WTF Happened to The Fifth Element?

Multipass! In this episode of WTF Happened to this Movie, we return to Luc Besson’s cult sci-fi classic The Fifth Element!

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

I hope you’re feeling super green today, my fellow meat popsicles, because we’re looking back on Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element! Besson’s comedic and action-packed sci-fi gem is endlessly quotable, uproariously funny, and chock full of outstanding performances from actors like Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, and the late Ian Holm. Truly bizarre and imaginative, The Fifth Element revolves around a cab driver (Willis) who becomes an integral part of a prophesized event and activation of a cosmic weapon. As the sands of time trickle down, the cab driver leads a band of misfits in their search for salvation as evil encroaches from all sides.

Besson began the construction of The Fifth Element when he was 16 years old. The original concept resembles the film we know and love, though early drafts include name changes, alternate factions, and a world yet to be inspired by comic artists Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières. Like many productions throughout film history, The Fifth Element encountered setbacks during production, including a shutdown that almost ended the project. When the ball started rolling again, Besson made concessions to keep the project on the rails.

Featuring state-of-the-art effectsThe Fifth Element displays cutting-edge science-fiction goodness, with a bustling neo-New York, an elaborate space cruise, and a madcap plot that bounces from one quirky character to the next. The film’s events culminate in an emotional finale promoting love, unity, and hope for the future.

While Besson always believed in The Fifth Element, others stood in the way of bringing this cult classic to screens. Questionable cast inquiries, budget concerns, filming location conundrums, and set design drawbacks all contributed to a turbulent production, with Besson determined to bring his teenage dream to audiences worldwide.

These details beg the question: What happened to The Fifth Element? How did one of the most memorable films in the science fiction genre stumble onto the screen? Did Mel Gibson almost star as Korben Dallas? Was Milla Jovovich selected from hundreds to star as Leeloo? Did Besson invent a new language for the film? Join us as we look back on The Fifth Element and find out!

WTF Happened to The Fifth Element is written, narrated, and edited by Ric Solomon. Let us know what you think of The Fifth Element in the comments below!

About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.