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 #219 | 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 <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


They're Coming. 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


$29,000,001 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£1,320,430 (UK) (19 April 1996)


$56,882,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Terry Gilliam was impressed by the film's screenplay because it touched on some of the themes he'd covered in his previous film Brazil (1985). He was shocked to find out that Universal was interested in making the film, partly because it was the kind of movie that he didn't think major studios would support and partly because he and Universal had clashed violently over "Brazil" a decade earlier. When he learned then-Universal chief Casey Silver was a strong backer of the new project, and that none of the figures who he'd clashed with over "Brazil" were going to block him or torpedo it, he signed up to direct. See more »


The bullet could not be dated from world war 1, it is new. It came from the past by time traveling. 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 »


Featured in The Real History of Science Fiction: Time (2014) See more »


from "Suite Punta Del Este" (Twelve Monkeys Theme)
Written by Astor Piazzolla
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

This is amazing stuff
15 August 2005 | by (Tessenderlo, Belgium) – See all my reviews

Normally I try to avoid Sci-Fi movies as much as I can, because this just isn't a genre that really appeals to me. Light sabers, UFO's, aliens, time traveling... most of the time it's nothing for me. However, there is one movie in the genre that I'll always give a place in my list of top movies and that's this "Twelve Monkeys" I remember to be completely blown away by it the first time, but even now, after having it seen several times already, I'm still one of its biggest fans. Every time I see it, this movie seems to get better and better.

Somewhere in the distant future all people live underground because an unknown and lethal virus wiped out five billion people in 1996, leaving only 1 percent of the population alive. James Cole is one of them. He's a prisoner who lives in a small cage and who is chosen as a 'volunteer' to be sent back to in time to gather information about the origin of the epidemic. They believe it was spread by a mysterious group called 'The Twelve Monkeys' and need the virus before it mutated, so that scientists can study it. But their time traveling machine doesn't work perfectly yet and he is accidentally sent to 1990, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert...

What I like so much about this movie is the fact that it is never clear whether all what you are seeing is real or not. Is this just an illusion, created in the mind of a mentally ill man or is it real? Does he really come from the future and can he really travel through time? Was the population really wiped out by a virus, released by the army of The Twelve Monkeys? Those are all questions that will leave you wondering from the beginning until the end. If the makers of this movie had chosen to make it all more obvious, I'm sure that I would never have liked it as much as I did now. It's just that mysteriousness that keeps me interested time after time. But that's not the only good thing about this movie of course. The acting is amazing too. Normally I'm not too much a fan of Bruce Willis, but what he did in this movie was just astonishing. Together with Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt he should have won several awards for it, because together with the amazing story, they made this movie work so incredibly well.

Even after several viewings, I'm still a huge fan of this movie. Except for this movie, I have only seen one other Terry Gilliam movie and that's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", which wasn't bad, but didn't really convince me either. However, it's this movie that really makes me look forward to his other work. I give it a 9/10, maybe even a 9.5/10.

70 of 85 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Recent Posts
One question that's bothered me pferreira86
I'm really underwhelmed. What did I miss? cartesianthought
If Cole knew about the kid in the barn frozenwashcloth
Is this just the 90's? Pr1ceisright
An awfully convenient coincidence? digeridoo-59344
Absolutely Pathetic tsmit67
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