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Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element
This article is about re-watchable movies. Not just any re-watchable film that lands on cable. I’m referring to the movie that we quote endlessly. The pieces of cinema that, if they appear on a screen, we immediately plop down on a couch, seat, throne, whatever Jose Altuve suggests, and so on, and watch them without question.
In the past 26 months, three of my friends have become first-time parents. Two of my brothers had their first sons. To kill the time of being a stay-at-home dad, one of them binge-watched all of 2016's OJ Simpson-related
Moana, if you don't recall was a huge, huge deal last year. It was the animated Disney film starring The Rock as a hybrid version of himself and his grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia. Lin-Manuel Miranda songs populated the soundtrack, and it was a pretty standard Disney movie full of life lessons and more. By her estimate, my best friend's daughter has watched that movie no less than 700 times, morning, noon and night. Had that child been born anywhere from 2010 to 2014, the film that became the most re-watched film in that household would have been Frozen. Or maybe even Toy Story 3. It is scientifically safe to assume that people who have young children will not get to pass on the adult films they wound up re-watching over and over again. Instead, they will be tortured with theme songs and characters from their child's favorite cartoon until the child eventually gets sick of it.
In my childhood, the Disney films of the '90s became the first things I watched obsessively: Aladdin, then The Lion King and Space Jam. My friends swore up and down by Hercules, The Aristocats and the first Toy Story. None of them could compare to my ultimate "re-watchable" movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was a little bit adult for my six-year-old sensibilities and carried a valuable lesson: the term "he makes me laugh" will usually excuse some outlandish behavior.
But what is the most re-watchable movie of all? Is it Bull Durham, the baseball movie soaked in Hollywood discussion points and hokey stickball rhetoric? Or John Wick, the Keanu Reeves action flick that turns from good action movie to all-time guilty pleasure action movie? Is it Friday, the 1994 Ice Cube comedy that made Chris Tucker into a star and became the most quotable movie of the '90s? Bad Boys with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence? There indeed is no perfect answer.
Well, correction — one film comes damn close to being the most re-watchable film of all-time, at least for me. That movie is The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and "Tiny" Lister as the President of the United States.
Before I explain why The Fifth Element is the essential re-watchable movie, let us answer a few questions.
1. What makes a movie "re-watchable?"
It has to pull you in and make you immediately question why you fell in love with it in the first place. Case in point, if I bring up Love and Basketball, which is a decent romantic comedy disguised as a basketball movie, I can tell you that the unintentional comedy of believing Omar Epps as a basketball player is worth it. I can also say that I'm a sucker for period pieces and that Sanaa Lathan is great in it. I could also bring up Creed for inspirational purposes as I am an absolute sucker for a good sports movie. More importantly, I'm a sucker for a good sports movie that makes sense. If I were to bring up a film like The Shawshank Redemption, I'd be referencing something along the lines of "overcoming the odds" or "scrappy" in a discussion of one Andy Dufresne. Yes, those are stereotypical terms we usually lob at white wide receivers or guys with "deceptive speed," but Andy Dufrense pulled off some of the most incredible, impossible, "only Tom Cruise could do this sh*t" in that movie.
2. How are you sure that a movie is worth re-watching?
You just sort of know. Kind of like when you've found yourself quoting a movie at random and rewinding certain parts to get the lines just right. It's a science to learning every word from Friday. Or Next Friday. Or Friday After Next. Perhaps next to The Godfather, the Friday trilogy may be the most re-watchable franchise of all. And no, The Fast and the Furious doesn't count, seeing that we'd have to allow the third one to have equal footing with the bananas seventh edition or the eighth one that involves The Rock and steering a torpedo with his bare hand?
3. No bad movies can make a re-watchable list, can they?
Under no circumstances should you subject yourself to a Madea movie after the curious first watch,
4. It has to be the perfect time-waster.
If you decide to sit down and watch the first Godfather movie, you no doubt have to begin down the line of mafia movies of its ilk. Goodfellas will pop up. Same for The Departed and, to a lesser extent, The Town with Ben Affleck. Heat, the last De Niro and Pacino flick where both of them were amazing, also ranks up on that list.
Now, to explain why The Fifth Element rules above all in regards to watching over and over again. First, it is a movie where you have to believe that Deebo, arguably the most memorable villain of '90s filmmaking along with Ursula, Scar from The Lion King and Kevin Spacey's character in Se7en, is a capable President. And not just any President, the President of the United States in a future where America sort of rules everything in its corner of the galaxy.
Second, it has Bruce Willis with blonde hair and a ruggedness that is much more believable than his character in The Jackal. You recall The Jackal, that one flick where he and Richard Gere went toe-to-toe with Willis being a paid assassin going up against FBI agent Sidney Poitier and Richard Gere. It also came out in 1997, but was not as popular nor as good as The Fifth Element. But Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas is maybe his second-best action character besides John McClane of the Die Hard franchise. Third would be Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout and fourth is John Smith in
Third, Luc Besson directed The Fifth Element, and Luc Besson has a strong history of crafting re-watchable movies. For example, there's 1994's The Professional, which started America slowly getting on board with international kick-ass action movies. He also directed Lucy, which he probably could have kept seeing that the argument about using more than 10 percent of your brain shouldn't make you wish you were a computer. Or have the same ending as Her. He also produced the first Taken movie, which, mind you, began our long love affair with Liam Neeson, grizzled old action star. You can trust Luc Besson with an action movie.
Fourth, the best action sequence of the entire film uses an intergalactic opera on a planet to achieve the following six things: (1) There's the opera, where Chris Tucker plays a radio host far too deep in his ego to realize more is going on. (2) The fight initially has a bonkers soundtrack and Milla Jovovich fighting aliens in a one-versus-all ratio. (3) Bruce Willis has to save a flamboyant Chris Tucker, a deaf pop star, and a crowd of galactic foreign dignitaries from the same group of aliens that got their butts handed to them by Jovovich. (4) Bruce Willis negotiates with little words. (5) Gary Oldman receives the ultimate comeuppance of the entire film, "for
All of that happens in 30 consecutive minutes.
Does The Fifth Element take itself too seriously? Of course not. The concept of the Earth's salvation placed in the body of a woman is progressive as hell, even by 1997 standards. Is there the right mix of comic relief, timeless references and a character that would make an all-time Halloween costume in Diva Plavalaguna? Also yes. In fact, I spotted such a suit at a club in West Hollywood earlier this year. The person who donned the outfit delivered a pitch-perfect lip-sync with all the mannerisms down to a science. Once the person, the crowd roared with applause.
I first watched the movie on cable in 1997 as I was too occupied with doing third-grade-boy stuff to go to the movie theater. Having cable in 1997 kept me in the house, along with a Sega Genesis and nothing more. I guess because in third grade I thought going to the movies without your parents and possibly running into a girl you liked was the equivalent of going to space without any oxygen. I then began watching The Fifth Element once a week, taping it on VHS and rewinding to all of my favorite parts, including Tucker's second meeting with Willis where Bruce deadpans, "thrilled." Subtle delivery of certain lines makes me root for certain movies to be seen over and over again. Think Christopher Walken's creepy exterminator character in Mouse Hunt. Or Christopher Walken explaining Butch's golden watch to him in Pulp Fiction. Or anything with Christopher Walken or John Cusack.
But The Fifth Element remains the most re-watchable movie of all, thanks to all the above as well as to one key final point: There is no franchise or universe it is attached to where you need to understand prior interactions for the plot to work. It's a one-off piece of science fiction that achieves everything it wants and leaves nothing on the table. It's an entirely acceptable action movie.
And probably the one movie I've watched from elementary school to high-school theater class to a scene playing out in a Los Angeles club that still resonates.