Director: Terry Gilliam
Stars: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
Plot: 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.
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.
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.
Toward the end of the film, Cole and Railly are watching Vertigo (1958). The scene that is shown heavily influenced the film La Jetée (1962), which inspired Twelve Monkeys. There is also a version of that same scene shown in La Jetée (1962).
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
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.
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.
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.
Toward the end of the film, Cole and Railly hide in a theater showing a 24-hour Hitchcock marathon and watch a scene from Vertigo. Railly then transforms herself with a blonde wig, as Judy (Kim Novak) transformed herself into blonde Madeleine in Vertigo; Cole sees her emerge within a red light, as Scottie (James Stewart) saw Judy emerge within a green light. Brief notes of Bernard Herrmann's film score can also be heard. Railly also wears the same coat Novak wore in the first part of Vertigo.
Johnny Depp was considered for the role of Jeffrey Goines.
Inspired by La Jetée (1962)
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
It was Terry Gilliam's intention to make the film's plot ambiguous and that there are many theories that suggest Cole is simply mad and that none of the events in the future actually happen.
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.
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 accidentally enters a room where a cat scanning is conducted. The cat scanner is strongly reminiscent of the time traveling device in the future.
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.
At the end of the film, Cole identifies the carrier of the virus, and although Cole himself dies, his information allowed one of the scientists to go to the past from the future, and obtain a sample of the virus, thereby making the hope for an eventual cure possible. So ultimately his mission is a success.
Cole wakes up in a hospital bed with scientists of the future talking to him in chorus. This is a direct homage to the "Dry Bones" scene in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.
References to time, time travel, and monkeys are scattered throughout the film, including the Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Time Tunnel" playing on the TV in a hotel room, the Marx Brothers film Monkey Business (1931) on TV in the asylum and the subplots of monkeys (drug testing, news stories and animal rights).
In Philadelphia, months before filming, Pitt spent weeks at Temple University's hospital, visiting and studying the psychiatric ward to prepare for his role. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.