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?

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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