12 Monkeys Movie Poster Image

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam's violent dystopian masterpiece.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1995
  • Running Time: 130 minutes

What parents need to know

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:January 1, 1995
DVD/Streaming release date:May 10, 2005
Cast:Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe
Director:Terry Gilliam
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:130 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence and language

This review of 12 Monkeys was written by

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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 will make you think. I'm looking forward to finishing the movie soon.
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, 14 years old Written bycheese-process May 20, 2011

Great, psychological movie!

Great movie! I think that anybody who can handle some blood can handle this movie. I loved how well all the actors portrayed their roles, and how I felt a little crazy just watching it. Awesome and unique thriller!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing