Apart from a short prologue set in 1914, the majority of The Fifth Element takes place in 2263, starting on 18th March, as indicated by Korben Dallas’s alarm clock. The 18th March is notable as it is Director Luc Besson’s birthday.
Although this seems a closed case, there is confusingly more going on with the dates through various bits of official media.
The only contradiction to the 1914 date is in the PC game manual, where the Mondoshawans take the stones away in 1912. Whether this was a misprint or an early piece of information not corrected is unclear.
1914 + 300 = ?
During the prologue, the Mondoshawans state to The Priest “In three hundred years, when Evil returns, so shall we”, explaining when they will return with the weapon. The line can be easily dismissed as an approximate measurement of time someone would say in conversation, instead of being exact and saying “In three hundred and forty nine years, when Evil returns, so shall we”.
However, this estimation is repeated at the start of the following scene with the caption “300 years later” appearing to the audience. Likely, the three hundred was repeated to provide non-conflicting information to the audience, rather than two different time jumps in 2 minutes. If “349 years later” had appeared, some audience members may have assumed the Mondoshawans had returned late.
300 Years? How about 3 different years!
The second contradiction isn’t actually in the film, but in many of the official merchandise, cross promotion material and magazine articles.
The official novel released at the time of the film stated the story took place on “March 18th 2413” (Page 32). This is the only mention of this year, and is taken from the August 1995 draft of the script. Tie in novels for films are usually based on early scripts to allow for the author to complete writing in time for the film’s release. This often results in material that is later cut from the film being included, or different interpretations of scenes. The book (page 46) later describes the city as “twenty-sixth century New York”.
The script originally places the prologue section in 1913, and then jumps 500 years to 2413, playing into the number 5 appearing throughout the film.
The most common year used to describe the future of The Fifth Element is 2259. Everything from the video game on PlayStation and PC, The Story of The Fifth Element book (pages 24 and 32), the UK and Austrian Theatrical Programmes, numerous magazines (Cinefex 70, Starburst, SFX to name a few) and even Sony’s Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray (released in 2015!) used the 2259 year. It appears 2259 was used during production and briefed to many outlets, with even Besson saying:
“We looked at all human history in order to come up with what we think is a possible scenario for humanity in the year 2259, which is when the story takes place,” Besson explains. “To be very precise, the story begins on March 18, 2259, at 2am…”Luc Besson – Dreamwatch 1997
Once the year was confirmed as 2263, probably during post-production, this wasn’t passed onto the wider world.
Coincidentally 2259 is also 300 years after Luc Besson’s birth.
Finally, and most puzzling, Pathe, responsible for the UK theatrical and home media releases, have stated on the sleeves of their VHS (1998), DVD (1999 & 2003), and UMD (2008) versions that the year was 2257. Where this date originated is a complete mystery. Thankfully this was not repeated on the Blu-ray versions.