Terry Gilliam is a visionary who excels at making films that balance creative imagery and adventurous stories that often have philosophical undertones. He is known for making movies with dark humor, fantastical situations, and eccentric characters who help draw the audience in to the odd worlds that he creates. With his most recent film, The Zero Theorem, Gilliam has proven that he has not yet lost his touch when it comes to creating movies that make people think. Like with anything, people tend to either love or hate his works. His style doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Personally, I love his stuff and I think that Gilliam has never truly made what I would consider a really bad film. He’s made good films and then he’s made films that aren’t as good as his best. With that said, here is my personal ranking of Terry Gilliam’s movies from best to worst.
1. Brazil (1985)
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins
IMDb rating: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes score: 98%
Brazil is Gilliam’s cinematic masterpiece. It takes relevant themes like controlling, bureaucratic societies and presents them in an imaginative way using dream sequences, humorous situations, and disturbing ideas. One of the recurring themes that shows up in several of Gilliam’s films is the over reliance on technology. In this movie, a glitch caused by a fly getting caught in a printing machine causes the wrong man to get arrested, and the conflict in the plot snowballs from there. Everyone in this world relies on loads of paperwork to get things done, not allowing anyone to stop and think for themselves about what they are doing. Robert De Niro’s character, Harry Tuttle, is branded a terrorist just because he goes around fixing people’s air conditioning systems outside of the company who is supposed to be responsible for them, in order to bypass all the paperwork involved. This is Jonathan Pryce’s best role in a Gilliam film, in my opinion. The ending isn’t exactly a Hollywood happy one, and that’s one of the things I love about this movie.
2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
IMDb rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes score: 97%
Co-directed with Terry Jones, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has become a cult classic in the comedy genre. Technically, this film doesn’t just belong to Gilliam, but to the whole Monty Python comedy group who wrote it and acted in it. However, I couldn’t leave this one out of the list. This is one of those older dark comedies that never gets tired. I could quote this movie for days. The Monty Python comedy group didn’t need a huge budget to create something that is comically epic. The fact that they run around banging coconut shells together to make the sounds of horse hooves trotting was not originally meant to be the funny idea that it was. Their small budget didn’t allow for real horses to be used, hence they came up with coconut idea. It’s hilarious, and the whole conversation in the beginning of the movie between Graham Chapman’s character, King Arthur, and the man at the top of the castle are some of the funniest lines in the whole movie, and it’s all thanks to the coconuts.
3. Time Bandits (1981)
Starring: Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, John Cleese, Michael Palin, David Rappaport, Craig Warnock, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Jack Purvis
IMDb rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes score: 92%
Time Bandits is the most fun adventure that Gilliam created, in my opinion. It really reveals the kind of imagination that he has. It’s shown to you through the perspective of a young boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock), who is only too happy to escape his hum-drum life with parents who pay almost no attention to him. He discovers a lot of things while traveling through time, including a new potential candidate for a father in the form of Sean Connery who plays Agamemnon. I loved the idea of a group of bandits traveling through time and stealing from famous historical figures–Napolean included. It has humor and adventure that appeals to both kids and adults. But of course, it would hardly be a Gilliam film without a little bit of social commentary included–this time, about consumerism and materialistic people.
4. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
IMDb rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%
12 Monkeys is the movie I often refer to when I think of time travel done right. There are so many time travel movies out there that don’t make sense. The idea of a causal loop–where Bruce Willis’ character goes back in time to stop an event, but only ends up learning that going back in time causes the event–is the perfect way to do time travel. Nothing is really solved, but in the meantime we learn how the world got to the point of where it is with Willis’ character in the beginning. It is sort of a tragic story if you think about it, as nothing Willis does can stop what is meant to happen. The actors are all first rate, the story is engaging, and being the first Gilliam film I ever saw, it set me up for what would become a newfound love for the director.
5. The Fisher King (1991)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Lara Harris
IMDb rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%
The Fisher King is certainly a dark story that deals with a lot of serious issues. Poverty, for one, but also the influence celebrities have on other people. Jeff Bridges’ character is a radio host on the verge of stardom whose cynicism and arrogance causes a tragedy that will change one man’s life forever. Robin Williams is both humorous and tragic as a homeless man who suffers from hallucinations and crazy ideas due to a horrible tragedy in his life. This is the only Gilliam movie that actually brought me to tears. It has a nice balance though of humor and seriousness. It doesn’t get too heavy all at once, and as soon as it starts to, it lightens up a little. It’s an emotional movie, but well worth the ride due to a story that never falls flat and a couple of great performances.
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci
IMDb rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes score: 50%
Welcome to Terry Gilliam’s 2-hour-long, drug-induced ride. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. With a couple of unparalleled performances by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, this movie goes along with the pace of two people having highs and lows on a suitcase full of psychedelic drugs, and the ride doesn’t stop until the credits roll. The best part is, you’re brought right along for that ride with the use of awkward camera angles, dizzying movements, music, and disturbing psychedelic imagery. I have heard so many mixed opinions about this movie in my lifetime. It seems like it really is one of those “love it or hate it” kind of movies. I, however, love it and all that it is. I don’t do drugs, but if I did, I can imagine it would feel sort of like what it feels like to watch this movie.
7. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (2003)
Starring: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams
IMDb rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%
Similar to Time Bandits, this movie is an escape from reality which takes the audience along for an adventure with Baron Munchausen as he battles the Turks, takes a trip to the moon, and meets the goddess Venus. This movie was a commercial failure, but if you can’t already tell by it’s 94% tomato rating, it was loved by critics for the most part. I think it was a well-made movie with a lot of fun scenes. However, I didn’t like the little girl’s character so much for some reason, I found her annoying, whereas I thought the kid in Time Bandits was adorable. I also wasn’t sure where the story was going at times. The characters, for the most part, are fun to watch, and the visuals are magical. The ending is actually quite surprising and I like where the story ended up, even if I was confused somewhere in the middle. In the end, I can’t deny the enjoyment I get out of watching this powerfully imaginative film.
8. The Zero Theorem (2014)
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Lucas Hedges
IMDb rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes score: 54%
In my opinion, this is the best movie Gilliam has made in the last decade. It’s another creative dystopian satire that deals with big issues. Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor, one of my favorites these days, and he plays a character you can’t help but sympathize with, or maybe even possibly relate to. Despite all of the mixed reviews, I really enjoyed this one. You can find my full review of The Zero Theorem here.
9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Heath Ledger, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
IMDb rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes score: 64%
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus had a lot of potential, but didn’t quite hit the mark. The story lacked anything that would make me really care about the characters. I didn’t think it was a bad movie, by any means. I have to give credit to Gilliam, though, for being able to use his creativity to rearrange the story after Heath Ledgers untimely death during filming. Gilliam had to call in friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to finish Ledger’s part in the film, adding in the idea that Ledger’s character’s appearance would change as he entered through the mirror into the magical realms. I think this idea worked well for the character seeing as how he was a man who metaphorically had many faces, and wasn’t straight forward or truthful with any of the other characters. The story deals with people and their choices, and the consequences of those choices. The main character, Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), quite literally makes deals with the devil due to his self-indulgence. I think that’s a pretty accurate way of portraying those who are selfish. Heath Ledger was great as usual in this film, it’s sad that he was not able to finish it himself.
10. Tideland (2006)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Jodelle Ferland, Janet McTeer, Brendan Fletcher
IMDb rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes score: 29%
Tideland is a difficult movie to watch. Any movie that has human taxidermy in it and insinuations of pedophilia is pretty disturbing. It’s an outrageous story. It’s based on a novel by Mitch Cullen, and deals with the harsh realities of life as the main character–a young girl–is left to fend for herself after her father overdoses on drugs. However, the girl retreats into her own imagination, which allows Gilliam to add his creative flair. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s hard to relate to aside from the blatant drug abuse. Jodelle Ferland who plays Jeliza-Rose is a very impressive young actress in this movie, though, and there’s no denying that.
11. Jabberwocky (1977)
Starring: Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier
IMDb rating: 6.2
Rotten Tomatoes score: 62%
Jabberwocky was Gilliam’s first attempt at directing a movie on his own, without his Monty Python group. It is still similar to Holy Grail in that it involved a lot of the same kind of dark humor, and it seems to take place around the same era. It is a somewhat wacky film, Michael Palin does well in the lead as a man who is only too happy to settle for a mediocre life, but ends up with more than he bargained for in the end. Some of the jokes don’t hold up as well as the ones in Holy Grail, and there are some parts that are just flat out boring. The monster is kind of humorous though. It moved around like a puppet and was silly looking, but I think that adds a little charm to Gilliam’s low-budget, solo directorial debut.
12. The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Lena Headey, Jonathan Pryce
IMDb rating: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes score: 38%
The Brothers Grimm is in last place because it lacked a lot of what makes Gilliam’s movies unique. There was little humor, the story was somewhat boring, it has cheesy CGI, and not the cartoonish kind that Gilliam is known for. All in all, it seemed more of a horrible Hollywood fairy tale attempt, like the horrendous Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters from last year. It suffered from a weak plot and I wasn’t exactly sure where the story was even going at times. In Gilliam’s defense, though, the constant feuding between Gilliam and Bob and Harvey Weinstein during production most likely had a lot to do with how the film turned out. Gilliam himself said that the end result wasn’t the film he had wanted. I think it’s safe to say that studio executives are overbearing jerks sometimes.
As usual, I’m always curious to know what other people think. What do you think about Terry Gilliam and his movies? Let me know!