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10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About 'The Fifth Element'

Updated July 23, 2021 1.4k votes 219 voters 22.5k views10 items

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1997's The Fifth Element ranks as one of the great cult classics of sci-fi - and as one of the downright weirdest films ever made. Based entirely on a world and characters created by director Luc Besson, The Fifth Element tells the story of an everyman, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), who meets a mysterious visitor from another world, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), and soon gets wrapped up in a mission to save the galaxy from destruction at the hands of the nefarious Zorg (Gary Oldman), an arms dealer who wants to seize four mystical stones. 

The Fifth Element took many risks, and although it didn't quite get a favorable critical reception at first, it's found its place in viewers' hearts as a unique, idiosyncratic adventure that rewards multiple viewings. Here's how it all happened.

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  • The Fifth Element wasn't based on a successful, previously established property, so securing financing would have been extremely challenging without an established star.

    Director Luc Besson ran into Bruce Willis while having lunch with Willis's wife Demi Moore, and told him about the project. Besson later gave Willis the script; two hours later, Willis agreed to do the movie. Besson later publicly thanked Willis for making the movie happen.

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    Gary Oldman Played Zorg As Ross Perot Mixed With Bugs Bunny

    The villain of the movie is Jean Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, an arms dealer who wants to capture the four mystical stones that are necessary to protect Earth from an ancient evil. He's memorable both for his partially shaved head and his distinctive Southern accent. Oldman described him as a "comic book villain" who wants to take over the universe. 

    Oldman said he based Zorg's voice and overall affect on a combination of third-party U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot and Bugs Bunny.

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    Luc Besson And Milla Jovovich Wrote Each Other Letters In Leeloo’s ‘Divine Language’

    Luc Besson is known for having a highly specific vision as a director, and in the case of The Fifth Element, he felt that he personally needed to fall in love with the actor playing Leeloo. Meanwhile, star Milla Jovovich, who played Leeloo, had to prepare for the role by transforming herself into a different person. Part of that process involved learning Leeloo's native language, which Besson invented for the film. 

    "That language, I wrote a dictionary with 500 words," Besson recalled. "But we were the only two who spoke it on the set. She had to learn it, and then we could talk to each other in it."

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  • Bruce Willis's character, Korben Dallas, is another unexpected choice for a science-fiction film. Rather than a super-soldier or a legendary hero, he's just a regular taxi driver in the 23rd century.

    Besson later said that he finds traditional muscular heroes to be boring, preferring everyman types who don't know how to solve every problem. Or, as Bruce Willis said, "He's an archetype. You're supposed to like those kinds of characters." 

    Besson specifically made Korben a taxi driver because his father had worked as one for a second job to help support the young Besson. In fact, many of Besson's films feature virtuous taxi-driver characters in tribute to the director's dad.

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