Terry Gilliam is a British film director, screenwriter and actor born on November 22, 1940 in Minnesota, USA. In the 60s, Gilliam moved to England and naturalised himself British, renouncing his US citizenship in 2006.
Being the only member of the Monty Python comedy group not to be born in England, Gilliam met his Python friends Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones while working as an animator on an English children’s television show called “Do Not Adjust Your Set”. Starting with “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as an animator; he later became a full member of the crew, acting and directing on lots of the group’s works.
During the course of his career, Gilliam directed 12 feature films. Undoubtedly bringing fantasy to the next level, one of the main themes in his filmography is the existential struggle between fantasy and reality.
In 2017, a few weeks before the publication of this article, Gilliam finally wrapped production on his passion project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, based on the acclaimed work of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote, a story that fits perfectly in Gilliam’s style.
In order to celebrate Gilliam’s career and “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” finally happening, we dedicate this list to rank his filmography. Also, it’s never too late to remember that “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” is a Terry Jones film and Gilliam was responsible only for the animation and a special sequence.
Therefore, here are his 12 movies ranked from worst to best.
12. The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Starring Heath Ledger, Matt Damon and Lena Headey, “The Brothers Grimm” is a fictitious story about the Grimm Brothers, German academics famous for publishing famous folk tales in the 19th century such as Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, and many others.
Written by Ehren Kruger, known for “The Ring” (2002) and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009), “The Brothers Grimm” follows Jacob and Wilhelm, two con artists who travel through Europe’s villages pretending to protect them from any kind of magical and evil forces, until they finally find a real curse in a forest and have to face it.
Although entertaining in some moments, especially in referencing the tales, “The Brothers Grimm” has problems in its rhythm and end up being a lot less interesting than it could be. With a good setting but lots of moments where the story seems not to progress, we have “The Brothers Grimm” as number 12 on our list.
11. The Zero Theorem (2013)
Starring acclaimed actor Christoph Waltz, “The Zero Theorem” follows the story of a computer genius who has the task of discovering the meaning of life. In addition to Waltz, “The Zero Theorem” has in its cast Tilda Swinton, Matt Damon, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges and Mélanie Thierry.
Despite this cast full of stars, “The Zero Theorem” is probably one of the most disappointing films made in the first half of the 2010s. Although it has strong acting and great cinematography allied with good production design, the film ends up leaving the audience with the sense of something missing.
With some of the aspects of the plot not being as explored as they could have been, and the relationships between the characters not as deep as they could be, we have “The Zero Theorem” on number 11 on this list.
10. Tideland (2005)
Written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, “Tideland” follows the story of Jeliza-Rose, a young girl with drug-addicted parents who moves to a desolated region after a tragedy, and starts to live in her own fantasy world.
Starring Jodelle Ferland, Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges, “Tideland” approaches a very common aspect in Gilliam’s universe: the struggle between fantasy and reality. This young girl with a completely irresponsible drug-addicted father needs to escape from this tough reality by creating a world of her own.
Even though “Tideland” has a great theme and setting, especially by using the child’s point of view, it has problems in its narrative and in some moments of the acting, making the film number 10 on this list.
9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Following the story of Doctor Parnassus’ theater company that takes its audience on a trip to a world of fantasy controlled by his mind, years before, Parnassus made a deal with the devil to regain his youth in order to live a romance with a mortal woman, as part of the agreement he offered his son or daughter on their sixteenth birthday. Now he has to make a new bet with the devil to protect his family.
With a complicated production due to the death of Heath Ledger, the movie was shut down for a few months but, after re-writes, they decided his character’s appearance could change while traveling through these imaginary worlds. Ledger’s character was played by Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law and all three of them donated all the money they received for this movie to secure the future of Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.
With the amazing and fantastic setup, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” ended up having problems in the development of its story, but still is a funny tale to watch, making it number 9 on our list.
8. Jabberwocky (1977)
Following the story of Dennis Cooper, a man who has absolutely no interest in becoming a hero, “Jabberwocky” is a film about the dragon of the same name that he ends up having to confront when he moves to town.
Based on a Lewis Carroll poem and written by Gilliam and Charles Alverson, “Jabberwocky” is a fun medieval tale that, besides not having a rhythm that contributes to the narrative during its entirety of the running time, is still a hilarious story and good character arc to follow.
The turn of the events that lead Cooper to battle this menacing creature is full of great moments of comedy, making “Jabberwocky” worth watching and putting it at eighth place of our list.
7. Time Bandits (1981)
This adventure fantasy is one of the most famous works of Terry Gilliam. The first part of the Trilogy of Imagination, “Time Bandits”, follows the story of Kevin, a young boy who has a time hole in his wardrobe. One night, when a group of dwarfs come to his room escaping from their master, he ends up traveling throughout the ages with them.
With great performances by Sean Connery as King Agamemnon, John Cleese as Robin Hood, and Ian Holm as Napoleon, “Time Bandits” is definitely among the most interesting adventure films made in the 1980s.
Although it is hard to follow the character’s journey at some points in the story, “Time Bandits” delivers great comedy in an intriguing setting, making it the seventh best Terry Gilliam film.