The Fisher King

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The Fisher King
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTerry Gilliam
Written byRichard LaGravenese
Produced by
CinematographyRoger Pratt
Edited byLesley Walker
Music byGeorge Fenton
Hill/Obst Productions
Distributed byTri-Star Pictures[1]
Release date
  • September 20, 1991 (1991-09-20)
Running time
137 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$24 million[2]
Box office$72.4 million[2]

The Fisher King is a 1991 American fantasy comedy-drama film written by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges, with Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer and Michael Jeter in supporting roles, the film tells the story of a radio shock jock who tries to find redemption by helping a man whose life he inadvertently shattered. It explores "the intermingling of New York City's usually strictly separated social strata",[3] and has been described as "a modern-day Grail Quest that fused New York romantic comedy with timeless fantasy".[4]

The film was released in the United States by TriStar Pictures on September 20, 1991. It received generally favorable reviews from critics, and grossed $72 million on a $24 million budget. At the 64th Academy Awards, the film earned five nominations, including Best Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for LaGravenese, with Ruehl winning Best Supporting Actress, making The Fisher King the only Oscar-winning film of Gilliam's career.


Jack Lucas, a narcissistic, misanthropic shock jock, becomes suicidal and despondent when he learns that some of his insensitive on-air comments inadvertently prompted a mentally unstable regular caller, Edwin, to commit a mass murder–suicide at a Manhattan restaurant. Three years later, Jack is working for his girlfriend, Anne, in her video store, and is in a mostly drunken, depressed state, fearful of being recognized.

One night, while on a bender, he is moments from suicide. However, he is attacked and nearly set on fire by thugs who mistake him for a homeless person. He is rescued by Parry, a delusional homeless man who claims that his mission is to find the Holy Grail.

Parry tries to enlist Jack's help in getting the grail, explaining that the Fisher King was charged by God with finding the Holy Grail, but incurred an incapacitating wound for his sin of pride. "A Fool asks the King why he suffers, and when the King says he is thirsty, the Fool gives him a cup of water to drink. The King realizes the cup is the Grail and asks, 'How did you find what my brightest and bravest could not?' The Fool said 'I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty.'"

Jack is initially reluctant, but acquiesces after learning that he is partially responsible for Parry's current condition. Parry, whose real name is Henry Sagan, had been a teacher at Hunter College. After witnessing his wife's gruesome death at the same mass shooting that Jack had provoked, Henry had a psychotic break and became catatonic. When he awakened, he took on the persona of Parry and became obsessed with the legend of the Fisher King. With Parry as his shielding persona, mentions of reality panic him, and he is continually haunted by a terrifying, hallucinatory Red Knight, from a distorted memory of his wife's head exploding from a shotgun blast.

Jack seeks to redeem himself by helping Parry find love again. Lydia, a shy woman with whom Parry is smitten, is prodded to meet Parry to join Jack and Anne for a dinner date. Afterward, Parry walks Lydia home and declares his love for her. She reciprocates, but the brush with reality summons the Red Knight. Fleeing his vision and the memory of his wife's murder, he is ambushed by the same thugs against whom he had defended Jack. Beaten mercilessly, Parry becomes catatonic again. Jack, feeling whole again after "saving" Parry, breaks up with Anne and begins to rebuild his career. However, he has a crisis of conscience during a sitcom pitch after snubbing a vagrant who had previously done a favor for him.

After finding out what happened to Parry, Jack dons Parry's clothing and infiltrates the Upper East Side castle of a famous architect and retrieves the "Grail", a trophy that Parry believes to be the real Grail. During the theft, Jack finds the architect unconscious from attempting suicide. He triggers the alarm while leaving, alerting authorities and saving the man's life.

When he brings the "Grail" to Parry, Parry regains consciousness and tells a silent Jack that he is ready to miss his wife. Lydia visits Parry in the hospital; she finds him awake and leading the patients of the ward in a rendition of the song, "How About You?", with Jack. Parry and Lydia embrace, and Jack reconciles with Anne, telling her that he loves her. She slaps him, but grabs and kisses him. That night, Jack and Parry lie naked in Central Park gazing at the clouds, as they view a fireworks display over New York.



During an appearance on an episode of The Directors, Gilliam stated that he wanted to do the film because he was tired of big budget special-effects films, such as his previous film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which went over budget and cost more than $45 million, nearly twice as much as The Fisher King's budget of $24 million. This was the first film that Gilliam directed in which he was not involved in writing the screenplay, as well as his first film to not feature any other members of Monty Python.

According to The Directors episode, Gilliam came up with the scene in which Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer meet during a huge waltz in the middle of Grand Central Terminal, because he felt that the scene that LaGravenese had written, in which a large group of people in a crowded subway listen to a homeless woman sing with a beautiful voice that fills the room, was not working. He was hesitant about this at first because his original intentions were to shoot the script, and the waltz would make it "a Terry Gilliam film". The scene was shot in one night with a mix of professional extras and passengers alighting from the train.


Box office[edit]

The film did moderately well at the box office,[5][6] with a gross of almost $42 million in the United States and Canada,[7] and an international gross of $30.5 million,[8] for a worldwide total of $72.4 million.

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 85%, based on 66 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "An odd but affecting mixture of drama, comedy and fantasy, The Fisher King manages to balance moving performances from Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges with director Terry Gilliam's typically askew universe."[9] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on nine critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on scale of A+ to F.[11]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that the film "sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance".[12]

John Simon of the National Review described The Fisher King as "one of the most nonsensical, pretentious, mawkishly cloying movies I ever had to wretch through".[13]

Following Robin Williams's death, a reappraisal of the film on stated that "no Williams film can hit harder — or be so fully consoling in such heartbreaking circumstances — than The Fisher King", in which his character "gradually simmers to a boil of bristling insecurities, terror and agonizing internalized pain".[4]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Robin Williams Nominated [14]
Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Mel Bourne;
Set Decoration: Cindy Carr
Best Original Score George Fenton Nominated
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Robin Williams Nominated
Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Mercedes Ruehl Won
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Comedy Howard Feuer Won [15]
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won [16]
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Amanda Plummer Nominated [17]
Best Original Screenplay Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated [18]
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Nominated
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Robin Williams Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Nominated
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated [19]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Jeff Bridges Nominated
Robin Williams Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated
Guldbagge Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated [20]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Runner-up [21]
Best Director Terry Gilliam Runner-up
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Runner-up
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Screenplay Richard LaGravenese Runner-up
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Nominated
Best Actor Jeff Bridges Nominated
Robin Williams Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated
Best Writing Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Best Costumes Beatrix Aruna Pasztor Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards People's Choice Award Terry Gilliam Won [22]
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 6th Place
Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion Terry Gilliam Nominated
Little Golden Lion Won
Silver Lion Won[a]
Best Actress (Pasinetti Award) Mercedes Ruehl Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Richard LaGravenese Nominated [23]

Home media[edit]


The film was released on VHS and LaserDisc by Columbia TriStar Home Video in 1992.[24] The first Laserdisc release was a fullscreen presentation, but showed more vertical information while cropping horizontally. The second release in 1997 presented the film in its 1.85:1 theatrical ratio. The Criterion Collection released their Laserdisc version in 1993 with several extras that have not surfaced on any other release, and a director-approved widescreen transfer in 1.66:1.

DVD and Blu-ray[edit]

The film was released on DVD in 1999 by Columbia TriStar Home Video, using the same master as the 1997 Laserdisc release, with only the theatrical trailer as a special feature.[25] In 2011, Image Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray, utilizing a new high-definition master in the 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, with Dolby Digital Tru-HD 5.1 surround, with no special features.[25]

On June 23, 2015, The Criterion Collection rereleased the film on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring a brand new 2K transfer and DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix.[26]

On April 11, 2023, Criterion again released the film on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray featuring a brand new 4K restoration that was approved by Terry Gilliam.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dutka, Elaine (March 8, 1991). "'The Fisher King' Pushed Back for the Oscars". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 30, 2023. Retrieved 30 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b "The Fisher King (1991) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  3. ^ Koresky, Michael (June 24, 2015). "Michael's Turn: Michael Jeter in The Fisher King". The Criterion Collection.
  4. ^ a b Schwartz, Niles. "Retrieving the Grail: Robin Williams and "The Fisher King" | Features | Roger Ebert".
  5. ^ Fox, David J. (1991-10-29). "Weekend Box Office 'House Party 2' Takes Top Spot". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  6. ^ Fox, David J. (1991-10-31). "Terminator 2 About to Hit $200-Million Mark : Movies: While fall releases are in box-office slump, the summer smash climbs to 13th on all-time domestic ticket sales list". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  7. ^ "The Fisher King > Overview". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  8. ^ Evan Frook, John (June 26, 1992). "Col TriStar tide rising overseas". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  9. ^ "The Fisher King Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 27, 2023.
  10. ^ The Fisher King at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  11. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  12. ^ Travers, Peter (September 20, 1991). "The Fisher King". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 20, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  13. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 308.
  14. ^ "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  15. ^ "1992 Artios Awards". Casting Society of America. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  16. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  17. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1992". British Academy Film Awards. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  18. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 1, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  19. ^ "The Fisher King". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "The Fisher King (1991)". The Swedish Film Database. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  21. ^ "The Annual 17th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  22. ^ "TFCA Past Award Winners". Toronto Film Critics Association. May 29, 2014. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  23. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America Awards. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  24. ^ Hunt, Dennis (January 24, 1992). "Price of Laser Recorders Limits Market : Affordable compact disc units may be just a few years away, but don't expect a budget laser disc machine soon". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 30, 2023. Retrieved 30 March 2023.
  25. ^ a b "The Fisher King - Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved 30 March 2023.
  26. ^ "The Fisher King". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 30 March 2023.

External links[edit]