Why The Fifth Element never got a sequel

After cutting his teeth on pulpy, hyper-stylistic action fare in his native France, Luc Besson finally caught the eye of Hollywood with his 1990 Golden Globe-nominated action thriller La Femme Nikita. On the strength of that film and the acclaimed Leon: The Professional, Besson quickly made a name for himself as a visually distinctive director with a fondness for genre fare—a reputation he giddily carried into 1997's whacked-out space opera The Fifth Element.

Set largely in the 23rd century and starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element was the most hotly anticipated film of Besson's young career when it premiered. Once it blasted its way into theaters, the film more than delivered on the gonzo set pieces and over-the-top action that Besson's fans had come to expect—even if it didn't quite break the U.S. box office. Still, it earned a fiercely devoted following, one that's only grown over the years. In this franchise-hungry era, it might seem surprising that we never got a sequel, but as it turns out, there may be a few good reasons The Fifth Element has never seen a second act.

Special effect frustrations

When The Fifth Element arrived in theaters, it was regarded as bona fide special effects bonanza. Even if some critics were less than satisfied by film's overall structure, they still marveled at Besson's eye—yet despite the impressive visuals, Besson has always insisted that the effects didn't quite live up to his vision because the existing technology limited the film—and frustratingly complicated production. Part of the reason Besson didn't go right into a sequel is because he wanted to wait for technology to catch up, but even after all the incredible advances we've seen in special effects since the release of The Fifth Element, he still seems hesitant to continue that story on the big screen.

It wasn't a huge hit

The Fifth Element didn't fare particularly well during its theatrical release in the United States—an even bigger issue than many fans might realize, because in 1997, its $93 million price tag made it the most expensive film ever produced outside of Hollywood. While the film would go on to break some international box office records by pulling in $263 million worldwide, it scored just $63 million of that take from U.S. theaters, and that lack of muscle in the U.S. market is likely a big reason an equally expensive sequel wasn't quick to get the green light.

Korben and Leeloo's story felt pretty complete

Of course, the lack of a sequel to The Fifth Element may stem from another very simple fact: Korben and Leeloo's story feels pretty complete at the end of the film. He's rediscovered his vigor for life, she's found a reason to want to save the Earth, the pair have found love together, and in the process, they've literally brought peace to the galaxy. That ending is basically the definition of "gift-wrapped."

Sure, Besson could probably find a clever way to shake these two out of their amorous bliss, but continuing that story hardly seems necessary. At this point it might feel more like a cash grab, and fans would hate to see The Fifth Element's legacy tarnished by an unnecessary second act. Some things are worth saving, after all.

Bruce Willis may be too old

Even if Besson could find that clever way to get Korben and Leeloo back into fight mode, the fact is that Bruce Willis was 42 when The Fifth Element was released—and that was decades ago. While Willis has certainly kept himself in shape over the years, a return to the action-packed world of The Fifth Element would involve an intense degree of physical conditioning and agility training from the star. Now in his 60s, Willis may be a little too far past his physical prime to make that sort of commitment—though we're certain he can still capture the sly, stodgy edge that made Korben Dallas so much fun to root for.

Jovovich and Besson have a past

If you've been watching Jovovich kick ass and take names in the Resident Evil franchise over the years, you know the physical demands of a return to her The Fifth Element role are less of an issue than they might be for her co-star. Of course, Jovovich also has a more personal reason to avoid a return. She actually fell in love with Luc Besson during the original film's production, and married him not long after its premiere.

Their wedded bliss didn't last, though. They ran into trouble while working together on Besson's 1999 historical drama The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. According to Jovovich, they worked better on set than off; she's even been quoted as saying, "If we could make movies 365 days a year, we would still be together." If downtime between movies doomed the couple, the overall reception for The Messenger certainly didn't help. The film flopped, and the couple divorced the same year. Though the pair looked quite friendly at the Fifth Element's 20th anniversary screening, they may not be in any rush to work together again.

Besson took a long break from directing

After the mess that was The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and the dissolution of his marriage to Jovovich, Luc Besson may have decided to take a break and refocus his energy. He had, after all, spent nearly two decades bringing his hyper-stylized vision to theaters across the globe. Who wouldn't need a little time to recharge? Besson had a little more on his mind, though. While fans clamored for more of the director's movies—particularly a followup to The Fifth Element—he spent the next six years avoiding the director's chair altogether, making a return to Korben and Leeloo's story all the less likely in the process.

Besson may prefer writing

Besson's break from directing didn't mean he wasn't involved in movies. Quite the contrary, in fact: he started cranking out screenplays with surprising regularity. Between 1999 and his directorial return with 2005's Angel-A, Besson was credited no fewer than 14 times as a screenwriter. Those films—including Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter, Taxi and Revolver—are rife with Besson staples like fierce women, tight-lipped tough guys, and giddy, no-holds-barred action and comedy. Even since he's started directing his own scripts again, he's kept himself more than busy as a writer—so much so that you have to wonder if he'd have time to direct a sequel to The Fifth Element, or whether anyone would want to see a second chapter without him in the director's chair.

Besson may have an aversion to directing sequels

Besson has never shied away from sequels as a writer. He's even helped forge a couple of franchises over the years with The Transporter and Taken. Still, save for a couple of animated sequels to 2006's Arthur and the Incredibles, he's almost completely avoided revisiting his creations as a director; he's even looked for another filmmaker to take the reins on the proposed sequel to his 2014 Scarlett Johansson-led sci-fi action hit Lucy. Considering the history, it's easy to assume Besson's general resistance to repeating himself as a director is a big reason he hasn't revisited The Fifth Element. Though you could make an argument that his fondness for "girls with guns" is beginning to feel a little bit repetitious, it's tough to criticize a filmmaker for continuing to bring strong female heroes to the big screen. 

There was a bigger story, and Besson abandoned it

Besson first conceived the Fifth Element story in high school and originally envisioned the story as a novel. That novel became an epic trilogy, but by the time he brought his vision to the big screen, he'd condensed it into 126 minutes—which obviously means he left a ton of content out of his finished script. Based on that, you'd have to assume there's still a ton of story left to tell, but it's worth wondering how much of that story was actually worth telling to begin with—and whether Besson would ever want to revisit it. 

A spiritual sequel?

As resistant as he's been to actually doing it, Besson has expressed a desire to return to the world of The Fifth Element on more than one occasion. In recent interviews, he's suggested that if he did revisit that world, it may not be in the context of a direct continuation of Korben and Leeloo's story. Which would be fine—he opened up an entire galaxy in The Fifth Element, one packed to the brim with bandits and aliens and all manner of intriguing individuals. Besson barely scratched the surface of that galaxy with The Fifth Element, and hundreds of stories could still be told within.

As it happens, Besson may have done just that with 2017's sci-fi action outing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Given that it looks and feels similar to the world he created in 1997, it's almost impossible not to imagine Valerian taking place somewhere in the same tripped-out future as The Fifth Element. There's a key difference, however: Valerian isn't based on his own original idea. Instead, it's an adaptation of a long-running French comic.

Valerian wasn't a huge hit either

If you were counting on Valerian to get producers primed to pony up some Benjamins for a true sequel to The Fifth Element, you may not want to hold your breath. It actually topped The Fifth Element as the most expensive European film ever produced—and it didn't exactly set any box office records, bringing in just over $225 million in worldwide ticket sales. While most producers might be ecstatic with those numbers, they don't sound quite as hot when you take Valerian's $177 million budget into account, and consider the costs of marketing and promotion on top of that. When the profit margin is that low, one has to wonder if studios might start thinking twice before they back Besson on another big-budget feature.

Never say never

Though there's an argument to be made that it's often better to leave your fanbase wanting more, Besson still shows a lot of affection for the world of The Fifth Element, and that would seem to leave the door permanently open—if only slightly—for a sequel. Even if Korben and Leeloo aren't at the center of the story, we'd still love to see where Besson might take things next—just as long as it isn't a Ruby Rhod origin story. All due respect to Besson and Chris Tucker, but some characters are just more fun in small doses.