Terry Gilliam’s Unresolved Projects


Edited by Phil Stubbs, updated for 2002

Terry Gilliam is a film director who has worked on many projects that have not yet seen the light of day. Gilliam has a strong personal vision, yet due to the scale of his projects, he needs Hollywood money to get his unique films off the ground. In order to convince studios to back his projects, he needs to do a great deal of work up-front to get each project off the ground. And often, Gilliam has not received funding for well-developed ideas. Consequently, there is a great deal of Gilliam material – scripts, storyboards, etc that for one reason or another – lies in a drawer unfilmed.

This page includes details of the Gilliam projects that may yet make it to the big screen, plus a selection of other projects that Gilliam has worked on…

(The Man Who Killed) Don Quixote
Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a story about a man who reads one too many books about medieval knights, seems ideal Gilliam material. A script was developed by Gilliam and Charles McKeown throughout the 1990s. “That’s still in the works. The script marches on, but not to anyone’s satisfaction yet”, said Gilliam in 1996.

“I went after European money, needing $20m. And they said, ‘You’re On.’ But I found out I needed more money. Sean Connery was mooted, but Quixote is air and Sean is earth, so I backed away. I saw Nigel Hawthorne as Quixote and Danny DeVito as Sancho Panza. I dithered because I’d committed to The Defective Detective.” Then it was announced that Fred Schepisi was to make a version of the book with John Cleese and Robin Williams, using a script by Waldo Salt. Said Gilliam at the time, “That really hurts, that I let a project I’m convinced I’m the best director on the planet to do, slip by.” However, the Schepisi project fell apart.

In 1998, Gilliam set back to work on this project with co-writer Tony Grisoni, with whom he worked on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The project was reworked as The Man who Killed Don Quixote. The narrative followed a modern-day advertising executive who goes back in time (and presumably into a fantasy world) to encounter Don Quixote. In 2000, Gilliam secured full European funding for the film and went to Spain to shoot it… Alas, in the first week of shooting (Oct 2000) there was an enormous flood which wrecked equipment and Jean Rochefort, who was playing Don Quixote, was taken ill. The project collapsed as the insurance adjustors moved in.

The trauma is featured in a documentary film called Lost In La Mancha. Gilliam’s Quixote project however may yet be revived, since Gilliam still really believes in the script.

More info on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

The Defective Detective
Following The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam set to work on this project, about a burnt out cop who ends up in a child’s fantasy world, co-writing with Richard LaGravenese. The project was developed by Paramount, but the studio did not give the project the green light. Frustrated, Gilliam then delayed the project. However, this movie yet may be given the go-ahead… “I’m trying to resuscitate it on the coattails of this little success with 12 Monkeys…”

However, it was not to be. “Nicolas Cage is down to play the lead, but the studio says, ‘What’s the genre?’ It’s the same fucking Terry Gilliam movie, stretched bigger and brasher, and so they panic. Twelve Monkeys made $165m, but Hollywood is about perception, not reality, and I’m perceived as the rebel, the troublemaker. I’ll wait the bastards out, but if I can’t do this one, with Nic and my last success, I will walk away from Hollywood. I’ve spent too long trying to deal with that place.” Gilliam toyed with The Defective Detective during post-production of Fear and Loathing, and it still comes and goes in various rumours.

More info on The Defective Detective

Good Omens
Gilliam and Tony Grisoni worked on an adaptation of Good Omens, a novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The script has been finished, and much of 2001 was spent chasing a deal to make the film. In March 2002, this still remains a viable future project for the director, but in the absence of a deal, it has been put to one side as Gilliam concentrates on other projects.

More info on Good Omens

In May 2001, as Gilliam served on jury duty at the Cannes film festival, it was announced that the director would make a movie of Mitch Cullin’s novel Tideland. Jeremy Thomas (The Last Emporer, The Naked Lunch) is down as producer. Tony Grisoni has been working on the script, and – as of Spring 2002 – this looks to be the best bet as the next Gilliam film.

More info on Tideland

Theseus and The Minotaur
This project has a very long history, being one of three projects that Gilliam wanted to make upon completion of Jabberwocky. A script was developed, by Gilliam. “That’s another project that’s hung around, waiting for a decent script to be written for it. What I do with these things is I get excited about them, and I work it out in my head, and then I get bored, and I have to walk away. Quixote was one of those, and Minotaur’s a bit like that too. I looked at it again the other day and thought, ‘Hmm, this is a good story,’ so maybe I ought to get to work on it.”

And work on it he did in the late 90s – after 12 Monkeys. He pulled in Tony Grisoni (before working with him on Fear and Loathing) in order to develop this further.

A Tale of Two Cities
“This was really going ahead and then Mel Gibson, who was going to play Sydney Carlton, decided he wanted to direct again with Braveheart. So we were caught in a situation without a star. This is how it is in Hollywood – we ended up with Liam Neeson and this is at the point that he was nominated for Schindler’s List. Now with Mel, they would have done the film, they would have spent $60 million. Same film, same story, we somehow got it down to $31 million with Liam and they wouldn’t do it. For 26 they would do it with Liam but not 31. So I walked away.”

This all happened in 1994, and left Gilliam even more seething at the world of Hollywood. Gilliam did turn again to it briefly after Fear and Loathing, so this may yet be a future Gilliam film…

A Scanner Darkly
“After The Fisher King, Richard LaGravenese who wrote the film, and I went to the studio with his script for Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Nobody’s done a Dick novel right yet; Blade Runner was stunningly good, but Dick’s idea was missing – that people were killing replicants to buy real animals. I saw how to make Scanner cheaply, and for it to be disturbing. But did the studio say, ‘These two guys just made us our second-most profitable film of the year, let’s give them the money to develop the idea?’ No. I simply wasn’t understanding the rules of this place called Hollywood.”

Several years later, in 1999, Gilliam remains a staunch Philip K. Dick fan, and is still thinking about movie adaptations of the writer..

Time Bandits 2
“A company that bought out Handmade Films were talking to us about doing this. Charles McKeown and I have an idea of what to do, but we haven’t heard anything for months. It’s one I wouldn’t direct. I’d work with Charles on the script and godfather it basically.”

In 1996, Gilliam told David Morgan, “We’ve got an idea, Chrles and I have been working on it, and again it’s taking full advantage of the millenium, Armaggedon, and the idea of God wiping out the planet this time, like He didn’t do in the first millenium. – talks big but didn;t pull it off. And this time He’s serious! And so there’s an element of not so much trying to save the world but to save their jobs. Selfish to the core, always, the Time Bandits.”

Into 2002. ABC announced in March that it was preparing a miniseries of “Time Bandits” for US television, backing up a comment Gilliam made at the end of 2001 suggesting that is how Time Bandits 2 was going to appear.

In interviews while Munchausen was being released, Gilliam was seen to wear the famous blood-stained smiley badge familiar to fans of graphic novel Watchmen. Says Gilliam, “What happened was, Watchmen came along. Joel Silver came along and convinced me there was this ‘go’ project, and they had a huge budget and all that stuff, and I like Watchmen a lot; I think it’s really good. And so I got caught up in that thing, and I was actually terrified of it because it was going to be one more monstrous project. But we went along with it; it was weird, because I was sort of propelled forward because it was subject matter I liked a lot, and I knew I could do it, I recognised that I was about the only person who could do it well, and then I didn’t get the money. So I was ‘saved’ from that one.”

Gilliam worked with Charles McKeown on this movie, adapting the script created by Sam Hamm, but producer Joel Silver failed to raise the finance to make this picture. “However, I was contacted by the new owner of the rights in January [1996], wanting to know if I was still interested. I think it’s going to be impossible to make as a film, unless you make it three and a half hours long, which most people aren’t going to want”, said Gilliam.

Another graphic novel that was linked with Gilliam after the release of Munchausen.

Fungus the Bogeyman
Gilliam was offered a project of a live-action Fungus the Bogeyman after Munchausen. Val Charlton made a fully working Fungus suit, and Gilliam might have worked with Raymond Briggs, Terry Jones, Neil Innes, David Leland and Charles McKeown. However, the idea was taken no further at that stage, but is likely to reappear in the future without Gilliam.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The idea for a movie version of Douglas Adams’ collection of books has been mooted for many years. Says Gilliam, “I know Douglas and this sort of comes and goes occasionally, but it’s never gotten anything more than saying, ‘It’s an interesting idea, but…’ We’ve never worked out a script or anything.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
“I said no to that one in February [1996]. I’d been working on it for six months. It was going to be with Gerard Depardieu, but then I saw the trailer for the upcoming Disney animated version and you just can’t see it going out after that, at least for a couple of years. The thing is, they are both Disney. The script we had was by Rupert Walters [Restoration] and I’d been seeing scipts for years and this one was the first one which had them all dying at the end which is the only ending you can have. It was really good. Then I saw the animated one and it has all the shots I wanted to do.”

A project now lined up for Roland Emmerich. “I’ve only heard about this one in interviews, never in reality. I don’t know where this came from, but obviously somebody wrote it in a paper or a magazine somewhere and then it’s been repeated.”

The Crowded Room
It was announced in early 1995 that Gilliam was working on a movie called The Crowded Room immediately after 12 Monkeys. A role for Brad Pitt was announced.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
“It’s a much darker satire than anyone believes. They always think that it’s Bing Crosby fooling around in King Arthur’s time. Yep, I worked on that as scriptwriter for about six months, then I got bored with it. But I was actually working and I think I got paid $12,000, so I made big money.”

Looney Tunes
“I was involved with a film called Looney Tunes, about a guy who keeps turning into a cartoon… there was a flaw in the script which was that it wasn’t really about anything ultimately. It was a lot of really good gags, but it wasn’t about anything.

“I worked for months on the idea, but it went nowhere. Eventually it came out in another form as The Mask, which was a different script, but it must have been influenced by Looney Tunes.”

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
“I passed on that one, but that didn’t matter because it was at a stage when it was still just the book and I didn’t want to get into animation. I just read the book and said, ‘This is too much work.’ Pure laziness on my part.”

“This is a project that has kept floating around, from the time of making Life of Brian, that I get close to and then it falls into someone else’s hands. The original owner of the rights wanted Peter Sellers as Doctor Prunesquallor. At one point, Sting owned it, and every few years, I’d get a call: ‘I’ve got the rights -what about…?’ But I’ve lost interest because I’ve worked the film out in my head too often. Plus, it’d be hard to get the kind of money to do it well enough. Jabberwocky had a lot of Gormenghast things in it, so I’ve probably done it already.” A Gormenghast adaptation was made as a series for the BBC, shown in 2000.

More to explore

Films in depth

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Zero Theorem
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
12 Monkeys
The Fisher King
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Time Bandits