12 Monkeys Director Reveals The Studio Wanted Another A-List Star In The Lead

bruce willis 12 monkeys

Terry Gilliam is one of the most famously outspoken directors in the industry, and he knows full well the impact it had on his career. If he’d simply smiled and nodded like many other filmmakers do, then he would have ended up tackling a number of high profile blockbusters having turned down Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, both of which experienced major success with Robert Zemeckis at the helm.

He also knocked back an Alien sequel and eventual Best Picture winner Braveheart, tried twice to drag Watchmen out of development hell, found himself on the shortlist for The Truman Show and was J.K. Rowling’s number one choice for adapting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The author’s preferred candidate was shot down by Warner Bros., but Gilliam remembered and then rejected the opportunity to enter talks for sixth installment Half-Blood Prince.

That leaves 1995 sci-fi 12 Monkeys as the biggest commercial hit of his career by far, after it raked in close to $170 million at the box office. It also happens to feature a couple of A-list movie stars in cast, with Brad Pitt scoring an Academy Award nomination for his performance, while Bruce Willis also does some of his best work as time traveler James Cole.


Gilliam may have recently admitted that he didn’t want to cast Willis in the first place because the actor’s mouth reminded him of a butthole, but he also revealed that Universal were trying to force a couple of even bigger names upon him.

“The pressure was to get a movie star in. That was at a time when I was still a hot director, so people wanted to come near me and touch me. So they were coming up with all these names. And I just kept saying no. Tom Cruise, Nic Cage, they were all being thrown at me.”

Tom Cruise would have been far too flashy for the existential 12 Monkeys, while Cage is arguably too manic for the stoic James Cole. For one of the last times, then, Gilliam was able to overrule the studio, get his own way and keep Willis on board.