The Fifth Element

Movie made: 1997 | Set in: 2214

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Cloning from tissue samples high 2010+
Flying cars low 2060+
Regular interstellar travel very low? beyond 2100
Spy insects medium 2015+

Approach to the future


The Fifth Element is satirical and dark, informed by movies such as Blade Runner and Brazil, though it doesn’t achieve their level.


Futurism: 4

Entertainment: 7
Uneven in tone, the movie follows a 24th century New York cabby, in a peculiar mix of satire, comedy, and violence. Though flawed, it does feature many impressive visual sequences, in a retro style.

Plausibility: 3
The movie is set far enough in the future that any technologies are imaginable, but the director was never trying for believability.

Interesting depictions

The evil Zorg dispatches a spy roach mounted with a tiny camera and microphone to observe a government meeting.

The cumbersome (for a roach) apparatus depicted is already outmoded. More stealthy sensors are available, and will grow smaller. Tiny flying and crawling spy vehicles are being considered for military and intelligence use. Disguising them as insects is quite possible.

Real insects might be usable as well: a Japanese scientist has wired a cockroach so that he can remotely control its leg movements.

Other technologies/topics depicted

The alien emissary Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) is nearly destroyed, but is cloned from a tissue sample. It is unclear how she remembers her mission or identity, as this information is not encoded in genes as we know them. But the scientists note that she has 5,000 times the genetic information that humans do, so perhaps these aliens continually download the contents of their minds into their genome.

See: A note on cloning.

Leeloo’s cloning is accomplished with a nanotechnology construction device, which recreates her body cell by cell from the inside.

Some kinds of nanotechnology may employ the methods that biology has perfected over billions of years of evolution. For something like cloning, this is more likely than a mechanical process.

Flying cars:
New York in the 24th century features spectacular swarms of flying cars, so beloved by former generations of futurists. They are apparently powered by some sort of antigravity.

Flying personal vehicles are unlikely in coming decades, as they are dangerous and expensive. If they do ever achieve any widespread use, they are likely to be under computer control for safety reasons.

Antigravity requires a physics breakthrough that we cannot currently anticipate.

Space travel:
Interstellar travel is advanced enough for casual interaction with other species, and interstellar cruises. Given its 24th century setting, this cannot be dismissed as impossible.

See: A note on space travel.

An Earth-orbiting hotel is not out of the question in the next few decades: Japanese firms have proposed building one. It is unlikely to be built before the Twenties, and costs will be, well, astronomical. Launch costs will have to be reduced drastically to allow anyone but multimillionaires to afford the flight.

Manhattan is fantastically built-up, and living spaces are cramped, at least for poor cabbies like Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis).

By the 2300s, today’s problems, such as poverty and pollution, could be solved many times over. New problems will arise, and we might revert to old ones, but universal prosperity could easily be achieved in 300 years.

Wealth has grown immensely in the last century, and a high-tech, sustainable society could be based on sunlight and the most common elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and silicon. Overpopulation could be a short-term problem as well: it has been calculated that if every couple had only one child, in six generations the world’s population would drop to 200 million, from the present 6 billion. So there are reasons for optimism, if we make the right choices.

The populace looks more blended racially, which is quite likely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The futures depicted in the movies