Time Bandits

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This article is about the 1981 motion picture. For the Dutch band from the 1980s, see Time Bandits (band).
Time Bandits
Time bandits.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Produced by Terry Gilliam
Written by Terry Gilliam
Michael Palin
Starring John Cleese
Sean Connery
Shelley Duvall
Craig Warnock
Katherine Helmond
Ian Holm
Michael Palin
David Rappaport
Ralph Richardson
Peter Vaughan
David Warner
Music by Mike Moran
Songs by George Harrison
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Edited by Julian Doyle
Distributed by Avco Embassy Pictures
Release dates
  • 10 July 1981 (1981-07-10) (United Kingdom)
  • 6 November 1981 (1981-11-06) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $5 million[2]
Box office $42,365,581

Time Bandits is a 1981 British fantasy film co-written, produced, and directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Sean Connery, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Ralph Richardson, David Rappaport, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, David Warner, and Craig Warnock.

Gilliam has referred to Time Bandits as the first in his "Trilogy of Imagination", followed by Brazil (1985) and ending with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).[3] All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible."[4] All three films focus on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination: Time Bandits through the eyes of a child, Brazil through the eyes of a man in his thirties, and Munchausen through the eyes of an elderly man.[4]


Eleven-year-old Kevin has a vivid imagination and is fascinated by history, particularly ancient Greece; his parents ignore his activities, having become more obsessed with buying the latest household gadgets to keep up with their neighbours. One night, as Kevin is sleeping, an armoured knight on a horse bursts out of his wardrobe. Kevin is scared and hides as the knight rides off into a forest setting where once his bedroom wall was; when Kevin looks back out, the room is back to normal and he finds one of his photos on the wall similar to the forest he saw. The next night he prepares a satchel with supplies and a Polaroid camera but is surprised when six dwarves spill out of the wardrobe. Kevin quickly learns the group has stolen a large, worn map and is looking for an exit from his room before they are discovered. They find that the bedroom wall can be pushed, revealing a long hallway. Kevin is hesitant to join until the visage of a menacing head – the Supreme Being – appears behind them, demanding the return of the map. Kevin and the dwarves fall into an empty void at the end of the hallway.

They land in Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. As they recover, Kevin learns that Randall is the lead dwarf of the group, which also includes Fidgit, Strutter, Og, Wally, and Vermin. They were once employed by the Supreme Being to repair holes in the spacetime fabric, but instead they realized the potential to use the map to steal riches. With the map and Kevin's help, they visit several locations in spacetime and meet figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Robin Hood. Kevin uses his camera to document their visits. They are unaware, however, that their activities are being monitored by Evil, a malevolent being who is able to manipulate reality and is attempting to acquire the map himself so that he can remake the universe to his design.

Through Evil's actions, Kevin becomes separated from the group and ends up in Mycenaean Greece, meeting King Agamemnon. After Kevin inadvertently helps Agamemnon kill a minotaur, the king adopts him. Randall and the others soon locate Kevin and abduct him, much to his resentment, and escape through another hole, arriving on the ill-fated RMS Titanic. After it sinks, they are forced to tread water while they argue among each other. Evil manipulates the group and transports them to his realm, the Time of Legends. After surviving encounters with ogres and a giant, Kevin and the dwarves locate the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and are led to believe that "The Most Fabulous Object in the World" awaits them, luring them into Evil's trap. Evil takes the map and locks the group in a cage over an apparently bottomless pit. While looking through the Polaroids he took, Kevin finds one that includes the map, and the group realises there is a hole in the Fortress near them. They escape from the cage, steal the map again and split: Kevin must distract their pursuers while the others go through the hole.

Evil confronts Kevin and takes the map back from him. The dwarves return with various warriors and fighting machines taken across time, but Evil has no trouble overpowering them all. As Kevin and the dwarves cower, Evil prepares to unleash his ultimate power. Suddenly, he is turned into stone and explodes; from the smoke, a besuited middle-aged man emerges, revealed as the Supreme Being. He reveals that he allowed the dwarves to borrow his map and the whole adventure had been a test of his creation. He orders the dwarves to collect all the pieces of concentrated Evil, warning that they can be deadly if not contained, recovers the map and allows the dwarves to rejoin him in his creation duties. The Supreme Being disappears with the dwarves, leaving Kevin stranded behind as a missed piece of concentrated Evil begins to smoulder.

Kevin passes out and awakes in his bedroom to find it filled with smoke. Firefighters break down the door and rescue him as they put out a fire in his house. One of the firemen finds that his parents' new toaster oven caused the fire. As Kevin recovers, he finds one of the firemen resembles Agamemnon and discovers that he still has the photos from his adventure. Kevin's parents discover a smouldering rock in the toaster oven. Recognizing it as a piece of Evil, Kevin warns them not to touch it. Ignoring him, they touch it then explode, leaving two piles of ash. Kevin tentatively approaches the smoking ash and is seen from above as his figure grows smaller, the camera pulling back to reveal the planet and then outer space, before being rolled up in the map by the Supreme Being.



Terry Gilliam wrote the screenplay with fellow Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin, who appears with Shelley Duvall in the small, recurring roles of Vincent and Pansy. The London-based independent company was backed in part by former Beatle George Harrison, who wrote and performed the closing credits song "Dream Away" especially for this film. He is credited, together with Denis O'Brien, as being one of the executive producers of the film.[5]

In an interview on the UK Arrow Blu-ray release of Time Bandits Gilliam claimed that the lyrics to "Dream Away" are Harrison's notes to him concerning Gilliam's behaviour during the production of the film and, more specifically, the tension that arose between them due to Gilliam's reluctance to include any songs performed by Harrison in the film.


Time Bandits received critical acclaim and grossed over US$40 million on a budget of $5 million (£2.2 million).[6]

As discussed in a DVD interview with Palin and Gilliam, the film came out in the fall season (after the blockbuster summer films, but before the hit Christmas season) and became extremely successful at the U.S. box office, grossing $42.4 million, and making the film Gilliam's breakthrough hit in the U.S.[7]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 91% rating based on 44 reviews, averaging 7.9/10; the consensus states, "Time Bandits is a remarkable time-travel fantasy from Terry Gilliam, who utilizes fantastic set design and homemade special effects to create a vivid, original universe."[8]


In his book Monty Python: The Case Against Irreverence, Scurrility, Profanity, Vilification, and Licentious Abuse, Robert Hewison describes the dwarfs as representing the Monty Python troupe. The nice one, Fidgit, is said to represent Palin; the self-appointed leader, Randall, Cleese; the acerbic one, Strutter, Eric Idle; the quiet one, Og, Graham Chapman; the noisy rebel, Wally, Terry Jones; and the nasty, filth-loving one, Vermin, Gilliam himself.[9]


  1. ^ "Time Bandits (A)". HandMade Films. British Board of Film Classification. 2 July 1981. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Sellers, Robert (2003). Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: The Inside Story of HandMade Films. Metro. p. 40.
  3. ^ Matthews, Jack (1996). "Dreaming Brazil". Essay accompanying the Criterion Collection DVD.
  4. ^ a b Matthews, Jack (1996). "Dreaming Brazil". Essay accompanying the Criterion Collection DVD.
  5. ^ George Harrison. IMDB.
  6. ^ Walker, Alexander (2005). Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984–2000. Orion Books. p. 12.
  7. ^ Time Bandits at boxofficemojo.com
  8. ^ "Time Bandits". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Hewison, Robert (1989). Monty Python: The Case Against. Heinemann Educational Books. ISBN 0-413-48660-5

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