Born: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Best Known For: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys
Nobody makes movies quite like Terry Gilliam. His flair for off-kilter comedy and big, bold visuals has made for some truly iconic movies over the years. And while there are certainly more famous entries in his filmography, we're celebrating one of his lesser known and underappreciated movies that was released this very week back in 1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
Starring John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman and Robin Williams as the King of the Moon, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is an ambitious, fantastical story of an 18th century aristocrat's increasingly ridiculous attempts to save a small town from being taken over by the Turkish army. It's a one-of-a-kind movie involving giant balloons, space travel, sea monsters, whirlpools and volcanoes. Let's look at the one-of-a-kind director who made it all possible.
Before He Was a Director: Terry Gilliam started his career as a cartoonist and animator, contributing heavily to the '60s satire magazine Help! That's where he first worked with an aspiring comedian named John Cleese. After the magazine published its final issue, Gilliam moved to England to do animation for the kids' comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set! that starred future Monty Python members Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Cleese. That show would lead directly into their creation of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a comedy series that used Gilliam's bizarre, often stream-of-conscious animations to transition from one crazy scene to another.
First Feature Film: Monty Python's Flying Circus ended its initial run as a TV show in 1974, setting the stage for a big-screen debut, 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This comical retelling of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was an immediate hit, both in the U.K. and America, and its constant presence on TV, VHS and DVD over the years sealed its legacy as one of the most beloved comedies of all time.
Bonus Trivia: Monty Python and the Holy Grail was partially financed by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
His First Solo Film: Gilliam actually shared a directing credit on Monty Python and the Holy Grail with fellow member Terry Jones. His first solo directorial project would come two years later in the form of Jabberwocky, a fantasy-adventure adapted from Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll's poem. It wasn't quite as well received as Holy Grail, but would certainly set the tone for Gilliam's future blending of fantasy, comedy and adventure in surreal ways. Without Jabberwocky, we may never have gotten Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
The Harry Potter That Got Away: J.K. Rowling was such an admirer of Gilliam's fantasy movies that she requested he direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Gilliam and Warner Bros. met repeatedly about the project, but ultimately they felt his style wasn't family-friendly enough and they decided to go with Adventures in Babysitting director Chris Columbus instead.
Bonus Trivia: Even though Gilliam never directed a Potter movie, his influence was still felt on the franchise. David Yates is said to have designed the Ministry of Magic (above) after being inspired by Gilliam's depiction of bureaucracy in Brazil.
His Other Troubled Productions: Harry Potter is certainly not the only project that Gilliam was unable to get off the ground. He has a long career of being involved with highly unlucky productions. He was in the middle of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when star Heath Ledger died. Gilliam was also behind two failed attempts in the '80s and '90s to adapt Watchmen into a movie.
But easily his most notorious troubled production was The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. During the first week of production, that film's star was taken out of commission by a herniated disc and the set was destroyed in a flood. The production company decided instead to just cancel the project altogether and take the insurance money instead. The documentary Lost in La Mancha captured much of the making of the failed movie and costar Johnny Depp's unsuccessful attempt to revive it.
Did You Know?
Terry Gilliam is well known for the aforementioned movies he couldn't get off the ground, but he's also had the good fortune to turn down high-profile projects. Some of those include:
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
He directed a famous series of ads in 2001 for Nike featuring the world's best soccer players. It won a Cannes advertising award for Best TV Campaign.
Though Gilliam has only received one Oscar nomination himself (for cowriting the Brazil screenplay), he has directed three actors to Oscar nominations: Robin Williams and Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King and Brad Pitt for Twelve Monkeys.
Gilliam is married to costume designer Maggie Weston, whom he met during his early days on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Their last film together? The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.