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The Fisher King is a 1991 American fantasy comedy-drama film written by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges, with Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, and Michael Jeter in supporting roles, the film tells the story of a radio shock jock who tries to find redemption by helping a man whose life he inadvertently shattered. It explores "the intermingling of New York City's usually strictly separated social strata" and has been described as "a modern-day Grail Quest that fused New York romantic comedy with timeless fantasy".

The film was released in the United States by TriStar Pictures on September 20, 1991. It received generally favorable reviews from critics and grossed $72 million on a $24 million budget. At the 64th Academy Awards the film earned five nominations, including Best Actor for Williams, with Ruehl winning Best Supporting Actress.


Jack Lucas, a narcissistic, misanthropic shock jock, becomes suicidal and despondent after his insensitive on-air comments inadvertently prompt an unstable caller to commit a mass murder–suicide at a Manhattan restaurant. Three years later, Jack is working for his girlfriend Anne in a video store in a mostly drunken, depressed state.

One night, while on a bender, he contemplates suicide. However, he is attacked and nearly set on fire by thugs who mistake him for a homeless person. He is rescued by Parry, a delusional homeless man who claims his mission is to find the Holy Grail.

Parry tries to enlist Jack's help in getting the grail, explaining that the Fisher King was charged by God with finding the Holy Grail, but incurred an incapacitating wound for his sin of pride. "A Fool asks the King why he suffers, and when the King says he is thirsty, the Fool gives him a cup of water to drink. The King realizes the cup is the Grail and asks, 'How did you find what my brightest and bravest could not?' The Fool said 'I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty.'"

Jack is initially reluctant but acquiesces after learning that he is partially responsible for Parry's current condition. Parry, whose real name is Henry Sagan, had been a teacher at Hunter College. After witnessing his wife's gruesome death at the same mass shooting Jack had provoked, Henry had a psychotic break and became catatonic. When he woke, he had taken the persona of Parry and became obsessed with the legend of the Fisher King. With Parry as his shielding persona, mentions of reality panic him and he is continually haunted by a terrifying, hallucinatory Red Knight, from a distorted memory of his wife's head exploding from a shotgun blast.

Jack seeks to redeem himself by helping Parry find love again. Lydia, a shy woman with whom Parry is smitten, is prodded into meeting Parry and joining Jack and Anne for a dinner date. Following dinner, Parry walks Lydia home and declares his love for her; she reciprocates, but the brush with reality summons the Red Knight. Fleeing his vision and the memory of his wife's murder, he is ambushed by the same thugs against whom he had defended Jack. Beaten mercilessly, Parry becomes catatonic again. Jack, feeling whole again after 'saving' Parry, breaks up with Anne and begins to rebuild his career, but has a crisis of conscience during a sitcom pitch after snubbing a vagrant who had previously done him a favor.

After finding out what happened to Parry, Jack dons Parry's clothing and infiltrates the Upper East Side castle of a famous architect and retrieves the "Grail", a trophy which Parry believes to be the real Grail. During the theft, Jack finds the architect unconscious from attempting suicide. He triggers the alarm when leaving, alerting the authorities and saving the man's life.

When he brings the Grail to Parry, he regains consciousness and tells a silent Jack he's ready to miss his wife now. Lydia comes to visit Parry in the hospital; she finds him awake and leading the patients of the ward in a rendition of "How About You?" with Jack. Parry and Lydia embrace. Afterwards, Jack reconciles with Anne, telling her that he loves her. She slaps him, but then grabs and kisses him. Later, Jack and Parry lie naked in Central Park gazing at the clouds, as a fireworks display over New York presents "The End".



During an appearance on The Directors (which is available on the 2-Disc DVD for Gilliam's film Time Bandits), Gilliam said he wanted to do the film because he was tired of doing big budget special effects films, such as his previous film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which went over budget and cost over $45 million, nearly twice as much as The Fisher King's budget of $24 million. This was the first film Gilliam directed in which he was not involved in writing the screenplay, as well as his first film not to feature any other members of Monty Python. It is Gilliam's second film involving the Holy Grail, the first being Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

According to the Directors episode, Gilliam came up with the scene where Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer meet during a huge waltz in the middle of Grand Central Terminal, because he felt the scene LaGravenese had written (which had a large group of people in a crowded subway listen to a homeless woman sing with a beautiful voice that fills the room) wasn't working. He was at first hesitant about this because his original intentions were to just shoot the script, and that the waltz would make it "a Terry Gilliam film". The scene was shot in one night with a mix of professional extras and passengers getting off the train.


Box office[]

The film did moderately well at the box office, with a gross of almost $42 million in the United States and Canada, and an international gross of $30.5 milion, for a worldwide total of $72.4 million.

Critical response[]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that the film "sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance". John Simon of the National Review described The Fisher King as "one of the most nonsensical, pretentious, mawkishly cloying movies I ever had to wretch through".

Following Robin Williams' death, a re-appraisal of the film on stated that "no Williams film can hit harder — or be so fully consoling in such heartbreaking circumstances — than The Fisher King", where his character "gradually simmers to a boil of bristling insecurities, terror and agonizing internalized pain".

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 84% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "An odd but affecting mixture of drama, comedy and fantasy, The Fisher King manages to balance moving performances from Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges with director Terry Gilliam's typically askew universe." Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B+" on scale of A to F.


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Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated
Best Actor Jeff Bridges Nominated
Robin Williams Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Best Art Direction Mel Bourne Nominated
Best Original Score George Fenton Nominated
Academy Awards
Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Actor Robin Williams Nominated
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Best Art Direction Mel Bourne and Cindy Carr Nominated
Best Original Score George Fenton Nominated
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Robin Williams Nominated
Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Mercedes Ruehl Won
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Comedy Howard Feurer Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Robin Williams Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Mercedes Ruehl Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Amanda Plummer Nominated
Best Screenplay – Original Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Nominated
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Robin Williams Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Nominated
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Jeff Bridges Nominated
Robin Williams Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Terry Gilliam Nominated
Guldbagge Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Template:Runner-up
Best Director Terry Gilliam Template:Runner-up
Best Supporting Actress Amanda Plummer Template:Runner-up
Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Screenplay Richard LaGravenese Template:Runner-up
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Nominated
Best Actor Jeff Bridges Nominated
Robin Williams Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Mercedes Ruehl Won
Best Director Terry Gilliam Nominated
Best Writing Richard LaGravenese Nominated
Best Costumes Beatrix Aruna Pasztor Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards People's Choice Award Terry Gilliam Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 6th Place
Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion Terry Gilliam Nominated
Little Golden Lion Won
Silver Lion Won[lower-alpha 1]
Best Actress (Pasinetti Award) Mercedes Ruehl Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Richard LaGravenese Nominated

Home media releases[]

The film was released on VHS and Laserdisc by Columbia TriStar Home Video in 1992. The 1st Laserdisc release was a full-screen pan and scan transfer only, but showed more vertical information while losing horizontal info. The 2nd release in the 1997 Widescreen Collection presents it in its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, in which the same master was used for the 1998 DVD release. The Criterion Collection released their Laserdisc version in 1993 with several extras that have not surfaced on any other release, and a director approved widescreen transfer in 1.66:1.

The film was released in 1998 on DVD by Columbia TriStar Home Video, and its transfer was essentially a port of the previous 1997 laserdisc with no extra features aside from the theatrical trailer. This release is one of the oldest DVD titles to still remain in print as of 2014. In 2011, Image Entertainment (under license from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) released a Blu-ray utilizing a new HD master in the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital Tru-HD 5.1 surround (all other releases were in 2.0 surround). This release is essentially bare bones, and does not have the trailer like the previous DVD release had.

On June 23, 2015, The Criterion Collection re-released the film on Blu-ray and DVD featuring a brand new 2K transfer and DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix.

See also[]

  • List of films based on Arthurian legend

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