Jump to: Spoilers (15)
Terry Gilliam was afraid that Brad Pitt wouldn't be able to pull off the nervous, rapid speech. He sent him to a speech coach but in the end he just took away Pitt's cigarettes, and Pitt played the part exactly as Gilliam wanted.
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Terry Gilliam gave Bruce Willis a list of "Willis acting clichés" not to be used during the film, including the "steely blue eyes look".
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Bruce Willis took a lower salary than his star-status would normally entitle, partly because of budget restrictions, but mostly because he wanted to work with Terry Gilliam. Actually Bruce did the movie for free. It was only after the movie was released that he was paid.
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Brad Pitt was signed to this movie for a relatively small salary, when he was still an "up and coming" actor. By the time of the movie's release, however, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), Legends of the Fall (1994), and Se7en (1995) had been released, making Pitt a top-salary actor.
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Although never addressed directly in the film, the script and some promotional material reveal that the future scenes take place in the year 2035.
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When Cole is drawing blood from himself, the shadow of a hamster in a hamster wheel can be seen on the wall. This scene would normally be shot in 5 minutes, but took a whole day because the hamster would not move, and Terry Gilliam is such a perfectionist that he insisted that even this detail should work as intended. For the rest of the production, Gilliam's perfectionism was nicknamed "The Hamster Factor", as detailed in the behind the scenes documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (1996).
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Director Terry Gilliam first met Bruce Willis while casting his film The Fisher King (1991). He was impressed by the sensitivity shown by Willis in the scene from Die Hard (1988) where McClane (Willis) talks about his wife while pulling glass from his feet. Talking to Willis, Gilliam discovered that this part was ad-libbed by Willis. Gilliam remembered this, and was convinced to cast him in this film.
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Most of the actors took a pay cut just so they could get the chance to work with Terry Gilliam.
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A tagline originally suggested for this film was: "The future is in the hands of a man who has none." This was considered to be a confusing tagline, as it made it sound as though he had no hands, as opposed to having no future.
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Terry Gilliam's first choice for the lead role was Jeff Bridges, whom he had enjoyed working with on The Fisher King (1991), but the studio wanted a bigger star, so he cast Bruce Willis. Ironically, Willis had originally auditioned for "The Fisher King", but lost out to Bridges.
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Brad Pitt received his first Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Jeffrey Goines.
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The first cut of the film didn't do too well in test screenings, and so those involved discussed making major changes to the movie. However, producer Charles Roven and director Terry Gilliam, who attended the screenings and had talked to audience members, felt that although viewers had certain issues with the movie, they generally loved it. Since Gilliam had final cut, he eventually decided to largely keep it as it was. When released, it went on to make over five times its budget.
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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.
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The film takes place in 1917, 1990, 1996 and 2035.
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Due to bad experiences with his previous Universal movie Brazil (1985) which was re-cut by the studio against his wishes, Terry Gilliam only wanted to direct if he had final cut. The studio agreed, on the condition that he cast Bruce Willis so that a strong opening weekend would be guaranteed, and that the budget be kept small ($29 million). This meant that many of the actors worked for a smaller fee than usual, and the production designers had to cut corners wherever they could. Many of the props were made from cheaply obtained materials, and many scenes were shot in genuine abandoned factories and decrepit buildings. For example, the scenes in the insane asylum were shot in Eastern State Penitentiary, a now-unused prison in Philadelphia.
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Artist Lebbeus Woods claimed that the interrogation chair in the movie closely resembled his 1987 illustration "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber" and managed to get a court to stop the movie 28 days after its release. He eventually settled with Universal for a six-figure sum.
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The Army of the Twelve Monkeys is inspired by a passage in L. Frank Baum's novel, "The Magic of Oz", in which the Nome King and Kiki Aru convince twelve monkeys they will have an endless supply of food if they become human soldiers for them.
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In the 24-hour Hitchcock Theater, Kathryn and James are watching Vertigo (1958). She transforms herself with a blonde wig and James sees her emerge within a red light. This mirrors a scene from that movie. The same Bernard Herrmann score can be heard, and Kathryn wears the same coat that Kim Novak wears in the first part of Vertigo.
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The two newscasters shown in the film were actual newscasters on Philadelphia's Channel 10 news at the time of filming.
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Terry Gilliam admitted he was disappointed with Joseph Melito. The boy was cast based on his expressive eyes, but Gilliam felt he wasn't the right child actor to play Young Cole because he lacked a sense of wonder. He even had a backup on standby if his scenes didn't come off like they should.
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The "TV Ball" prop was notoriously problematic, with either the electronics or hydraulics breaking almost every time it was used.
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When Kathryn Railly first gets a call about Cole, she is attending a poetry recital. The work being read is a quatrain from "The Rubaiyat" by Persian-born poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam. The quatrain being read is: Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare; To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair: Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why: Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
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A quick clip from The Andromeda Strain (1971), featuring a monkey in the throes of death, is seen on the day-room television during a news report about the cruelty of using animal subjects in medical research.
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Although this was inspired by Chris Marker's classic short, La Jetée (1962), director Terry Gilliam had not seen it when this was made.
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In the asylum, when Bruce Willis is sitting at the little table talking to Jeffrey, he is writing with his left hand. Bruce is pretty strict about being a lefty with his directors, even golfing left-handed in Armageddon.
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The title and logo design are inspired by the "Get off the Earth" puzzle created by Sam Loyd in 1898. It consists of 13 characters on two dials, that when twisted, one of them disappears.
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Throughout the movie, actual monkeys appear on camera, from the "monkey and a roast beef sandwich" to zoo animals. Some people suggest 12 different monkeys appear in the film.
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Johnny Depp was considered for the role of Jeffrey Goines.
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Brad Pitt wore hand painted contact lenses to achieve his cockeyed look for the film.
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When James is escaping from the asylum, he runs past a security guard who is reading a tabloid, its cover is the now famous photo of the fictional "batboy" that was supposedly found in a cave in the 1990s. The story, about a society outcast ahead of his time, was made into an off-Broadway hit musical.
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Terry Gilliam had a nearly fatal horse riding accident during production. He showed up on set heavily bruised, but was more worried that the accident might upset his creative vision.
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In the movie, there is an escape attempt but it ends rather quickly. In real life, Eastern State Penitentiary saw dozens of successful escapes. The biggest one was in 1945 when a dozen inmates successfully dug a tunnel from the prison to the outside. The mastermind was bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton, who was caught just two blocks away following the escape. Most of the others were recaptured and/or shot and one of them, James Grace, voluntarily surrendered a week later. He hadn't been able to feed himself since his escape and wanted to know if his cell was still vacant.
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In one of the 1996 scenes, Dr. Railly gives a lecture about Cassandra, the figure from Greek mythology. When the television adaption 12 Monkeys (2015) was announced, Railly's first name was changed from Kathryn to Cassandra.
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The slides presented during Kathryn Railly's speech were added in post-production. Actors and extras were looking at a blank projection screen.
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Although never stated in either the film or the screenplay, according to the newspaper clippings on the wall in the Scientists' underground headquarters, the virus that wipes out most of mankind is called "CZT".
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The voice of a reporter on the radio says, "This is Roger Pratt reporting." Roger Pratt was the film's director of photography.
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When Cole wakes up in the future to the doctors singing "Blueberry Hill," the painting above him is "Valley of the Yosemite", by Albert Bierstadt.
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In the 24-hour Hitchcock Theater, Kathryn transforms herself with a blonde wig. Alfred Hitchcock had a notorious obsession with blonde actresses in his films.
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Director Terry Gilliam tried to persuade the studio to cast Nick Nolte as James Cole and Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Goines, but was not successful as neither had any big hits since Another 48 Hrs. (1990) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Nolte and Bridges are in fact close friends, and have tried and failed to team up several times. Cutter's Way (1981) and Tequila Sunrise (1988) were both meant to star the pair. They finally worked together in Simpatico (1999).
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The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland was used as the setting for the lecture during which Dr. Railly is introduced. The film opens on a closeup of The Ideal City, one of the Walters' most iconic paintings and one which Terry Gilliam really liked for the film.
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A statue named "The Kiss", by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin can be seen briefly in the movie. A picture of the same statue was used by director Terry Gilliam in an animation he made for the show Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969).
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When James is leading Dr. Riley down the painted trail/wall of 12 monkeys near the hobos about 1 hour into the film, posters of Nas' 1994 Hip-Hop classic album "Illmatic" is seen in the background along the wall.
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In the future scene where Cole is in a hospital with a picture on the ceiling, the blankets on his bed feature a scene from the children's book Fourteen Bears In Summer And Winter by Evelyn Scott written in 1963.
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Sylvester Stallone was considered for the role of James Cole.
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When Cole and the Dr. Railly are in the movie theater they are watching Vertigo (1958). When Cole wakes up, The Birds (1963) is playing. As Cole leaves the theater, the marquee says Hitchcock Marathon and lists all the movies, but does not include The Birds (1963).
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Terry Gilliam revealed on the 25th anniversary, that Nicolas Cage was the producer's original choice for the Bruce Willis role.
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At around 1 hour and 3 minutes, Bruce Willis says "all I see are dead people" which is very similar to the famous line said to Willis' character in The Sixth Sense (1999), when Haley Joel Osment's character reveals his 'sixth sense', saying; "I see dead people".
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When James first sees Kathryn in her blonde wig, in the cinema showing a Hitchcock marathon, the music that plays is from a climactic scene of Vertigo, which they were previously watching. That scene also involved a natural brunette having recently become blonde.
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The montage of animals roaming loose in Philadelphia contains a shot of elephants running along the concourse of Franklin Field, the same location of several scenes from Unbreakable (2000) where Bruce Willis's character works as a security guard.
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For the first time in his career, Terry Gilliam had "final cut" on the finished film. It was all the more surprising to him after the notorious tug of war he had with Universal over Brazil (1985). Twelve Monkeys has a similarly fatalistic ending, but Universal didn't interfere this time, in part due to budget cuts and the safe casting of Bruce Willis as the main box office draw.
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DIRECTOR_TRADEMARK(Terry Gilliam): [bookends]: begins and ends with young Cole's eyes.
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Right after Dr. Leland Goines gets off the phone with Dr. Railly, Dr. Peters (David Morse) can be seen handling a tray of seven vials filled with a golden liquid. Peters is finally revealed to be responsible for releasing the virus. Twice in the movie, a passage of The Book of the Revelation is quoted, referring to seven golden vials filled with God's wrath.
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It was Terry Gilliam's intention to make the film's plot ambiguous. There are many hints to suggest that Cole is simply mad and that none of the events in the future actually happen. For that reason, Gilliam wanted to end the film immediately after Cole's death scene, with young Cole looking at Dr. Railly. However, for coverage, a scene was filmed showing the female future scientist obtaining a sample of the virus from Dr. Peters in the plane (thus completing Cole's mission), as well as a final scene with young Cole outside the airport. Gilliam initially thought that he would only use one of the two endings, but in the end, both scenes got such a good response during test screenings that he kept them both in.
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Director Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven had several arguments about how the film should end. Gilliam wanted to finish on the shot of Railly looking at young Cole while Roven preferred the scripted final scene in the parking lot outside the airport. In an attempt to dissuade Roven, Gilliam proposed an immensely complex setup involving two cranes on top of one another and a vast sea of cars in the hope that Roven would veto it as being too expensive. Roven not only okayed the shot but Gilliam so loved the result that he used it to end the film.
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According to a newspaper that is vaguely visible in the final airport scene, the date during which the events of the finale take place (and therefore the date of the virus outbreak) is Friday, December 13, 1996.
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There are many parallels between the future world and the present day asylum where Cole is locked: The obvious is that Cole is incarcerated in both times; in the future he is trapped in an underground jail and in the present he is locked in a mental clinic. In the future scenes there are 5 scientists behind a table trying to decide if Cole is the proper man for the mission. In the present day there are also 5 scientists behind a table to figure out if Cole is sane or not (essentially the scientists in the asylum are six if it takes into account Dr Kathryn Railly who is present during the interview. In the final future scenes there is a sixth scientist appearing who, according to the credits, is a mechanic). Right before he time travels, Cole is decontaminated in the showers. After he is apprehended in 1990 and taken into custody he is also forced to shower. In both circumstances he is supervised by two guards, one black and one white (in the future the white guard is thin and the black guard is obese whereas in the present it is vice versa). In 1990 Cole tries to escape from the asylum. As he is roaming in the corridors in a drugged and dizzy state of mind he enters a room where a CT Scan is being conducted. The CT Scanner is bears a strong resemblance to the time traveling devices in the future.
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The first of three movies in which Bruce Willis travels back in time to meet a younger version of himself. The next two were The Kid (2000) and Looper (2012).
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The airport scene at the end of the movie was filmed at the Philadelphia Convention Center. However, the exterior shot of Cole and Dr. Railly walking into the airport, was filmed at BWI Airport in Baltimore, Maryland.
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The revolver that Cole is handed at the end is a Cavalry Model Le Mat, as used by the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
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In Twelve Monkeys, Bruce Willis' character, James Cole, says, "All I see are dead people," which echoes the words said by Haley Joel Osment's character Cole Sear: "I see dead people," in The Sixth Sense (1999). Both movies are set in Philadelphia and star Bruce Willis.
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The picture that proves that James Cole was in the First World War also depicts Jose, his friend from the future who gives him the gun in the final airport scenes.
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This movie borrows a couple of themes from director Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985): Characters appearing in front of a false landscape: In Brazil the characters appear in front of footage of the false ending of the movie. In Twelve Monkeys the doctors appear in front of a painting that initially looks like the landscape Cole is in. Female lead revealing a different look via a wig: In Brazil Kim Greist's Jill wears another character's wig and astounds Jonathan Pryce's Sam as he enters the bedroom. In Twelve Monkeys Kathryn wears a wig to conceal her identity which astounds Cole as he exits the theatre. A dubious reality: In Brazil Sam is saved by a Harry Tuttle's underground militia and him and Jill escape to a pastoral life; in reality Sam's been captured and is suffering a delusion. In Twelve Monkeys, Cole comes to believe that the future which he comes from is in fact a delusion; in reality that future is apparently very real.
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Despite the efforts to prevent Peters from releasing the virus he did so at the airport when the security agent (pre-TSA) demanded the container holding virus vial be opened. Peters opened the vial and waved it underneath the guards nose exposing the agent, himself, & everyone nearby.
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