The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Produced by Samuel Hadida
Amy Gilliam
William Vince
Terry Gilliam
Written by Terry Gilliam
Charles McKeown
Starring Heath Ledger
Christopher Plummer
Verne Troyer
Lily Cole
Andrew Garfield
Tom Waits
Johnny Depp
Colin Farrell
Jude Law
Music by Jeff Danna
Mychael Danna
Cinematography Nicola Pecorini
Editing by Mick Audsley
Studio Davis Films
Grosvenor Park
Telefilm Canada
Centre National de la Cinématographie
UK Film Council
Distributed by Metropolitan Filmexport France
Lionsgate UK
Sony Pictures Classics USA (theatrical)
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions USA (all media)[1]
Release date(s) 22 May 2009 (2009-05-22) (Cannes)
16 October 2009 (2009-10-16) (United Kingdom)
11 November 2009 (2009-11-11) (France)
25 December 2009 (2009-12-25) (Canada and US)
Running time 123 minutes
Country Canada
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £18 million (estimate)
($30 million)[2]
Box office



The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a 2009 fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown. The film follows a traveling theater troupe whose leader, having made a bet with the Devil, takes audience members through a magical mirror to explore their imaginations and present them with a choice between self-fulfilling enlightenment or gratifying ignorance.

Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Andrew Garfield, Lily Cole, and Tom Waits star in the film, though Ledger's death one-third of the way through filming caused production to be temporarily suspended.[5] Ledger's role was recast with Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell portraying transformations of Ledger's character as he travels through a dream world.

The film made its world premiere during the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, out of competition.[6] The UK release of the film was scheduled for 6 June 2009 but was pushed back to 16 October 2009 due to its successful premiere at Cannes. The film was given a limited release in the US on Christmas Day 2009 and a nationwide expansion on 8 January 2010.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was nominated for two Academy Awards in the categories Best Art Direction (art directed by Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro, and set decorated by Caroline Smith; lost to Avatar) and Best Costume Design (costumes designed by Monique Prudhomme; lost to The Young Victoria).[7]



The ancient Doctor Parnassus' (Christopher Plummer) theatre troupe, which includes sleight of hand expert Anton (Andrew Garfield), confidant Percy (Verne Troyer), and Parnassus' daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), performs outside a London pub. A drunkard (Richard Riddell) barges onstage and crashes through a stage mirror, where his face changes (Bruce Crawford), and he enters a journey of imagination that culminates in a choice between a torturous-looking twelve-step program and going to a pub. He enters the pub, but it explodes; in the real world, Parnassus says he has lost another one to Mr. Nick (Tom Waits).

Mr. Nick reminds Parnassus that in three days Valentina turns 16, and her soul will be his. Drowning himself in drink and playing tarot, Parnassus tells Valentina that, centuries earlier, he ran a monastery where monks perpetually recited stories to sustain the world. Mr. Nick challenged their beliefs by sealing their mouths. The world survived, but Parnassus claimed it was because of stories told elsewhere. Mr. Nick bet Parnassus over who could win souls of more people, to crave either stories of imagination (Parnassus) or addictive feeble desires (Mr. Nick). Parnassus won 12 souls before Mr. Nick, and gained immortality.

As the troupe crosses a bridge, Anton spies someone hanging beneath it. They rescue the hanging man (Heath Ledger), who spits out a golden pipe when revived.[note 1][8][9] Claiming to have amnesia, the man joins the troupe as a barker. Parnassus becomes despondent over the impending loss of his daughter. Mr. Nick visits Parnassus, revealing the hanging man is a disgraced philanthropist named "Tony". He offers Parnassus a wager: Valentina can stay with whomever wins five souls first.

Tony convinces the troupe to remodel the show as more attractive to contemporary Londoners. In an upscale mall, Tony lures a woman wearing Louis Vuitton (Maggie Steed) into the mirror and follows her, where they enter a pastel-colored dream-world of giant high-heel shoes, bejeweled eggs, and floating lily pads — representative of this woman's imagination. The woman's imagination also changes Tony's face (Johnny Depp); upon discovering this, he dances elegantly with her, and they spy a motel run by Mr. Nick. However, Tony convinces the woman to take a gondola toward a pyramid alone, winning a soul for Parnassus. Soon after, Tony falls backward out of the Imaginarium, changing his face back to normal; the woman exits shortly after and writes a blank check. Three other women clamor for a turn. Each emerges elated and pays well; Parnassus wins three more souls.

Four Russian gangsters see Tony, who owes them money, and they chase him into the Imaginarium. As they threaten Tony, who has once again transformed — into his vision of a successful man (Jude Law) — Parnassus tempts them with a police recruitment song, promising they will enjoy being cops who can legally brutalize people. Mr. Nick lures them to a woman that takes the form of their mother with a giant babushka. It explodes; the score is four souls apiece.

Parnassus reveals to Valentina that in an hour she will belong to Mr. Nick. He finally explains he made a new pact with Mr. Nick to be youthful again, so to win the heart of a woman he loved. In exchange, any child he fathered would become Mr. Nick's property at age 16. Valentina attempts to run away, but Tony enters the Imaginarium to give his soul to Parnassus; in exchange, Parnassus must teach him the trance which powers the dream-world. Valentina returns as he tries to enter the mirror, but Anton blocks them, having discovered from a recent newspaper how Tony is a fraudulent charity scammer.

Anton jealously struggles with Tony; in the scuffle, first Valentina, then Tony, enter the mirror dream-world. Influenced by Valentina's desires, Tony's face changes again (Colin Farrell), and with Valentina, floats along in a boat. Shortly after an impoverished child disrupts their boat trip, Tony is suddenly now a philanthropist, speaking at a fundraiser. Anton appears as an outspoken child and exposes Tony as a fraud. A mob pursues Tony as the landscape disintegrates around them. Anton falls into a void, and Tony flees into a desert.

Valentina enters a shifting landscape of broken mirrors. Distraught over her father's bargain, Valentina gives her soul to Mr. Nick. Disillusioned at his easy victory, Mr. Nick offers to trade Valentina for Tony. Chased by the mob, Tony flees to a hilltop gallows, but Parnassus confronts him, holding two copies of Tony's pipe, which he used to brace his windpipe against the noose. Parnassus challenges Tony to choose which pipe is genuine. He chooses wrongly, and, when the mob string him up on the gallows, he finally dies. Mr. Nick keeps to his word, and Valentina is freed, but he knows not where. Nick abandons Parnassus to the wilds of his Imaginarium.

Heartbroken, Parnassus only emerges from the Imaginarium years later, where he finds that Valentina married Anton and has a daughter. He watches them from outside a restaurant window, but when tempted to join them, he is stopped by Percy, who reappears as a hotel worker. Teaming up with Percy once more, Parnassus sells toy theater replicas of the Imaginarium on a street corner. Mr. Nick, everpresent, invites Parnassus over to him, but Percy successfully puts an end to the temptation.




Promotional one-sheet for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which, for several months, was the first placeholder on the film's official site

Director Terry Gilliam and screenwriter Charles McKeown wrote the script for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,[12] their first collaboration since The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).[17] When he was approached with the basic concept by Gilliam, McKeown thought of the central character of Parnassus "as a semi-eastern medicine man evolved",[18] and in retrospect he further said about the script's sensibilities, "[i]t is about the theme of imagination, and the importance of imagination, to how you live and how you think and so on. And that's very much a Terry theme. [...] I like the idea of storytelling being the thing that sustains the universe."[18] Gilliam described the premise as a "fun and humorous story about the consequences of our personal choices in life",[19] and explained his goal for the film: "It's autobiographical. I'm trying to bring a bit of fantasticality to London, an antidote to modern lives. I loved this idea of an ancient travelling show offering the kind of storytelling and wonder that we used to get, to people who are just into shoot-em-up action films."[17] Gilliam and McKeown based the character of Tony on former British prime minister Tony Blair, who "would say the most insane things and probably he'd believe them himself".[10]

Gilliam repeatedly said in interviews that the character of Parnassus was meant autobiographically, a tale of an aging man with a vivid imagination in a world that doesn't listen anymore.[20] Still being caught in depression over the disruption of his last self-written project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, his constant struggle with the established studio system, as well as becoming aware of his progressing age, worried that he was going nowhere with his latest projects and that he might not have much time left, Gilliam put a number of references to sudden, tragic, and premature death into his script before the loss of Ledger became a reality. In fact, Gilliam felt compelled to emphasize time and again that upon the film's release many things might be mistaken as references to Ledger's fate but that the script wasn't changed apart from re-casting Tony with Depp, Farrell, and Law.[21][22]


Heath Ledger during a break between set-ups at Clerkenwell, in late January 2008.

The film received a budget of $25 million at first,[23] but its final budget was about $30 million.[24] For The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam and his cinematographer Nicola Pecorini went wider than ever before on focal length with a new 8mm Zeiss lens, unusual even for a Gilliam movie which are usually trademarked by wide-angle imagery.[25] The widest lens that had been employed before on a Gilliam film had been a 9.8mm Kinoptic. Production of the remaining computer generated imagery effects shots were carried out in Vancouver.[12]

London filming

Production started in December 2007, beginning with various shots of the Imaginarium wagon moving about the London suburbs (to be more specific, Bounds Green, London)[26] on the evening of December 9.[27] The carnival scenes were shot at Potters Field between December 10–11; shooting then moved to the abandoned Battersea Power Station for three days, where the production had set up offices nearby.[28] After a full day of set-up, the hanging scenes at Blackfriars Bridge were shot for three hours on the evening of December 17.[29]

At the same time that an intimate early scene between Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole was being shot on top of the traveling Imaginarium wagon, second unit work around London was also being done for several more nights, until December 20; this change in schedule was to allow Heath Ledger a break to travel back to Australia to visit his family. After the entire cast returned from Christmas break, the production resumed shooting for 2008 back at Battersea for one full day; this was Tom Waits' first day on set, as he would mainly be required for the subsequent Vancouver shoot, not the London section. From January 5-6,[30] the production filmed scenes with the Imaginarium at Leadenhall Market; shooting on this sequence managed an average of 70 set-ups a day.[31] The production had originally planned to shoot the Leadenhall scenes at Bond Street, but this was scrapped, due to security concerns.[32]

After various nighttime footage at a Homebase parking lot in New Southgate,[33] and interiors behind the stage curtain (including reaction close-ups of Heath Ledger) shot at Bray Studios in Windsor, production finally wrapped in Clerkenwell, with shooting on the night of January 18 being Heath Ledger's last footage shot for the film;[34] he returned to his New York City apartment over the weekend while the production regrouped, and was expected to appear on set in Vancouver after a week's break for the second stage of shooting.

Effects of Heath Ledger's death

Production was disrupted by the death of Heath Ledger in New York City on January 22, 2008. Ledger's involvement had been a "key factor" in the film's financing.[14] Gilliam was presiding over concept art when he was informed by a phone call that Ledger had died. His initial thought about the production was: "The film's over, it's as simple as that."[10] Although production was suspended indefinitely by January 24,[35] according to Christopher Plummer, Gilliam, determined to "salvage" the film, initially considered using computer-generated imagery to make Ledger's character magically change his appearance, perhaps into another character, in order to keep his final work in the film, and, if the film was made, would dedicate it to Ledger.[36] The imagery would have been similar to transformation techniques seen on Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and those employed on Roy Scheider's performance in his posthumous release Iron Cross.

Tom Waits on location for the first day of filming in Vancouver, February 24, 2008.

Eventually, actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law were cast to replace Heath Ledger in certain scenes, portraying the new idea of transformed versions of Ledger's character travelling through magical realms, while the footage shot with Ledger would remain in the film as his character's "real-world" appearance. Gilliam told Entertainment Weekly, "Then we made the quantum leap: What if we get three actors to replace him? [...] Johnny was the first person I called. He said, 'Done. I'm there.' Same with Jude and Colin."[37] Depp, a friend of Gilliam's who starred in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the aborted The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, had been compared to Ledger by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini. Law was also a friend of Ledger's and had been considered for the role of Tony, and Farrell had also been friends with Ledger.[10]

Initially, Tom Cruise expressed interest in being involved as another actor to replace Ledger, but Gilliam turned him down because Cruise had never been a close friend of Ledger.[38][39] Gilliam stated, "I just wanted to keep this family — it's as simple as that [...] There were people even offering to come and help, they didn't know Heath. It had to be in the family somehow, I don't know why; it was my attitude."[40]

One scene planned for the Vancouver shooting with the Tony character was scrapped; two others were altered to accommodate Ledger's absence, a third was added to plan for Colin Farrell's role in the film, and a fourth, already in the script, had a prop of Farrell in a magazine added.[41] A fifth, with close-ups of Ledger already filmed, scrapped any major dialogue from Tony and used a body and voice double, as detailed below.

Vancouver filming

With the role recast, and the script restructured accordingly, filming resumed in Vancouver on February 24, 2008, a month later than originally planned.[42][43] Exteriors required for the film's ending, featuring Christopher Plummer and Verne Troyer, were shot during this time; the location work also required the presence of Tom Waits (on the first day)[44] and Lily Cole (on the second).[45][46] All of Plummer's scenes, including exterior flashbacks shown early on in the film,[32] had to be filmed first in the Vancouver schedule, within three weeks, as he was due to leave to begin filming on The Last Station, which was to start production in Germany on April 7.[31][47]

After arriving in Vancouver on February 26,[48] Colin Farrell joined the cast and began practicing scenes with them for several weeks while Christopher Plummer's bluescreen and interior work was done, only beginning filming proper on March 10.[49] Farrell's work was the first of the Tonys to be done, as it was the only Imaginarium-based shooting that involved significant sets; the scenes at the charity ball were shot (at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre),[16] then the hanging scene, and finally the gondola sequence (rewritten from its original conception due to the now-compressed shooting schedule).

Johnny Depp's shooting on the film was the hardest to incorporate into any of the new actors' schedules, due to his contractual obligation on Michael Mann's Public Enemies at the time; in the end, Gilliam had access to Depp for one day and three hours. All of the shots involving him had to be completed in one take, in order to fit into Depp's compressed time schedule.

A few of the scenes featuring Zander Gladish, behind a mask, doubling for Ledger in the film.

Finally, Jude Law arrived at the very end of shooting, on April 2,[50] to film the Imaginarium ladders sequence, which now required more dialogue than originally planned; a key scene in the Imaginarium wagon between Tony and the rest of the cast had been reserved for the Vancouver interior shooting,[43] and so all of the dialogue (and, thus, narrative role of that scene) had to be funnelled into a conversation between Law and Andrew Garfield's characters in the Imaginarium.[30] This conversation proved to be the last sequence shot for the film, and involved a set completely improvised, on the day, to look like the ground at Battersea;[32] they did not have the budget for anything better, but the production crew came away quite impressed at how well it worked.[51][30][32]

For the first two Imaginarium sequences, a double for Ledger, Zander Gladish, was used to ease the audience into the other actors as Tony; Gladish also doubled for Ledger in wide shots and masked close-ups for another, non-Imaginarium scene, where his character tries out various costumes. Gladish wore the character's mask for his shots, and did not speak, but is still credited for his work on the film.[41][52]

Depp, Farrell, and Law opted to redirect their wages for the role to Ledger's young daughter, Matilda, who had been left out of an old version of Ledger's will,[53] and Gilliam altered the part of the credits saying "A Terry Gilliam film" to "A film from Heath Ledger and friends."[10]

Gilliam said in retrospect about the first transition from Ledger to Depp in the film:

He's extraordinary. That's why I put Johnny in first position [of the three new Tonys], because number one, he was going to be the most difficult to get any time with, and number two, I just thought if it works with the transition to Johnny and if the audience goes for it, they'll follow the next two. And that's exactly how it works. [...] That's what's funny, when Johnny appears so many people think it's Heath! And it's a trick: Johnny's not doing anything. He looks like Johnny. [...]

[During the initial shoot] Heath was on stage and the Russians are appearing, and he was behaving in a very funny way, he was moving around, and I said, 'Heath, I know what you're doing.' He said, 'What are you talking about?' 'You're doing Johnny Depp, aren't you?' And can you believe, that helps this transition [when Ledger enters the mirror and becomes Depp]. This was not intended!"[40]

Depp said of the experience:

Maestro Gilliam has made a sublime film. Wonderfully enchanting and beautiful, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a uniquely ingenious, captivating creation; by turns wild, thrilling and hilarious in all its crazed, dilapidated majesty. Pure Gilliam magic! It was an honor to represent Heath. He was the only player out there breathing heavy down the back of every established actor's neck with a thundering and ungovernable talent that came up on you quick, hissing rather mischievously with that cheeky grin, "hey... get on out of my way, boys, I'm coming through..." and does he ever!!! Heath is a marvel, Christopher Plummer beyond anything he's ever done, Waits as the Devil is a God, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield, the very foundation, are spectacular, Verne Troyer simply kicks ass and as for my other cohorts, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, they most certainly did Master Ledger very proud, I salute them. Though the circumstances of my involvement are extremely heart-rending and unbelievably sad, I feel privileged to have been asked aboard to stand in on behalf of dear Heath."[54]

Jude Law also commented on the film, saying:

I have always loved Terry Gilliam's films. Their heart, their soul, their mind, always inventive, touching, funny and relevant. When I got the call, it was a double tug. I liked Heath very much as a man and admired him as an actor. To help finish his final piece of work was a tribute I felt compelled to make. To help Terry finish his film was an honour paid to a man I adore. I had a great time on the job. Though we were all there in remembrance, Heath's heart pushed us with great lightness to the finish.[54]

Colin Farrell commented on the experience in his blog, saying,

It's not hard for me to imagine that if I ever look back on the films I've been a part of, and the stories I've had a hand in telling, one will stand out as so unique an experience, as to be incomparable. This experience was the shooting of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The reasons for its uniqueness, sadly, are probably obvious to anyone who reads this. Three of us had been asked to complete a task that had been set in motion by a man we greatly liked and respected as both a person and an artist. Being part of this film was never about filling Heath's shoes as much as seeing them across the finish line. How I wish he had brought the film to its completion himself. Of course, the whole crew felt this way. And the cast that we joined felt it, too. It was this spirit of grieving the loss of Heath, that Johnny and Jude and I joined. But there was also a sense of dogged insistence. Insistence that Heath's last piece of work should not be kept in the shadow of the light of day. More than anything, though – more than the sadness and shock, the vulnerability and un-suredness as to whether it was right to complete the film or not – was an incredible sense of love. A community of people, caterers and actors, electricians and makeup artists had been brought together in a recognized sense of love and obligation, for and to, one of cinema's finest actors and most generous of men. It will be this sense of love amidst the sadness I will remember most. Such a gift and an honor, from Heath, to be a part of the trail that he left behind. RIP Heath Ledger x[55]


Principal photography in Vancouver wrapped, as planned, on April 15, but the production was soon beset by further tragedy when producer William Vince died of cancer, just two days after model shooting back in London had wrapped.[26] Fellow producer Amy Gilliam, Terry's daughter, remembered, "[Bill Vince] always said, 'If you get your film in the can, you'll be all right.' And I kind of believe that he stayed with us to know that happened."[40] Eventually, while on post-production, Gilliam himself was hit by a car, resulting in a cracked vertebra. Gilliam recalled: "So I thought, it was third time lucky - they just didn't get me. They got the star, the producer, and they were going for the director, and the fuckers failed on the last one. Whoever they are..."[21] "They were going for the trinity [...] That would have been a tidy end to the whole thing. But they didn't kill me. I'm stuck here to tell the tale."[20]

Gilliam finished editing the film by November 2008, and then work began on creating 647 computer generated imagery effects shots.[10] As usual with his films, Gilliam found inspiration in particular painters for each CGI-generated scene inside the titular Imaginarium. According to Designing the "Imaginarium" published by, the scene with Doctor Parnassus's attempted suicide related to the style of Odd Nerdrum,[56] the Ladder World with Jude Law featuring "rolling hills with simple trees" was inspired by the art of Grant Wood,[57] the kitsch landscape from the beginning of the sequence with Colin Farrell took inspiration from Maxfield Parrish,[58] and Jose Maria Sert's mural of the Crucifixion in Rockefeller Center inspired the scene including the final minutes of Farrell's appearance in the film.[59]

According to the official ParnassusFilm Twitter channel[60][61] launched on March 30, 2009, post-production was finished on March 31. After the production had finally come to a successful closure, Gilliam felt that "[I] didn't make this film. Forces from above and below made it. It made itself. I don't worry anymore. It's got its own relentless momentum. It just needed some human sacrifice."[20] "It's made itself - I was just one pair of hands and there were many hands."[21] "Don't get me into my mystical mode ... but the film made itself and it was co-directed by Heath Ledger!"[62] "The irony is that the choices that were forced upon us improved the movie, so it was as if Heath co-directed the movie, even co-wrote it."[63] According to Gilliam, actor Colin Farrell also went on record for saying that he hadn't been simply playing the character of Tony, but that he was rather feeling like "channeling Heath".[64]

Tony is found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge.

Filming took place at various locations in London and Vancouver.[65] Gilliam also positively recalled people's commitment to Ledger's memory: "Everyone in the cast and everyone in the crew was determined that this film would be finished and everybody worked longer, harder and somehow we got through. It was really ... people's love for Heath that propelled this thing forward."[66] "All the actors already in the film had to change their schedules, and there wasn't a moment's hesitation. [...] They all said, 'We'll do what's necessary.' It's really a love letter to Heath by everybody involved. He was beloved by so many."[20]

The restyled show debuts in Leadenhall Market.


The film opens with St Paul's Cathedral in the background (by the north bank of the Thames), and the first show is performed under the rail tracks at Green Dragon Court, directly next to Borough Market, with Southwark Cathedral in the background (in Borough, London, on the south bank of the Thames), where the drunken lout molests the performers and then enters the mirror. The next scene, with Tower Bridge in the background, is just east along the riverbank, by City Hall. Tony is found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, and the very large disused building in which the following scene (and several later ones) occurs is the interior of Battersea power station, farther west along the south bank of the river.

The following scenes occur north of the Thames: the Homebase, DIY store at 3 Station Road, south of New Southgate railway station, in New Southgate, followed by the Horseshoe pub in Clerkenwell Close in Clerkenwell from which the wagon flees. The restyled show makes its debut in Leadenhall Market, where the stylish women gather to watch. Bray Studios near Windsor was used for model shooting and additional photography.

The remaining scenes were filmed in Vancouver. The fantasy scenes were filmed at Bridge Studios in Burnaby, while the charity gala occurs at the Orpheum Theatre, and the glass-walled "mall" is the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, the curved arcade being the library's entrance foyer.

The "mall" is the foyer of the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.


The original motion picture soundtrack of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was composed by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna who had previously worked on Gilliam's Tideland. Gilliam wrote lyrics for the two songs "We Love Violence" and "We Are The Children Of The World", the latter of which spoofed Michael Jackson's famous "We Are the World"[67] and was nominated for a 2009 Satellite Award in the category "Best Original Song".[68]

The song "We Love Violence", performed in the film by policemen in drag, was sung by Gilliam, Mick Audsley (who edited the film), the musician Ray Cooper, Ed Hall (who was also the Visual Effects Editor), and Andre Jacquemin (who was Supervising Sound & Design on the film).[69]

  1. Once upon a Time
  2. The Imaginarium
  3. The Tack
  4. Tony's Tale of Woe
  5. The Monastery
  6. Book & Story
  7. Sympathy for the Hanged Man
  8. The First to Five Souls
  9. Escape from the Pub
  10. The River
  11. Suicide Attempt
  12. Tango amongst the Lilies
  13. Victory in the Lilies
  14. Four through The Mirror
  15. The Ladder World
  16. We Love Violence
  17. Top of the Wagon
  18. We Are the Children of the World
  19. Tony's World Collapses
  20. The Devil's Dance
  21. Tony's Salvation
  22. Parnassus Alone
Tom Waits and Lily Cole, promoting the film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.

Release and box office performance

Before The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was finished, the film had already received healthy interest from worldwide distributors and the film sold out across the world.[71][72] However, the film received lukewarm response from many distributors in the United States. Gilliam said that Fox Searchlight Pictures and other distributors had declined to release the film in the US.[73] Eventually, the film's US distribution rights were acquired by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which released the film in the US through Sony Pictures Classics.[1] In fact, the US was the last territory in which the film was sold.[74]

Box office

According to Reuters, the film debuted at #3 on its first weekend at the UK box office.[75] The film debuted at #2 in both France[76] and Italy, generating the year's third-best box office return on an opening weekend in Italy. Said Roberto Proia, distribution chief of the film's Italian distributor Moviemax, about its surprisingly warm reception, "Almost two years after his death, Ledger has a huge fanbase which, along with the rest of the stellar cast, certainly contributed hugely. [...] We also found out that teenagers massively love Gilliam, and we did not expect this. He really has rock star status."[77] Eventually, the film had earned about $54,119,168 theatrically in the countries outside North America.[78]

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus earned $415,233 on its North American limited opening Christmas weekend (December 25–27, 2009), being presented in 48 theaters with an average of $8,651. The second weekend of Parnassus (January 1–3, 2010) set an average of $7,684 with a gross of $368,836 which made for a total of $1,029,821 domestically. Releasing in 607 North American theaters, Parnassus took eleventh place on its opening wide release box office weekend (January 8–10, 2010) with earnings of $1,762,637, an average of only $2,904 and a total of $2,989,290.[79] Eventually, the film had earned $7,689,607 theatrically in North America.[78]

According to the working partner of William Vince, the film had already made its budget back even before it opened in North America.[80]

Home media

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom (Region 2) on March 29, 2010, by Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Supplementary material includes audio commentary and an introduction by Gilliam, deleted scenes, wardrobe test for Heath Ledger, visual FX feature, and three featurettes titled "Behind the Mirror," "Building the Temple," and "UK Premiere."[81]

The DVD was released in the US on April 27, 2010.

Critical reception

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 64% of 184 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6 out of 10. The site's general consensus is that "Terry Gilliam remains as indulgent as ever, but The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus represents a return to the intoxicatingly imaginative, darkly beautiful power of his earlier work, with fine performances to match all the visual spectacle."[82] Among Rotten Tomatoes' "Top Critics" the film holds a 56% "rotten" rating.[83] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 65 based on 30 reviews.[84]

Awards and nominations

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was nominated for two Academy Awards, in the categories Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.[85]

The Costume Designers Guild of America named The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus for Best Fantasy Film of the year with costume designer Monique Prudhomme receiving the award.[86] In addition, it was also nominated for two BAFTA awards, including Best Production Design (Dave Warren, Anastasia Masaro and Caroline Smith) and Best Make Up & Hair (Sarah Monzani), but lost both to Avatar and The Young Victoria respectively.[87] It holds two nominations at the 2010 Jameson Empire Awards (Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Best British Film) voted by the public[88] and was nominated for two Saturn Awards, in the categories Best International Film and Best Make-up (Sarah Monzani).[89]

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was nominated for Best Achievement in Production at the British Independent Film Awards, but lost to Bunny and the Bull.[90] It was further nominated for three International Press Academy Satellite Awards, in the categories Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction & Production Design, and Best Original Song, and Monique Prudhomme won the award for Best Costume Design.[68] The film was also voted Best Fantasy Film of the Year by readers of the Total Sci-Fi Online magazine.[91]


  1. ^ Gilliam describes this as "an homage to Roberto Calvi, the famous Italian Vatican banker who was found hanging under that very bridge [Blackfriars Bridge]."


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