The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a 1988 fantasy adventure film co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, starring John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce and Valentina Cortese. An international co-production of the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany,[4] the film is based on the tall tales of the 18th-century German nobleman, Baron Munchausen, and his wartime exploits against the Ottoman Empire.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Theatrical release poster by Lucinda Cowell
Directed byTerry Gilliam
Written by
Produced byThomas Schühly
CinematographyGiuseppe Rotunno
Edited byPeter Hollywood
Music byMichael Kamen
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 8 December 1988 (1988-12-08) (West Germany)
  • 10 March 1989 (1989-03-10) (United States)
  • 17 March 1989 (1989-03-17) (United Kingdom)
Running time
126 minutes[2]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • West Germany
Budget$46.6 million[3]
Box office$8.1 million[3]

The film was a box office bomb, grossing only $8 million and losing $38 million for Columbia Pictures. Despite this, it received positive reviews from critics, and was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects.



In an unnamed war-torn European city in the "Age of Reason", as a large Ottoman army prepares an invasion outside the city gates, a fanciful touring stage production of Baron Munchausen's life and adventures is taking place. In a theatre box, the mayor, "The Right Ordinary" Horatio Jackson, reinforces the city's commitment to reason by ordering the execution of a soldier who had just accomplished a near-superhuman feat of bravery, claiming that his bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers and citizens.

The play is interrupted by an elderly man claiming to be the real Baron, protesting its many inaccuracies. Over the complaints of the audience, the theatre company and Jackson, the "real" Baron gains the house's attention and narrates through flashback an account of one of his adventures, of a life-or-death wager with the Grand Turk, in which the younger Baron's life is saved only by his amazing luck, plus the assistance of his remarkable associates: Berthold, the world's fastest runner; Adolphus, a rifleman with superhuman eyesight; Gustavus, who possesses extraordinary hearing and powerful lungs; and the fantastically strong Albrecht.

When gunfire disrupts the elderly Baron's story, Jackson cancels the acting troupe's contract because of the Baron. The Baron wanders backstage, where the Angel of Death tries to take his life, but Sally Salt, the young daughter of the theatre company's leader, saves him and persuades him to remain living. Sally races to the wall, yelling for the Turkish army to leave. The Baron accidentally fires himself through the sky using a mortar, and returns riding a cannonball, narrowly escaping the Angel of Death again. Insisting that he alone can save the city, the Baron escapes over the city's walls in a hot air balloon constructed of women's underwear, accompanied by Sally as a stowaway.

The balloon expedition proceeds to the Moon, where the Baron, who has grown younger, finds Berthold, but angers the King of the Moon, a giant with separate minds in his head and body, and who resents the Baron for his romantic past with the Queen of the Moon. The death of the King's body and a bungled escape from the Moon bring the trio back to the Earth and into the volcano of the Roman god, Vulcan. He hosts the group as his guests, and reveals that Albrecht is working as his servant. The Baron and Vulcan's wife, Venus, attempt a romantic interlude by waltzing in the air, prompting an irate Vulcan to expel the foursome from his kingdom into the South Seas.

Swallowed by an enormous sea creature, the travellers locate Gustavus, Adolphus and the Baron's trusty horse, Bucephalus. The Baron (who appears elderly again after being "expelled from a state of bliss") encounters the Angel of Death for the fourth time. They escape by blowing "a modicum of snuff" into the sea creature's cavernous interior, causing it to sneeze the heroes out through its whale-like blowhole. The Baron, young again, sails to where the Turkish army is located, but his associates are too elderly and tired to fight.

The Baron firmly lectures them, but to no avail, so he storms off, intending to surrender to the Grand Turk. His companions rally to save the Baron, and, through a series of fantastic acts, they rout the Turkish army and liberate the city. During the city's celebratory parade, the Baron is shot dead by Jackson, and the Angel of Death appears for a final time to take the Baron's life. An emotional public funeral takes place, but the denouement reveals that this is merely the final scene of yet another story that the Baron is telling to the same theatregoers in the city. The Baron calls the foregoing "only one of the many occasions on which I met my death", and closes his tale by saying that "everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after".

The Baron leads the citizens to the city gates to reveal that the city has indeed been saved, although it is unclear if the events of the battle occurred in a tall tale or in reality. Sally asks, "It wasn't just a story, was it?" The Baron grins, rides away on Bucephalus, and disappears.



In addition, Robin Williams—credited as "Ray D. Tutto" (a play on "king of everything" in Italian)—portrays the King of the Moon. Director Terry Gilliam explained, "The deal was that we couldn't use his [Williams] name because his agents said, 'We don't want you pimping his ass for your film.' [...] so that's why Robin is not credited."[5][6] Sting has a credited cameo as a soldier executed for being a hero ("behaviour demoralizing to ordinary soldiers"), and Gilliam has an uncredited cameo as an irritating singer.[7]





Tall tales, loosely based on the German adventurer, Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen, or Baron Munchausen, were compiled by Rudolf Erich Raspe and published for English readers in 1785 as The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (or Baron Munchausen's Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia). The tales were further embellished and translated back to German by Gottfried August Bürger in 1786. These tales were frequently extended and translated throughout the 19th century, further fictionalized in the 1901 American novel, Mr. Munchausen.

The stories were adapted into various films, including Baron Munchausen's Dream (1911, by Georges Méliès), Münchhausen (1943, by Josef von Báky, with a script by Erich Kästner), The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961, by Karel Zeman) and The Very Same Munchhausen (1979), directed by Mark Zakharov, who depicted Munchausen as a tragic character, struggling against the conformity and hypocrisy of the world around him.



The film went over budget; what was originally $23.5 million[8] grew to a reported $46.63 million.[3] Gilliam, acknowledging that he had gone over budget, said that its final costs had been nowhere near $40 million.[9]

In The Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen (included on the bonus DVD of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Munchausen), producer Thomas Schühly said that, as part of a deal with 20th Century Fox before it went to Columbia, a budget plan had been set up for $35 million, "and it's strange, the [film's] final cost was 35 [million].... We always had a budget of 34 or 35 million, the problem was when I started to discuss it with Columbia, Columbia would not go beyond 25.... Everybody knew from the very beginning that this cutting out was just a fake.... The problem was that David Puttnam got fired, and all these deals were oral deals.... Columbia's new CEO, Dawn Steel, said, 'Whatever David Puttnam [has] said before doesn't interest me'."

Regarding the new regime's apparent animosity towards all of Puttnam's projects and Munchausen, Gilliam added in the same documentary, "I was trying very hard to convince Dawn Steel that this was not a David Puttnam movie, it was a Terry Gilliam movie." Similarly, Kent Houston, head of Peerless Camera, which was doing the film's special effects, said in Madness and Misadventures that they were promised a bonus if they would finish the effects in time, but when they approached the person again when they were done, he was met with the reply, "I'm not gonna pay you, because I don't want to seem to be doing anything that could benefit Terry Gilliam."



Munchausen is the third entry in Gilliam's "Trilogy of Imagination", preceded by Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985).[10] All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible".[10] Gilliam explained, "The one theme that runs through all three of these pictures is a consistently serious battle between fantasy and what people perceive as reality."[11] All three films focus on these struggles, and attempt 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.[10]

When the production finally came to a successful close, several of the actors commented on the rushed tightness of the whole project. Eric Idle said, "Up until Munchausen, I'd always been very smart about Terry Gilliam films. You don't ever [want to] be in them. Go and see them by all means – but to be in them, fucking madness!!!"[12]

Sarah Polley, who was nine years old at the time of filming, described it as a traumatic experience. "[I]t definitely left me with a few scars... It was just so dangerous. There were so many explosions going off so close to me, which is traumatic for a kid whether it's dangerous or not. Being in freezing cold water for long periods of time and working endless hours. It was physically grueling and unsafe."[13] She further elaborated on her experience in her 2022 memoir, Run Towards the Danger, writing, "Though [Gilliam] was magical and brilliant and made images and stories that will live for a long, long time, it's hard to calculate whether they were worth the price of the hell that so many went through over the years to help him make them."[14]

Nevertheless, on 29 October 2022, she tweeted, "You have my unconditional permission to still love this movie", to people who were wondering whether they could "still like this movie after hearing about [her] horrible experiences working on it as a child";[15] adding in a second tweet, "Yes, it was traumatic for me. Yes, it should have been handled very differently. Yes, it is still a great movie. The joy that comes from it is the joy I am able to carry with me as well as the terrible memories. So go nuts. Enjoy it. You have my blessing."[16]

Production designer Dante Ferretti afterwards compared Gilliam to his former director, saying, "Terry is very similar to Fellini in spirit. Fellini is a wilder liar, but that's the only difference! Terry isn't a director so much as a film author. He is open to every single idea and opportunity to make the end result work. Often the best ideas have come out of something not working properly and coming up with a new concept as a result. He is very elastic and that's one quality in a director that I admire the most."[12]



When The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was finally completed, David Puttnam, who had obtained the film's US distribution rights for Columbia Pictures, had been replaced as CEO of Columbia; coupled with Gilliam's prior quarrels with major studios over Brazil, the film was given limited distribution in the United States.[17] It grossed $8.1 million in the US and Canada,[3] and £1,917,499 in the United Kingdom,[18] resulting in a loss of $38.5 million.[19]

In Madness and Misadventures, Robin Williams commented on the low number of release prints that Columbia produced, saying, "[Puttnam's] regime was leaving, the new one was going through this, and they said, 'This was their movie, now let's do our movies!' It was a bit like the new lion that comes in and kills all the cubs from the previous man."

Regarding the contemporary press's perception of the film being a financial disaster, Gilliam said in a 2000 interview with IGN, "It seemed actually appropriate that Munchausen—the greatest liar in the world—should be a victim of some of the greatest liars in the world." He compared the film's budget problems to the more serious problems of the film, We're No Angels; he went on to declare its difficulties as a mixture of "trade press" still being upset about his battle with Universal over Brazil, nepotism, and an intrigue on behalf of Ray Stark successfully trying to have Puttnam removed from Columbia, coupled with the fact the studio was being sold at the time:

The negative stories about the shoot that were turning up in the Hollywood press were coming, we found out later, from a source at Film Finances—which was the completion bond company on the film. Their lawyer was a guy named Steve Ransohoff, whose father was Martin Ransohoff—who was Ray Stark's friend and partner. [...] I thought it was quite extraordinary, because the stories were doing two things—they were making me and the whole project look like it was completely out of control and all my fault, and that Film Finance, the completion guarantors, were the only thing holding it together—the people trying to bring control to it... the fact was, they were absolutely useless.

The ultimate fact was that when the film was ultimately released, there were only 117 prints made for America—so it was never really released. 117 prints! art film gets 400. We were ultimately the victim of Columbia Tri-Star being sold to Sony, because at that time all they were doing was trying to get the books looking as good as possible. We weren't the only film that suffered, but we were the most visible one. And what happened—to complete the story in a neat and tidy way—was that they were not spending any money on advertising to promote any of the movies started by the previous regime—by Putnam's regime. They were burying films left right and center by spending no money on them—and the books looked really good at the end of that.

The joke is, if you look back, we got the best reviews and we were doing the best business in the opening weeks of any film they had released since Last Emperor. We actually opened well in the big cities—we opened really well. A friend who had bought the video rights said he had never seen anything so weird—Columbia was spending their whole time looking at exit polls to prove the film would not work in the suburbs, and so it would be pointless to make any more prints. He said, "I've never seen anything like this." There it was. Then it becomes this kind of legend—which it deserves to be... even if it's the wrong legend.[20]



On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Bursting with Terry Gilliam's typically imaginative flourishes, this story of a possibly deranged Baron recounting his storied life is a flamboyant and witty visual treat."[21] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 69 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[22]

Regarding the gap between the film's troubled production and its eventual triumph of aesthetic cinematic form on the screen, Jeff Swindoll wrote in his 2008 DVD review of Munchausen for Monsters and Critics: "For the absolute hell that the production of the film turned out to be, you really don't see any of that tension on the screen... the film is a fantastic, whimsical treat... Baron Munchausen is full of whimsy, fantasy, bright colors, and fabulous characters. None is as fantastic as the Baron himself as played, with a twinkle in his eye, by the grand John Neville."[23]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4, and found that it was "told with a cheerfulness and a light touch that never betray the time and money it took to create them", appreciating "the sly wit and satire that sneaks in here and there from director Terry Gilliam and his collaborators, who were mostly forged in the mill of Monty Python". While considering the film's special effects as "astonishing", Ebert also contended that "the movie is slow to get off the ground", and "sometimes the movie fails on the basic level of making itself clear. We're not always sure who is who, how they are related, or why we should care." But "allowing for the unsuccessful passages there is a lot here to treasure". Ebert concluded, "This is a vast and commodious work... the wit and the spectacle of Baron Munchausen are considerable achievements." Additionally, he considered John Neville's title role performance as appearing "sensible and matter-of-fact, as anyone would if they had spent a lifetime growing accustomed to the incredible".[24]

Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called the film a "wondrous feat of imagination", although, "except for Williams, the actors are never more than a detail in Gilliam's compositions".[25]

Richard Corliss of Time wrote, "Everything about Munchausen deserves exclamation points, and not just to clear the air of the odor of corporate flop sweat. So here it is! A lavish fairy tale for bright children of all ages! Proof that eccentric films can survive in today's off-the-rack Hollywood! The most inventive fantasy since, well, Brazil! You may not believe it, ladies and gentlemen, but it's all true."[26]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "consistently imaginative" and a "spectacle [that] is indeed spectacular and worth the admission price and patches of boredom". He said that the "major credit must go to Giuseppe Rotunno, the cameraman; Dante Ferretti, the production designer; Richard Conway, who did the special effects, and Peerless Camera Company Ltd., responsible for the optical effects. Without them, Baron Munchausen would have looked about as big and as interesting as a 25-cent postage stamp."[27]


Award Year Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards 1990 Best Art Direction Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo Nominated
Best Costume Design Gabriella Pescucci Nominated
Best Makeup Maggie Weston and Fabrizio Sforza Nominated
Best Visual Effects Richard Conway and Kent Houston Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Costume Design Gabriella Pescucci Won
Best Makeup and Hair Maggie Weston, Fabrizio Sforza and Pam Meager Won
Best Production Design Dante Ferretti Won
Best Special Visual Effects Kent Houston and Richard Conway Nominated
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno Won
Best Production Design Dante Ferretti Won
Best Costume Design Gabriella Pescucci Won
Youth in Film Awards Best Family Motion Picture Family Musical or Fantasy The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Nominated
Best Young Actress Starring in a Motion Picture Sarah Polley Nominated
Saturn Awards 1991 Best Fantasy Film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Nominated
Best Costumes Gabriella Pescucci Nominated
Best Makeup Maggie Weston and Fabrizio Sforza Nominated
Best Special Effects Richard Conway and Kent Houston Nominated

Home media


A Criterion Collection LaserDisc was released with features, such as a commentary track by Gilliam and deleted scenes. The first DVD edition of the film, issued 27 April 1999, did not include any of these nor any other extras.

A 20th anniversary edition was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 8 April 2008. It included a new commentary with Gilliam and co-writer/actor McKeown, a three-part documentary on the making of the film, storyboard sequences, and deleted scenes.[34]

The Criterion Collection released the film on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on 3 January 2023, with bonus features.[35]

Comic book


The film was adapted into a comic series in 1989 by NOW Comics: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – The Four-Part Mini-Series.[36]

See also

  • A True Story, an ancient Greek novel (2nd century AD), in which the protagonist meets the king of the moon and is later swallowed by a whale.


  1. ^ "Die Abenteuer des Baron von Munchausen". Archived from the original on 20 April 2021. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  2. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 12 December 1988. Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 May 2024.
  4. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 1 January 2018. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  5. ^ Weiner, David (8 March 2019). "The Pain Behind 'Baron Munchausen'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 30 May 2022. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Films, Stand-Up, Comedy and TV Show Appearances". Robin Williams Fansite. Archived from the original on 16 March 2017. Q: Why is Robin credited in some projects as Ray D. Tutto, Marty Fromage and Sudy Nim? A: These are all in-jokes related to Robin's cameo appearances. In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Robin's King of the Moon character proclaims himself "re di tutto" ("king of everything" in Italian).
  7. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (PDF). The Buffalo Film Seminars. IV (14). University at Buffalo: 1. 4 December 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  8. ^ Cieply, Michael; Mathews, Jack (14 January 1988). "The Misadventures of 'Munchausen' : How a $23.5-Million Fantasy Film Turned into an Over-Budget Nightmare". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  9. ^ Interview for The Directors – The Films of Terry Gilliam, included on the bonus DVD of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Time Bandits).
  10. ^ a b c Matthews, Jack (1996). "Dreaming Brazil" (essay accompanying The Criterion Collection DVD release).
  11. ^ Sammon, Paul M.; Shay, Don (1989). "The Adventures of Terry Gilliam". Cinefex. Vol. 38, no. 7.
  12. ^ a b "Dreams: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine. Archived from the original on 21 February 1999. Retrieved 24 December 2008.
  13. ^ Moriarty (7 May 2007). "Capone Sits Down with the Lovely Sarah Polley To Talk About Her Directorial Debut, BARON MUNCHAUSEN, DAWN OF THE DEAD & More!". Ain't It Cool News. Archived from the original on 9 May 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2007.
  14. ^ "Sarah Polley: 'It took me years to see how responsible Terry Gilliam was for my terror'". The Guardian. 12 June 2022. Archived from the original on 12 June 2022. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  15. ^ Polley, Sarah [@realsarahpolley] (29 October 2022). "I have seen some discussion about whether or not people can still like this movie after hearing about my horrible experiences working on it as a child. You may not be asking for it or care – but you have my unconditional permission to still love this movie" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 6 January 2023. Retrieved 30 October 2022 – via Twitter.
  16. ^ Polley, Sarah [@realsarahpolley] (29 October 2022). "Yes, it was traumatic for me. Yes, it should have been handled very differently. Yes, it is still a great movie. The joy that comes from it is the joy I am able to carry with me as well as the terrible memories. So go nuts. Enjoy it. You have my blessing" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 8 January 2024. Retrieved 30 October 2022 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) – Terry Gilliam – Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 26 April 2006. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s – An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 19. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 July 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  19. ^ Shaw, Gabbi (3 August 2020) [27 February 2017]. "The biggest box-office flop from the year you were born". Insider. Archived from the original on 3 March 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  20. ^ Plume, Kenneth (17 November 2000). "Interview with Terry Gilliam (Part 3 of 4)". IGN. Archived from the original on 31 August 2011.
  21. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 May 2024.
  22. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  23. ^ Swindoll, Jeff (9 April 2008). "DVD Review: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition)". Monsters and Critics. Archived from the original on 25 October 2011.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (10 March 1989). "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2019 – via
  25. ^ Hinson, Hal (24 March 1989). "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 25 September 2020. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  26. ^ Corliss, Richard (13 March 1989). "Lying with A Straight Face". Time. Archived from the original on 22 October 2010. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  27. ^ Canby, Vincent (10 March 1989). "How a Notorious Liar Might Have Lived". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 8 January 2024. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  28. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards | 1990". Academy Awards. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  29. ^ "Film in 1990". BAFTA Awards. Retrieved 15 May 2024.
  30. ^ "1990 Hugo Awards". Hugo Awards. Retrieved 15 May 2024.
  31. ^ "Tutti i premiati dalla critica per il 1990" [All the critics' winners of 1990]. La Stampa (in Italian). 25 February 1990. p. 31. ISSN 1122-1763.
  32. ^ "Eleventh Annual Youth in Film Awards (1988–1989)". Young Artist Awards. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2024.
  33. ^ "1989–1990 17th Saturn Awards". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 15 May 2024.
  34. ^ "Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The 20th Anniversary Edition – BD". Sony Pictures. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008.
  35. ^ "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on 27 November 2022. Retrieved 14 May 2024.
  36. ^ "NOW Comics: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – The Four-Part Mini-Series". Grand Comics Database.