Welcome to TV Guide’s 12 Days of Chris-Mas, a festive celebration of famous dudes named Chris. Every day leading up to Dec. 25, we will honor a single Chris, counting down to the best Chris of the year. Today, that honor goes to Chris Tucker, the 11th best Chris.
Despite what the ranking at the top of this story says, Chris Tucker is the best Chris of all time, if you ask me. Let’s set aside most of Tucker’s career which, considering he’s a Def Jam stand-up legend who went on to star in the Rush Hour franchise and ended up as one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors in the early 2000s, is prolific. All of that is second fiddle to the real reason Chris Tucker is one of the greatest Chrises of all time: his indelible, iconic performance as the larger-than-life radio host Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element.
Ruby Rhod is Chris Tucker at his most essential. Loud, piercing, unapologetic in every way, Tucker steals every scene in the Bruce Willis classic. It’s hard to remember he’s supposed to be a supporting role whenever he swans in, as Tucker’s performance elevates what in any other Chris’ hands would be a flat, simpering, vainglorious celebrity to genre-defying art.
Let us count the ways, shall we, starting with the fact that Tucker was a high-profile black actor in a sci-fi epic in 1997 who wasn’t named Will Smith. At the time, American audiences were used to a much narrower definition of black men on the silver screen: the affable romantic lead à la The Preacher’s Wife, the mainstream (even for white people) blockbuster action hero à la Bad Boys, the craft actor’s historical biopic à la Malcolm X, realistic looks within the black community à la Boyz N The Hood and, of course, Spike Lee joints other than Malcolm X. In time, when nearly every variation of the black American male onscreen was an effigy of hypermasculinity, Tucker took on a role that subverted gender and sexuality norms and blew audiences’ minds.
Flexing in head-to-toe couture Jean Paul Gaultier, Tucker played Ruby with what at the time would be considered effeminate tendencies. From the sway of his hips to the flash of delicate collar bones in a skintight leopard-print catsuit, Tucker strutted through every scene as if spotlights naturally followed him wherever he went. But rather than reducing the character to the gay male caricature most frequently found in Disney films, Tucker’s Ruby used his genderqueer confidence to fuel the sort of raw sexuality often left to his hypermasculine peers. Seduction is the game, and Ruby Rhod is the one fanning all the flames. God forbid there’s ever a remake, but if there is, trust that Ruby’s animal magnetism wouldn’t just be regulated to many attractive women that fall all over themselves for him in The Fifth Element. In fact, pansexual Ruby Rhod is the ONLY legitimate reason to ever think about remaking The Fifth Element. But as it stands, Tucker broke mainstream ground in the original for the breadth and depth of what black men in American cinema could be.
Tucker’s ability to subvert expectations leads to all the best parts of the legendary movie. He was most obviously hired for his comedic chops and good LORD does he deliver. Over two decades later, people still post GIFs of Ruby’s “bbbbzzzzzzzttt!” to respond to Twitter trolls, further proof Tucker helped turn The Fifth Element into an enduring classic. But it’s when Tucker plays the opposite that depth is added to an otherwise outrageously campy Ruby. Consider this: While Ruby runs essentially the most popular infotainment show in the galaxy, he still moves toward the fight when it counts and transforms into a frontline reporter, giving updates from the terrifying site of destruction and devastation. Unlike a hardened journo trope that any other movie or actor would draw on, Tucker imbues Ruby with obvious fear bordering on cowardice that he pushes through anyway. Through his screams and the hilarious physical comedy that comes from blowing up aliens on a pleasure cruiser, he’s breathlessly updating his audience on Bruce Willis’ odds of survival. He wants to run but he doesn’t.
This leads to an odd but incredible turn later in the movie when Ruby, a tertiary character, ends up in the climactic final moments. It’s a coveted position, one of the few who get to save the world, nay, the universe. And there’s Chris Tucker, ripped rosettes dangling from another catsuit (this time black velvet), nervously talking over himself and others as Ruby realizes he doesn’t have the tool he needs to do his part in stopping the apocalypse. Tucker’s performance in this scene is noteworthy for the fact that he strips down all of Ruby’s bravado and showmanship to reveal a very flawed human core. It’s eminently relatable considering he’s surrounded by people who’ve been training — or in Leeloo’s case born — to save humanity. And in the moment directly after the audience realizes everyone is safe, Tucker sashays away with one last “bbbbzzzzzzzttt!” to remind them who the real star of The Fifth Element is.
TL;DR: Tucker packed so much campy joy, heart, and bravery into the role that fans are still to this day cosplaying as Ruby Rhod every chance they get. It’s an unchallengeable legacy to leave behind, particularly because it opened the doors for black men to challenge perceptions of American audiences to decades to come. Can your favorite Chris say the same?