Top 10 Terry Gilliam Films

Who’d have thought that the guy who did the pictures on Monty Python would go on to have such a varied and successful career? Maybe him.

He describes leaving the show (in The Believer) with “a certain amount of confidence, and a little bit of arrogance” which perhaps explains how he’s managed to make it into this list as an actor, writer, producer, set designer, art designer and costume designer.

When he does something, he really does it, as this list of ten films shows.

10. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

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A bizarre traveling show full of grotesques trundles through the London in one of the many imaginariums of the title.

9. Tideland (2005)

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Gilliam’s career was obituarised after ‘Tideland’ which was roundly criticised as nonsensical, and needlessly upsetting. As satire on the state of modern American it slipped from biting to bitter somewhere between the little girl being abandoned by her abusive, junkie parents and a boy driving a school bus into an incoming train.

8. The Brother’s Grimm (2005)

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I liked The Brother’s Grimm. But I was pretty much the only one. Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger) set out on a quest to find out why pretty maidens keep going missing from the forest with fairy tale-like results. It is a kid’s film after all (though it’s no Time Bandits).

7. Life of Brian (1979)

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If I never hear Always Look on the Bright Side of Life again I think I’ll be able to look back on my life happily. But if I skip that bit we’re getting to the good stuff. Python fans can throw something whimsical at their screens for putting this movie so low all they like – yes, he’s a very naughty boy, I get it – I just like the other six more. Ok?

6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

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Gilliam adapted Hunter S Thompson’s book, the perfect setting for his meandering mind and talent for the visually melodramatic. The film looks great which is a blessing when Hunter’s self-indulgence speeches start. The book has no such respite.

5. Time Bandits (1981)

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One of the best kids films ever: it’s got a moving bedroom wall, a gang of mercenary dwarves, one of those giant cages that hangs from the ceiling and a baddy that’s just called Evil (keep it simple, Terry). Where the Wild Things Are, take note.

See also: Top 10 Science Fiction Films for Children, Top 10 British Comedy since 1980

4. The Fisher King (1991)

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Directing a film in which one of the characters attempts to find the Holy Grail could have gone badly for Gilliam. Luckily, he made The Fisher King which is so terrifying, touching and funny that you forget all about it.

See also: Top 10 Jeff Bridges Films

3. Brazil (1985)

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A large part of Brazil’s charm comes from the great story behind its release (unbelievably, the studio was delaying release by demanding an up ending) but, even without thinking about Gilliam’s full-page studio-baiting ads, this a magical, extremely creepy movie.

See also: Mark Kermode’s top 10 films, Top 10 British Comedy since 1980

2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

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Killer rabbits, coconuts hooves, shrubberies , French taunting, Trojan rabbits, being repressed, saying ni, only have a flesh wound and so on and so forth. All of which means that this is the closest the Pythons came to capturing the silliness of their TV show.

1. Twelve Monkeys (1995)

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Again, a Gilliam film with an almost-legendary story behind its troubled production: winter weather problems, technical glitches and the very fraught director injuring his back somewhere along the line. What comes out is a science fiction thriller but with a Gilliam twist that gives it more sense, more energy and more visual style that few other films in the genre even get close to.

See also: Top 10 Science Fiction Films of the 1990s

Written and compiled by Julia Kukiewicz

Julia Kukiewicz is editor of Choose.net, a news and reviews site covering – among other things – DVD rental. The site covers big names like Lovefilm and ways for film-lovers to save money like blu ray rental.

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Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. James Blake Ewing Reply

    I actually like Tideland a lot. I can understand why most don’t but it’s dark humor and strange world click for me.

    Brazil would have to be my favorite. I love the mix of fantasy, sci-fi and distopian future. I also think it’s some of Gilliam’s best world-building.

    The Fisher King does sound like a bad idea, but Gilliam pulls it off almost effortlessly and I find it his most moving picture.

    12 Monkeys I like, but it doesn’t come together fully for me. Brad Pitt is a lot of fun, but I’m not sure I buy it’s time travel. It’s still a good film I admire, but not one of my favorite Gilliam films.

  2. Rodney Reply

    Ohh, Life of Brian would be a lot higher on my own list, while Holy Grail would be a lot, lot lower. I never cared for Grail all that much, I thought it was too abstract as a film….

    Good pick for number 1 though. 12 Monkeys was a brilliant film….

  3. Custard Reply

    Great list,

    In particular Time Bandits, I loved that film as a child and had completely forgotten about it!!

    Thanks very much!

  4. ruth Reply

    I really want to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus because it’s Heath’s last movie. Generally I don’t really ‘get’ Terry Gilliam’s work.

  5. Thomas Reply

    Judging from the film I would see again and again, and where the visuals are just striking, Brazil must be my favourite. In general, I prefer his late movies, with Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys also very high on my list. And of course I am very much looking forward to “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”… for some 20 years now?

  6. Dan Reply

    Lost in La Mancha is definitely worth seeing as it covers the troubled production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote . It’s also great to see Terry Gilliam working, his opinions on the film industry, and also his relationship with Johnny Depp.

    My personal favourite would have to be Brazil but Time Bandits is very close to it too.

  7. Dan Heaton Reply

    I enjoyed Dr. Parnassus, though I wouldn’t place it above most of the movies on your list, save Fear and Loathing, which I didn’t enjoy at all. The only ones I haven’t seen are 8 and 9, and I think the list is pretty accurate. The top five are all great. I might switch Brazil and Time Bandits higher, but you can’t really go wrong. nice job.

  8. Anna Reply

    I had no idea Fisher King was Gilliam’s!

    Really dug Tideland though, would’ve been in my top 5!

  9. Dan Reply

    @Dan: I’m glad there are a few more people out there who don’t like Fear and Loathing. I think visually it is an interesting movie but I much prefer Art Linson’s Where The Buffalo Roam with Bill Murray as Hunter S Thompson. I’ve never really got the appeal of Fear and Loathing – it’s just too obscure.

  10. Tyler Reply

    Excellent list. I’ve always had a soft spot for Brazil, so that’d be my number one, but other than that a great list.

  11. Max Reply

    I’ve only seen Holy Grail and Fear and Loathing from that list, but I’ve been meaning to watch Twelve Monkeys for the past week. Good write up I’ll have to look some of these up.

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