When it comes to sci-fi cinema, few movies are as bizarrely entertaining as The Fifth Element, the 1997 English-language French science-fiction action film directed and co-written by Luc Besson. The movie starred an eclectic cast that included Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, and Gary Oldman. In a conversation with the movie’s co-writer, Robert Kamen, it was revealed that the original plan had been to make a sequel to The Fifth Element, that fell through because the first film underperformed at the box-office.
“[The script for The Fifth Element] was actually 180 pages, and then [Luc Besson] added a second part to it, which made no sense either. We were going to do it as a sequel, but it made no sense, and The Fifth Element wasn’t big enough here. It was huge in the rest of the world, and it’s a classic, but it only did $75 million here or $80 million. It was way ahead of its time. So we never did the sequel, and the sequel would have been taking the other 180-page thing [Luc Besson] had and working it into a script.”
The story behind the making The Fifth Element is as much a clash of cultures as the movie itself, which boasted a strange, captivating European arthouse aesthetic filtered through the prism of raw commercial Hollywood. It tells the story of a taxicab driver, played by Willis, who takes it upon himself to protect the life of a strang, humanoid creature, played by Jovovich, whose existence is directly linked to the survival of the human race against a malevolent cosmic entity.
According to Kamen, he was working with Warner Brothers as a script doctor when the producer of Gran Torino, Bill Gerber, asked him to take a look at a strange new script written by a guy named Luc Besson, who had made La Femme Nikita. Kamen had trouble understanding the script, but he considered Besson a cinematic genius based on his previous work, and so agreed to meet the filmmaker. Unfortunately, the meeting was far from a success.
“I said, “I’ll come in and meet him.” [Billy] said, “Great.” So I come in and meet the guy, and I tell him everything that’s wrong with his script. He doesn’t get all of it because his English wasn’t that great. And he sits there, and I could see that he was getting more and more pissed off. He’s a French auteur, I’m just this fucking Hollywood screenwriter. And at the end of the meeting, Billy called me up, he said, “Dude, you just ruined that relationship.” Because all I had done was I just kept saying what a huge piece of shit this script was.”
Kamen naturally concluded that was the last he would ever hear about The Fifth Element. But to his surprise, Besson called him a week later and asked for his help in writing the script. Soon, Kamen was on a plane to Paris, where a three-day brainstorming session with Besson turned into a three-week tour of the studio in which the work was being done to bring to life the alien world of The Fifth Element. Kamen and Besson were finally able to create a script they were satisfied with, and thus began the journey, which lasted for four more years, to create a movie that many consider a highlight of ’90s sci-fi along with The Matrix. This news originated at Uproxx.