Luc Besson wrote the original screenplay when he was in high school. He had conceived the story of the film and invented the world of the film, as a child, so he could escape his lonely childhood. He began writing the script when he was 16, though it was not released in cinemas until he was 38.
The "Divine Language" spoken by Leeloo was invented by director Luc Besson and further refined by Milla Jovovich, who had little trouble learning and developing it, as she was already fluent in 4 languages. The language had only 400 words. He and Milla Jovovich held conversations and wrote letters to each other in the language as practice. By the end of filming they were able to have full conversations in this language.
In most shots of Gary Oldman, there is a circle around his head. In fact, a circle in the middle of the frame is a near-constant motif in this film. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, is more often framed by a rectangle or doorway behind him.
When composer Eric Serra showed soprano Inva Mula (who dubs the voice of the Diva) the sheet music for the Diva Dance, she reportedly smiled and relayed to him that some of the notes written were not humanly possible to achieve because the human voice cannot change notes that fast. Hence, she performed the notes in isolation - one by one, as opposed to consecutively singing them all together and they digitized the notes to fit the music. There are a few moments when you can hear the differences in the vocal tones of The Diva's voice.
The flying traffic created by the visual effects team at Digital Domain allowed artists to create personalized license plates. Though never visible in the film, the state slogan printed on all license plates reads, "New York, The F***-You State."
When filming began, the production decided to dye Milla Jovovich's hair from its natural brown color to her character's signature orange color. However, due to the fact that her hair had to be re-dyed regularly to maintain the bright color, Milla's hair quickly became too damaged and broken to withstand the dye. Eventually a wig was created to match the color and style of Leeloo's hair, and was used for the remainder of the production.
At the time, it was the most expensive film ever produced outside of Hollywood, most expensive production in Gaumont's history, and at eighty million U.S. dollars, the visual effects budget of the film was the highest of its time.
Many of the Mangalores aboard the Fhloston Paradise can be seen wearing "combat goggles". This was a practical solution to hide the actors' eyes (which were visible through the masks) and save money on makeup (contact lenses and coloring around the eyes).
Luc Besson cast Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, because "Milla has the physical thing, she can be from the past or the future. She can be an Egyptian or a Roman. She can be Nefertiti and she can be from outer space. That was one thing that I liked physically about her."
According to the Ultimate Edition DVD, Prince and Lenny Kravitz were sources of inspiration for the part of Ruby Rhod, both were even considered for the role as well, with Prince being the first choice for the role of Ruby Rhod.
Plavalaguna, Diva's name, is actually composed of two words: Plava and Laguna. "Plava" in Serbian, Croatian, Montenigrin and Bosnian language means Blue (feminine, masculine would be "plav"). "Laguna" in the same languages means lagoon. So her name is Blue Lagoon. (Milla Jovovich also played Lilli in Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991).) Diva's name has been inspired by the Plava Laguna resort in Porec, Croatia, where Luc Besson holidayed a few times.
Luc Besson had been in a relationship with Maïwenn, who played the role of Diva Plavalaguna, for six years when filming commenced. However, he left her for Milla Jovovich during filming. Jovovich and Besson later married, but divorced in 1999.
As Korben and Leeloo approach an intersection in his cab, the camera whips forward to reveal to the audience, that six police cars are waiting for him. In the far background, behind the police cars, is a chase between a police car and a long black car complete with muzzle flashes which represent gun fire between the two cars. Ever an eye for detail, Luc Besson noticed the embellishment the first time the visual effects shot was reviewed, thought that it was funny, and it remains in the final film.
Nick Dudman's creature crew created a group of spindly, long-nosed alien garbage collectors that never made it to the final film. In the scenes at the spaceport, there's a huge pile of garbage which has gone uncollected because the garbage collectors are on strike (as explained in some dialogue). These creatures would have been seen amidst the garbage, holding sandwich board signs reading "On strike" if they had made it to the final cut.
Cartoonist Jean-Claude Mézières of 'My Fifth Element' also says that Luc Besson approached him for ideas, telling him: "I want to make a movie based on your visuals. But I am ready to pay you for the work." The nuance is because there has long been a controversy that many elements in the Star Wars series (several aliens, Darth Vader's costume, Leia's golden bikini, Han Solo's carbonite) were lifted almost unmodified out of Valerian (in particular 'L'Empire des Mille Planètes', published in 1971) - of which George Lucas is known to own several original editions, as seen during interviews in his study.
The only phrases from Leeloo's alien language that are included in the captioning are "mlarta," "big ba-dah big boom," "akta," "seno akta gamat," "san agamat chay bet. Envolet," "danko," "domo danko," and "apipoulai." Everything else appears as Unknown Language or, after it's specified, the Divine Language.
The parasites being disinfected from the landing gear of the spaceship, (bound for Fhloston Paradise) by a team in sealed suits, are actually Boglins, the 1980s puppet toys. With them is a Bumble Ball, a battery-operated shaking and vibrating ball covered with rubber knobs.
Zorg's monologue about destruction creating productivity is actually a classic economics fallacy exposed in "The Parable of the Broken Window" written by French economist Frederic Bastiat in 1850. The full essay is called "Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas" ("That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen").
Luc Besson demanded that most of the action shots in the film take place in broad daylight, as he was reportedly tired of the dark spaceship corridors and dimly lit planets common in science fiction films, and wanted a brighter "cheerfully crazy" look as opposed to a gloomy, realistic one.
When the Mondoshawan aliens appear in 1914 Egypt, the Professor, panicking, says, "A... A... Are you German?" In the German version he says "Sind Sie... hier von der Erde?" which roughly translates as "Are you from here... Earth?"
Korben's termination notice reads, in part, "Notice of termination of your contract, effective as of today. Due to violation of codes, HFGY56, 74HVB, 00JGHY, MNH356585, MCNH485757, 0478N - your engagement with this company finishes immediately. For, and on behalf of, ZORG." So it turns out Korben Dallas worked for Zorg when he drove his taxi, though this would have been implied anyway, as in the previous scene, Zorg gave the order for 1 million of his workers to be fired.
Bruce Willis spoke favorably of the film in a 1999 interview, concluding "it was a real fun movie to make." Chris Tucker and Milla Jovovich also spoke favorably of both their experiences making the film and working with Luc Besson, in interviews on the Ultimate Edition DVD; Jovovich described Besson as "the first really amazing director I had worked with."
Leeloo's full name is "Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat", as sourced by various media including Luc Besson's film diary (The Adventure and Discovery of a Film: The Story of The Fifth Element), a French promotional poster used in subways to advertise the film, and the video game manual. "Lekarariba" is a misspelling based in the script and thus transferred to the video subtitles as well. Leeloo speaks her "second" name with a hard "T" sound.
Part of the song that the Diva sings is from the opera "Lucia Di Lammermoor", and very often goes by the title "The Mad Song", as it is sung by Lucia just after she murders Arturo (whom she was forced to marry) on their wedding day. Lucia is hallucinating that she has married the man she really loves: Edgardo, her brother's nemesis.
Luc Besson, an admitted comic book fan, had two famous French comic book artists in mind for the film's visual style when he started writing the movie in high school. Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jean-Claude Mézières. Both artists have long-standing comic book series in France. Moebius is best known for "Blueberry" and the (French) Magazine and (US) movie Heavy Metal (1981). Mézières is best known for the "Valerian" series. Both series are still in production today. Moebius and Mezieres, who attended art school together but had never collaborated on a project until The Fifth Element (1997), started renderings for the film in the early '90s and are responsible for the majority of the over all look of the film, including the vehicles, spacecrafts, buildings, human characters and aliens. However, only Giraud is credited, and even then he wasn't even granted a premium when the movie was eventually produced.
The text scrolling across a Times Square theater marquee as Korben dives down through traffic is actually an excerpt from an e-mail dispute between several artists at Digital Domain. Other signs on digital and practical, miniature buildings contain similar in-jokes and references and the large cylindrical tanker truck that Korben's cab almost hits at the end of his descent is decorated with the logo of a Venice, California, pizza parlor that was a favorite of Digital Domain artists.
Gary Oldman is such a good friend of Luc Besson, he took the part without reading the script, doing this film to repay Besson for partly financing his film Nil by Mouth (1997). Asked in a 2014 interview if he liked the film, Oldman stated, "Oh no. I can't bear it." He had explained in 2011: "It was me singing for my supper, because Luc had come in and partly financed my film."
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jean Giraud sued Luc Besson after the film was released, claiming that it had plagiarised their comic The Incal. Giraud sued for 13.1 million euros for unfair competition, 9 million euros in damages and interest and two to five percent of the net operating revenues of the film. Jodorowsky sued for 700,000 euros. The case was dismissed in 2004 on the grounds that only "tiny fragments" of the comic had been used and also because Giraud had been hired by Besson to work on the film before the allegations were made.
Mac McDonald, who plays a New York City policeman in the movie, is best known for playing Captain Ed Hollister in the long-running BBC science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf (1988), which he played in 1988, and again in 1999.
In every New York City visual effects scene with flying traffic, there is a flying bus with the Digital Domain (the facility responsible for most of the visual effects) internal reference, or shot name, stenciled on the roof of a bus. The instructions for the visual effects team were to include one bus with the shot name, but then all other buses and traffic could have personal references including birthdays, initials, etc. The front marquee for a bus' destination and side billboards were customized by the artists at Digital Domain to reference, invisibly or subliminally, some personal stamp or message.
Bruce Willis was initially reluctant to do the film, as the film was considered risky after his previous two films, Hudson Hawk (1991) and Billy Bathgate (1991), had been received poorly. Later on, Luc Besson was in 'Barry Josephson''s office when Willis called regarding a different film. Besson asked to speak to Willis "just to say hello", and told him that the project was finally going ahead, explaining the decision to go with a less expensive actor. After a short silence, Willis stated "If I like the film, we can always come to an arrangement"; he agreed to take on the role after reading the script.
The original storyline was set in the year 2300, and was about a "nobody" named Zaltman Bleros (later renamed Korben Dallas) who wins a trip to the Club Med resort on the planet Fhloston Paradise. There he meets Leeloo, a "sand-girl" who has the "beauty of youth" despite being over 2,000 years old.
While cartoonist Jean-Claude Mézières isn't directly credited in the movie, he is indeed the confirmed author of most sets, as his album "The Extras of Mezieres v.2: My Fifth Element Sets for the Film by Luc Besson" (Les Extras De Mezieres n.2: Mon cinquième élément decours pour le film du Luc Besson) was published at the same time the movie came out in France, reusing the movie's logo on the cover. Similarly, at the time the movie was being shot, Christin and Mézières published 'Les cercles du pouvoir' which contained a hovercraft taxi (which led Luc Besson to rewrite the movie's opening scenes) and a caricature of Besson.
Early in the film, Zorg (Gary Oldman) quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Oldman's costar, Bruce Willis, released an album on Motown Records with that title in the 1980s. 11 years later, Heath Ledger said a variation of the famous line in The Dark Knight (2008) (also starring Gary Oldman).
The windows of the buildings were cited by the visual effects team as one of the most time-consuming tasks, along with details behind the windows, such as furniture, blinds, lightboxes and tiny pieces of flat artwork.
In the taxi scene after Lilo has crashed through the roof, the police show up to winch the taxicab closer to the police car. Both before and after the taxi has the winch cable attached, the police officer speaking on a bullhorn can clearly be seen mouthing the words "thank you for your help". In post-production it was re-dubbed to "thank you for your cooperation". This is in reference to RoboCop (1987). If you'll notice, the helmets worn by the police officers kind of resemble the helmet worn by Robocop. Hence the re-dubbing.
In an original draft of the script, Zorg would have faced Korben during the hotel evacuation, where the latter beat up the former for firing him and attacking Leeloo before stealing his ship (the ZF-1 was out of ammo, which resulted in Zorg's breakdown). Zorg then survives the destruction of the hotel with the personal shield of the ZF-1, only to land in a massive glacier. He then calls his secretary to send another ship, only for the battery in his ZF-1 phone to fail. That ending is featured in the novalization.
A set of alien garbage collectors were created for a shot that was cut from the final film. A huge pile of garbage has gone uncollected, which is still referenced in the film. The creatures would have been seen holding sandwich boards saying "On Strike" beside the garbage.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the movie, when Korben's mother calls and the President passes off the phone, you can hear her complaining, "I might as well throw myself into traffic, Saran Wrap myself to the bed and pretend my child is suffocating me..." She is listing off previous scenes within the movie.
The number 5 appears in the movie on several occasions: There are five elements; Korben Dallas' license had five points left; Zorg stops his bomb with five seconds remaining on the timer, and the Mangalore's bomb starts with a five second timer. Ruby Rhod, near the end of the movie, after the alien planet is stopped, says, "There's a bomb going off every five minutes!", and the doctor at the end says that Leeloo and Korben need five more minutes. Ruby Rhod's show is at 5 o'clock.
When Zorg is leaving the Mangalores behind with the one crate of weapons, setting them up to kill themselves with the self-destruct buttons he failed to tell them about, he talks to his Right Arm about how he doesn't like warriors like the Mangalores because they fight for hopeless causes. Right Arm says they fight for "Honor." Zorg's response is "Honor's killed millions of people, hasn't saved a single one." Later, on Fhloston Paradise, the Mangalores set off the bomb that kills Zorg after saying, "For the honor."
Director Luc Besson has stated in several sources (among them his own production diary), that the Fifth Element is "a representation of life, love, and art," and that "The Fifth Element is a symbol of life." (Tele Rapide', February 28-March 6, 1998).
The movie begins in Egypt in 1914. When the Mondoshawans arrive at the temple, one of them tells the priest that in 300 years when evil returns, so will they. The next scene shows the future and "300 Years Later" is displayed on the screen. But when Korben wakes up suddenly, after the Dark Planet destroys the military spaceship, there is a clear yellow ticket above his bed with the date and time of 2:00 a.m., March 18, 2263. That is 349 years from 1914. Not coinciding with the "300 Years Later" displayed on the screen for the existing future year.
In the final scene, a scientist says "one minute" referring to the length of time before "Mr. Shadow" enters Earth's atmosphere. It actually takes 1:49 from that moment until the 5th Element engages and stops him.