Time travel, faulty memories, and a chemically engineered apocalypse. It’s been 20 years since the release of director Terry Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys, a grim, desperate sci-fi tale set both in the present, as well as a dystopian future. Utilizing many of the same techniques he used when making Brazil ten years earlier, Gilliam tells the tale of survivors who dwell underground, repeatedly sending prisoner James Cole back in time so he can gather clues and help undo what was done to their world.
The movie was made for just under $30 million, with most actors taking pay cuts out of a collective desire to work with the visionary director. Despite its cluttered plot and mind-bending subject matter, the film managed to find a substantial audience, even holding the number-one box office spot for two weeks in January of 1996. In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, here’s a look at some of the stories behind the scenes that went into making the celebrated cult classic.
At the time, Terry Gilliam hadn’t seen the short film on which it was based
It’s well-known that 12 Monkeys is loosely based on French director Chris Marker’s short film “La Jetée,” which is told almost entirely in still photographs over 28 minutes. Many of that film’s themes influenced Gilliam’s remake via the script by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, even though Gilliam had not seen the original film until after production wrapped. When asked why, he said he simply didn’t believe doing so was necessary, referring to “La Jetée” as “the springboard, but the diving board is not the dive.”