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Twelve Monkeys (1995)

R  |   |  Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller  |  5 January 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 431,569 users   Metascore: 74/100
Reviews: 529 user | 137 critic | 20 from Metacritic.com

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.



(film La Jetée), (screenplay) (as David Peoples) , 1 more credit »
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Top Rated Movies #206 | Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 18 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joseph Melito ...
Michael Chance ...
H. Michael Walls ...
Carol Florence ...
Ernest Abuba ...
Irma St. Paule ...
Bruce Kirkpatrick ...


An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict (James Cole) reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic (who he's told was spread by a mysterious "Army of the Twelve Monkeys") and locate the virus before it mutates so that scientists can study it. Unfortunately Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert. Written by Giancarlo Cairella <vertigo@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The future is history. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

5 January 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

12 Monkeys  »

Box Office


$29,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£1,320,430 (UK) (19 April 1996)


£3,532,343 (UK) (17 May 1996)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Terry Gilliam had a near-fatal horse riding accident during production. He was worried the accident might upset his creative vision. See more »


The television in the sanitarium announces that the featured picture is the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business, but the clip they show is from their first film, believed to have been removed, and replaced with; The Cocoanuts. See more »


[first lines]
James Cole: Jose - psst! Jose, what's going on?
Jose: Bad news, man
James Cole: Volunteers?
Jose: Yeah. And they said your name.
Jose: Hey, maybe they'll give you a pardon, man.
James Cole: [sarcastic] Yeah, that's why none of the volunteers come back. They all get a pardon.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The symbol of the 12 Monkeys provides the backdrop for the opening and closing credits. See more »


Referenced in The Lost Empire (2001) See more »


Vertigo Theme
Written by Bernard Herrmann
Courtesy of Silva Screen Records
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Full of Gillian-isms, Empty of Willis-isms - in a good way...
23 November 2006 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

There is a story (possibly apocryphal) about an exchange between Bruce Willis and Terry Gilliam at the start of Twelve Monkeys. Gilliam (allegedly) produced a long list (think about the aircraft one from the Fifth Element) and handed it to Butch Bruce. It was entitled "Things Bruce Willis Does When He Acts". It ended with a simple message saying: "please don't do any of the above in my movie".

There is a fact about this movie (definitely true). Gilliam didn't have a hand in the writing.

I would contend that these two factors played a huge role in creating the extraordinary (if not commercial) success that is The Twelve Monkeys.

Visually, the Twelve Monkeys is all that we have rightly come to expect from a Gilliam film. It is also full of Gilliamesque surrealism and general (but magnificent) strangeness. Gilliam delights in wrong-footing his audience. Although the ending of the Twelve Monkeys will surprise no one who has sat through the first real, Gilliam borrows heavily from Kafka in the clockwork, bureaucratic relentless movement of the characters towards their fate. It is this journey, and the character developments they undergo, which unsettles.

I love Gilliam films (Brazil, in particular). But they do all tend to suffer from the same weakness. He seems to have so many ideas, and so much enthusiasm, that his films almost invariably end up as a tangled mess (Brazil, in particular). I still maintain that Brazil is Gilliam's tour de force, but there's no denying that The Twelve Monkey's is a breath of fresh air in the tight-plotting department. Style, substance and form seem to merge in a way not usually seen from the ex-Python.

Whatever the truth of the rumour above, Gilliam also manages to get a first rate (and very atypical) performance out of the bald one. Bruce is excellent in this film, as are all the cast, particularly a suitably bonkers - and very scary - Brad Pitt.

It's been over a decade since this film was released. When I watched it again, I realised that it hadn't really aged. I had changed, of course. And this made me look at the film with fresh eyes. This seems to me to be a fitting tribute to a film that, partly at least, is about reflections in mirrors, altered perspectives and the absurd one-way journey through time that we all make. A first rate film. 8/10.

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