The Fifth Element scifi film retrospective: all’s Fifth that Ends Fifth?

Rowan J Coleman is here for his famous The Fifth Element scifi film retrospective. Raise your hand if, in 1997, you walked into a movie theater expecting to watch a run-of-the-mill action-packed sci-fi film and instead found yourself caught in a whirlwind of eccentric costumes, absurd plot twists, and a cacophony of alien languages – all wrapped in a package delivered by a French director. If your hand is in the air, you’re not alone. Welcome, fellow victims of the flamboyant spectacle known as ‘The Fifth Element.’

Created by a man who must have a secret time machine (how else could Luc Besson conceptualize this riotous blend of future and past at 16?), ‘The Fifth Element’ is an opera of chaos set against the backdrop of the 23rd century. With a narrative as scattered as Bruce Willis’ smirk, it’s hard not to be left wide-eyed, open-mouthed, and utterly entertained.

Our protagonist, Willis’ Korben Dallas, is a cab-driving, ex-special forces major tasked with saving the Earth. Because, well, who better to rescue humanity from impending doom than a cab driver with a sardonic wit, a trigger-happy finger, and an uncanny knack for catching falling alien women from the sky?

At the heart of the film’s comic absurdity is the presence of the titular Fifth Element, a supreme being named Leeloo. Played with a perfect blend of confusion and innocence by Milla Jovovich, Leeloo’s function is to be the ultimate weapon against an evil cosmic entity. She is an entity created from an armored glove, a confused yet resilient damsel in futuristic distress, and – let’s face it – an absolute hair fashion trendsetter.

The cast of ‘The Fifth Element’ is as varied as its plot, filled with unforgettable characters. Take Gary Oldman’s Zorg, a malevolent industrialist with a hairstyle that appears to be inspired by Dracula’s slicked-back elegance, with an added touch of southern dandy. Then there’s Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod, a motormouthed talk-show host who dresses as though he rolled around in a craft store clearance sale.

These and other notable performances contribute to the film’s distinctive charm. Yet, like a particularly strong cheese, they can be polarizing. Tucker’s Rhod, for instance, was hailed as a “special effect” by some, while others labeled it a “performance that ruined movies.” All we can say is that it certainly was…loud.

It’s worth mentioning that the costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Yes, that Gaultier. The same person who’d likely dress a peacock in a three-piece suit if given the chance. You can expect nothing less than a grandiose, kitschy visual feast that leaves your eyes both amused and slightly baffled.

Remember the part where Bruce Willis saves the world? Here’s the kicker: He does it with the power of… wait for it… love! It’s either the most profound metaphor for the essence of human existence or the cheapest narrative get-out-of-jail-free card. Either way, we’re here for the ridiculous ride.

Despite its dazzlingly convoluted plot and an ambivalent critical reception, ‘The Fifth Element’ remains a crowd-pleaser. It’s no surprise that it holds the title of being the highest-grossing French film until 2011. After all, who could resist the charm of a cat-eared, leopard-skin-attired, high-pitched radio host, a cab driver saving the world, and an orange-haired supreme being communicating in an alien language?

In the years since its release, The Fifth Element has become a cult classic, with fans championing its gleeful over-the-top style and critics accepting its place as a “so-bad-it’s-good” film. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a UFO sighting – bizarre, inexplicable, but undeniably fun.

Fifth Element's opera - now, not so impossible for a human to sing!
Fifth Element’s opera – now, not so impossible for a human to sing!


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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