sex-filled coming-of-age trip with a Harry Potter movie. —SB

35. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Writer Charlie Kaufman reached new dimensions of absurdist humor with this tale of a puppeteer (John Cusack) who finds a portal leading to the mind of celebrated actor John Malkovich (John Malkovich). Naturally, Cusack decides to charge admission for the privilege of being Malkovich for 15 minutes at a time. As always, being inside Kaufman's brain is the real attraction. —JR

36. Donnie Brasco (1997)

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino give knockout performances in this film based on the real-life exploits of Joseph Pistone, an FBI agent sent undercover to gain the trust of the mafia. His way in is Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), a floundering criminal who puts his trust in Pistone. Their friendship—always with the undercurrent of Pistone's inevitable betrayal—makes for a movie that transcends its mafia genre trappings. —JR

37. Jurassic Park (1993)

Weird science brings dinosaurs back to life in this classic monster film from Steven Spielberg. Charging through the rain, the rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex is as formidable a natural disaster as the director's infamous shark. —JR

38. Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg won a long-overdue Academy Award for this harrowing chronicle of the Holocaust told through the eyes of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German who listens to his conscience and rescues Jewish prisoners destined for the gas chambers by redirecting them to his factories. —JR

39. The Firm (1993)

Tom Cruise leads an impressive cast—including Gene Hackman and the late Wilford Brimley—in this adaptation of the John Grisham novel. Fresh out of law school, Mitch McDeere (Cruise) takes a lucrative job with a high-powered legal firm without realizing the partners don't necessarily obey the laws they practice. —JR

40. Howards End (1992)

James Ivory's adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1910 novel tells the story of free-spirited Londoner Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) who befriends a dying woman, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), who ends up bequeathing Margaret her beloved country home, Howards End. It's a stroke of luck for Margaret, who is about to be ousted from the home she has leased for years, but the Wilcox family feels that something is amiss. As Ruth's widower (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to investigate the situation, he finds himself falling under Margaret's spell. —Jennifer M. Wood

41. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Not only did a gory horror film win Best Picture at the Oscars in 1992, it also won the other four top categories—Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay—a feat achieved only twice before (by It Happened One Night and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Turns out America has a taste for cannibalism when it’s impeccably acted, smartly directed (by Jonathan Demme), and creepy as all hell. It remains one of the best examples of "art-house" horror. —EDS

42. She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s feature directorial debut also sees him playing one of three men under the thumb of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns). None of them can stand Nola’s gender-reversing approach to casual relationships, and the three hope to goad her into living a monogamous life. Nola, however, wants to pursue happiness on her own terms, not society’s. Lee’s love letter to Brooklyn is still a standout in his filmography, which quickly grew to include 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1992’s Malcom X. —JR

43. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

All four Indiana Jones movies are on Netflix, but the original still stands its ground as the best in the series and one of the finest action movies ever made. Indy (Harrison Ford) pursues the Lost Ark of the Covenant while evading and diverting Nazis chasing the power the Ark is believed to contain. —JR

44. Taxi Driver (1976)

Robert De Niro drew justifiable accolades for his portrayal of Travis Bickle, a mentally askew cab driver in the hellscape of 1970s New York City in director Martin Scorsese's gutter noir masterpiece. —JR

45. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Monty Python team delivers their best-known work, a silly and sharply satirical feature that uses the King Arthur legend as a springboard for sequences that feature brave-but-armless knights and highly aggressive rabbits. Opening to mixed reviews, it has since become a perennial entry in lists of the best comedies ever made. —JR