Besson's second film, "Subway," starred Christopher Lambert in a Cesar-winning performance (one of thirteen Cesar nominations garnered by the film) as a thief on the run who becomes involved in a fantastic sub-culture of Parisians living in the city's underground. The film gained Besson an international reputation, and is today regarded worldwide as a cult classic.
Besson's 1988 film, "The Big Blue," expressing the dreams of Besson's Mediterranean youth, cast Jean Reno as a French diver with an unquenchable love for the sea. Besson's first film to be made in English, boasting an international cast, was distributed in the US in a version that suffered various unauthorized alterations to its scenes and to Eric Serra's score, including a changed ending. The intact version of Besson's film, nominated for seven Cesars, was a huge success throughout most of the world and is one of the top five films in French history.
Besson's "La Femme Nikita" was the director's first global sensation, a film that inspired remakes in both the US and Hong Kong, and made international stars of its leads, Jean Reno and Anne Parrilaud.
In 1991, Besson's "Atlantis" was hailed by critics as an undersea "Fantasia" and an aquatic dream, was filmed in sixteen months all around the world.
In 1993 Besson began pre-production on "The Fifth Element," which opens the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival and stars Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jojovich. After a year of work on a screenplay based on his own story and with an international team of artists, budget concerns put the project at a standstill. At this point, Besson turned to another original screenplay, "The Professional," starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman. The story of a hit man who is civilized for his paternal love for a young girl orphaned by a renegade government agent, "The Professional" was an immediate worldwide success, and in France garnered Cesar nominations for Best Picture and for Besson as Best Director.
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