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12 Monkeys

Movie review by
Carly Kocurek, Common Sense Media
12 Monkeys Movie Poster Image
Terry Gilliam's violent dystopian masterpiece.
  • R
  • 1995
  • 130 minutes
Parents recommend

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A scientist releases the plague that nearly destroys civilization.


James beats several people to death. There are also several scenes with guns and knives, including a disturbing scene that takes place in WWI trenches.


Although relatively clear of sexual content, the film has quite a bit of non-sexual nudity.


Some strong language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke, but more upsetting are scenes in which James is tranquilized in jail and the mental hospital.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a disturbing dystopian film that addresses the near eradication of human civilization by a virus. Characters drink, smoke, get in fights, evade the police, and kill one another. There are also upsetting scenes of mental institutions and jails as well as a graphic scene depicting WWI trenches. James Cole is repeatedly sedated, and images of him drooling and nearly catatonic are featured at several points. The movie raises lots of complex moral questions.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMovieLover4Lyfe May 26, 2010
I've only seen the beginning of this movie, maybe the first 30-45 minutes or so, but I wasn't put off but what I saw. It seems to be a thriller that w... Continue reading
Adult Written bywifeunit April 9, 2008

great movie

This movie wasnt intended for children. Reading the outline of the movie would tell you that. Yes, its a dark movie but a great one at that!
Teen, 13 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 July 28, 2012

slow moving epic film has PG-13 worthy content

one of the most confusing movies i have seen, but is also one of the slowest. this should be a light PG-13, given that there is harldy any action and only a few... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byzrandolph2 January 12, 2011


eh not my type of movie okay

What's the story?

12 MONKEY'S futuristic plot follows convict James Cole (Bruce Willis), who is "volunteered" to go on a mission back in time to 1996 to seek information pertaining to the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, a group believed to be responsible for releasing the deadly virus that nearly wiped out the earth's population. Time travel turns out to be an inexact science though, and Cole is inadvertently sent to 1990, where he is institutionalized for insanity and meets Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), a sympathetic psychiatrist. While in the mental institution, Cole meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) the lunatic son of a well-known scientist. Whisked back to the post-apocalyptic present, Cole realizes that Goines is the leader of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. He asks to return to the past, where he again encounters Railly and further investigates the events leading to the release of the deadly virus, growing increasingly paranoid about surveillance by authorities, both in his present and in the past he is visiting.


Is it any good?

Few directors have visions as ambitious as Terry Gilliam's; while cinematically rich, this is more than just a feast for the eyes -- it's a sharply written, well-acted piece of cultural commentary.

Acting throughout the film is exceptional. Although at times skeptical or downright terrified, Stowe makes her character's alliance with James Cole seem reasonable. In the lead, Bruce Willis really demonstrates why he has managed such a long career; he is utterly charismatic on-screen. Gilliam's artistic vision is really allowed to develop in the film, and as a result, the film provides some very interesting commentary on the proliferation of media outlets.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the boundaries between the sane and insane. Why is James Cole viewed as "sane" by some characters and "insane" by others? Similar questions could be asked about other characters, including Kathryn Railly and Jeffrey Goines. The film also deals extensively with issues of surveillance. Who is being watched in the film and why? Who is monitoring characters? How does this monitoring impact the characters and their actions?

Movie details

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