Twelve Monkeys (1995)

The imagination of director Terry Gilliam meets the star power of Bruce Willis in a fantasy inspired by Chris Marker’s haunting short film La Jetée.

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  • 12 Monkeys Alternative


“Turning [Marker’s] perfect, rigorously constructed fable about memory and mortality into a big-budget futuristic action picture... is an inherently quixotic project, but the screenwriters, David and Janet Peoples, do a surprisingly skillful job.”

Terrence Rafferty, The New Yorker, 1996

In making what he called “a European art movie within the Hollywood system”, Terry Gilliam cast Bruce Willis against type as James, a vulnerable convict dispatched back in time to harvest information about the virus that has driven the civilisation of the near future underground. Then again, James may merely be delusional: it’s up to a smitten psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) to find out. What’s certain is that the film works both as a thriller, with the final airport showdown especially tense, and a typically Gilliam-esque oddball fantasy.

Brad Pitt landed an Oscar nomination for playing a deranged animal-rights activist with a full complement of tics and twitches. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary, The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys, provides an untypically revealing glimpse into the film’s production.

David Peoples made his name co-scripting another dystopian fantasy, Blade Runner (1982). Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is an important reference point in Twelve Monkeys, along with La Jetée (1962).

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