Despite his status as cinema’s surliest action icon, Bruce Willis has a surprisingly strong track record in the more fantastical realms of sci-fi having starred in 12 Monkeys, Looper and The Fifth Element, although the less said about 2009’s dismal Surrogates the better.
Luc Besson’s intergalactic extravaganza was the most expensive European production in history at the time with a budget of $90 million, and reigned for fourteen years as the highest-grossing French movie ever at the international box office, thanks to a global haul of $263 million seeing it become the ninth biggest commercial hit of 1997.
The Fifth Element tended to split critics down the middle, with many of them dismissing the overblown nature of the plot and the scenery chewing performances, but it’s since gone on to find itself a well-established cult favorite, and even when viewed today, it’s an entertainingly camp romp packed to the brim with impressive production design and costuming.
While you’d have thought the numbers would have had various studios around Hollywood clamoring for a sequel, co-writer Robert Mark Kamen explained that The Fifth Element didn’t perform well enough domestically to convince any potential backers that another round would have been worth the investment.
“The script was actually 180 pages, and then Luc 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 had, and working it into a script.”
You can completely understand why this would be the case, with sequels almost always tending to be more expensive than their predecessors, and funnelling at least $100 million into a follow-up for The Fifth Element that wasn’t guaranteed to play well with audiences in the United States was, and still is, viewed with skepticism by the major studios. That’s part of the reason why Besson would start funding and producing his own output through his EuropaCorp company, cutting out the middle men to ensure there was nobody to turn him down.