In February 2001, Ehren Kruger sold his spec script to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). With Gilliam's hiring as director, the script was rewritten by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, but the Writers Guild of America refused to credit them for their work, thus Kruger received sole credit. MGM eventually dropped out as distributor, but decided to co-finance The Brothers Grimm with Dimension Films and Summit Entertainment, while Dimension took over distribution duties.
The film was shot entirely in the Czech Republic. Gilliam often had on-set tensions with brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, which caused the original theatrical release date to be delayed nearly ten months. The Brothers Grimm was finally released on 26 August 2005 with mixed reviews and a $105.3 million box office performance.
This also marks Terry Gilliam's first film to receive a PG-13 rating by the MPAA.
Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jakob Grimm (Heath Ledger) arrive in French-occupied Germany during the early 1800s. They go to Karlstadt to rid the town of a witch's ghost. After killing the "ghost", it is revealed that the Brothers Grimm have actually set up a fake witch to trick the town. Afterwards, as they are celebrating, Italian torturer Mercurio Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) takes them to the French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce).
Delatombe forces them to solve a mystery: The girls of the small village of Marbaden are disappearing, and the villagers are convinced that supernatural beings are responsible. The Grimms are charged with finding who is responsible, and they soon discover that it is the work of a real supernatural force: a beautiful, yet evil, 500-year-old Thuringian Queen (Monica Bellucci) stealing young girls to restore her own beauty.
Long ago, King Childeric I came to the forest to build a city while the Queen experimented with black magic to gain eternal life. A plague swept through the land, and she hid in her tower, while her husband and everyone below her perished. Her spell granted her immortal life, but not the youth and beauty to go along with it. Her youthful appearance now only exists in her mirror, the source of her life, as an illusion and nothing more.
She needs to drink the blood of twelve young girls to regain her beauty; ten have already been reported missing. The Queen is working an enchantment to regain her beauty with the aid of her werewolf huntsman and his magic axe, crow familiars, and various creatures in the forest. The Grimms, with the help of Cavaldi and Angelika (Lena Headey), a knowing huntress from the village, intend to destroy the Mirror Queen.
After another girl goes missing, Cavaldi takes the Grimms and Angelika back to Delatombe. Because they have failed, Cavaldi is ordered to kill both the Grimms; but, after convincing Delatombe that the magic in the forest is actually caused by German rebels, he sends them back. While Cavaldi stays behind with Angelika in the village, the brothers attempt to get into the tower. Jake succeeds and discovers the Queen and the power of her mirror. Meanwhile, another girl, named Sasha, is captured despite Angelika and Cavaldi's efforts to save her.
Jake rides into the forest alone after a spat with Will, who follows him. After mistaking a dummy that is smashed into the tower for Jake, Will realizes that Jake needs him to believe in him and assists Jake in climbing up the tower. On the roof of the tower, Jake notices twelve crypts in which the twelve victims must lie.
When Sasha's body comes up from a well, the werewolf takes her to a tomb. After rescuing Sasha and taking the werewolf's magic axe, the Grimms return to the village. Delatombe captures the brothers and believes them to be frauds. French soldiers begin burning down the forest, and Cavaldi represses his sympathy to the brothers, but they are eventually saved by Angelika.
The werewolf is revealed to be Angelika's father, who is under the Queen's spell. It turns out that he is only able to keep on living due to an enchanted spike that is lodged into his chest and, without such, the spell is broken. Angelika is drowned by her father, becoming the 12th victim. The Brothers reach the tower while the Queen breathes an ice wind that puts out the forest fire. Delatombe notices that the Grimms have escaped and goes after them with Cavaldi. When Cavaldi refuses to kill the Grimms, Delatombe shoots him but is later impaled by Will.
Will and Jake enter the tower, where Will falls under the Queen's spell when the Queen takes the enchanted spike from Angelika's father and thrusts it into Will's chest. Jake shatters the enchanted mirror in the tower, preventing the Queen from completing the spell that will restore her youth. With the last of his strength, Angelika's father destroys the rest of the mirror by jumping out of the window with it; and Will, attempting to save the Queen, tries to take back the mirror and falls with him, and both men are killed.
Outside, Cavaldi survives, having donned the Grimm's faux-magic armor. He finds Will's body and recites an Italian curse, and the tower falls apart. Jake escapes, and Cavaldi informs Jake that he can break the spell and awaken Angelika with a kiss, which in turn resurrects the other girls and Will. With the menace gone and their daughters returned to them, the villagers of Marbaden celebrate and give their heart-felt thanks to the brothers.
Cavaldi stays in the village and joins the villagers for the feast. Angelika kisses both the Grimms and tells them that they are always welcome at the village. The Brothers Grimm decide to pursue a new profession, presumably recording fairy tales, although they are now wanted criminals of the state. One of the Queen's crows is seen flying off with the last shard of her mirror, still holding the Queen's watchful eye and presumably, her living soul.
Will and Jake have a complicated relationship; Jake is the smaller, younger, more sensitive of the two. Will is often very hard on Jake (dating all the way back to their childhood, when Jake sold the family cow to an old man in exchange for "magic beans" instead of money for a doctor; resulting in their sickly younger sister's death) berating and ordering him around. Will is somewhat of a womanizer and wants to make money, whereas Jake is more interested in fairy tales and adventures. Jake feels that Will doesn't care about or believe in him; but even into their adulthood, Will is still very pained by the loss of their sister and blames Jake's belief in magic and happy endings for her death. This feeling of resentment is compounded with Will's intense desire to protect Jake, at times from himself.Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as Wilhelm "Will" and Jakob "Jake" Grimm: Johnny Depp was Gilliam's first choice for Will Grimm, but producer Bob Weinstein believed Depp was not commercially famous enough for the role. Damon joked that Weinstein "was kicking himself because half-way through production, Pirates of the Caribbean came out and Depp was all of a sudden a big sensation". Ledger met Gilliam in November 2002 when Nicola Pecorini recommended the actor to the director, comparing him to Depp. Gilliam intended to cast Ledger opposite Depp. Damon and Ledger were originally cast in opposite roles before they petitioned to have their characters switched. Damon had wanted to work with Gilliam for years and actively campaigned to land the role of Will Grimm. The actor "grew up loving [Gilliam's] Time Bandits, the way that movie created this weird but totally convincing world". Gilliam elected to have Damon wear a prosthetic nose, but Weinstein said "it would have distracted audiences from Damon's star-studded good looks". Gilliam later reasoned that "it would have been the most expensive nose job ever".
Peter Stormare as Mercurio Cavaldi, Delatombe's Italian associate. Cavaldi originally has a grudge against the brothers, but eventually has a change of heart. Robin Williams was cast in the role before dropping out.
Lena Headey as Angelika: Her father is a woodsman transformed into a werewolf by the Mirror Queen's spell. Gilliam's first choice for the role was Samantha Morton.
Jonathan Pryce as General Vavarin Delatombe, a cruel French military commander. Delatombe attempts to burn down the forest and kill the brothers.
Tomáš Hanák as Woodsman
Julian Bleach as Letorc
Monica Bellucci as the Mirror Queen, a beautiful, evil queen who experimented with black magic before being struck by the Bubonic plague, her spell giving her eternal life but not the eternal youth she had expected. Nicole Kidman turned down the role over scheduling conflicts.
Mackenzie Crook and Richard Ridings as Hidlick and Bunst: Duo sidekicks for the Grimms; they are eventually beheaded by French soldiers.
Roger Ashton-Griffiths as the Mayor, who is duped into employing the Grimms to rid his village of its haunting.
Anna Rust as Sister Grimm
Ehren Kruger's screenplay was written as a spec script; in February 2001, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) purchased the script, with Summit Entertainment to co-finance the film. In October 2002, Terry Gilliam entered negotiations to direct, and rewrote Kruger's script alongside frequent collaborator Tony Grisoni. However, the Writers Guild of America refused to credit Gilliam and Grisoni for their rewrite work, and Kruger received sole credit. After Gilliam's hiring, production was put on fast track for a target November 2004 theatrical release date. MGM had trouble financing the film, and dropped out as main distributor. Weeks later, Bob Weinstein, under his Dimension Films production company, made a deal with MGM and Summit to co-finance The Brothers Grimm, and become the lead distributor. Projected at $75 million, this was to be Dimension Films' most expensive film ever.
The original start date was April 2003, but filming did not begin until 30 June. It was decided to shoot The Brothers Grimm entirely in the Czech Republic over budget constraints. Gilliam reasoned that "this is an $80 million movie, which would probably cost $120—$140 million in America". The majority of filming required sound stages and backlots from Barrandov Studios in Prague. Filming at Barrandov ended on 23 October. Location filming began afterwards, which included the Křivoklát Castle. Along with Alien vs. Predator and Van Helsing, The Brothers Grimm provided work for hundreds of local jobs and contributed over $300 million into the Czech Republic's economy. Gilliam hired Guy Hendrix Dyas as production designer after he was impressed with Dyas' work on X2. Gilliam often disputed with executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein during production. The Weinstein Brothers fired cinematographer and regular Gilliam collaborator Nicola Pecorini after six weeks. Pecorini was then replaced by Newton Thomas Sigel.
"I'm used to riding roughshod over studio executives," Gilliam explained, "but the Weinsteins rode roughshod over me." Gilliam got so upset, filming was shut down for nearly two weeks. Matt Damon reflected on the situation: "I've never been in a situation like that. Terry was spitting rage at the system, at the Weinsteins. You can't try and impose big compromises on a visionary director like him. If you try to force him to do what you want creatively, he'll go nuclear." The feud between Gilliam and the Weinsteins was eventually settled, although Bob Weinstein blamed the entire situation on yellow journalism. Filming was scheduled to end in October, but due to various problems during filming, principal photography did not end until the following 27 November.
Due to the tensions between the filmmaker and the producers during production, Gilliam said in retrospect about the film, "[I]t's not the film they wanted and it's not quite the film I wanted. It's the film that is a result of [...] two groups of people, who aren’t working well together." With regards to the Weinsteins also producing Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York (2002), Gilliam stated: "Marty [Scorsese] said almost the exact same quote I said, without us knowing it: 'They took the joy out of filmmaking.'"
Post-production was severely delayed when Gilliam disagreed with the Weinsteins over the final cut privilege. In the meantime, the conflict lasted so long that Gilliam had enough time to shoot another feature film, Tideland. To create the visual effects, Gilliam awarded the shots to Peerless Camera, the London-based effects studio he founded in the late-1970s with visual effects supervisor Kent Houston. However, two months into filming, Houston said that Peerless "ran into a number of major issues with The Brothers Grimm and with the Weinstein Brothers". He continued that "the main problem was the fact that the number of effects shots had dramatically increased, mainly because of issues that arose during shooting with the physical effects." Meanwhile, the Queen's chamber inside the tower was actually built by the Art Department as 2 sets. One set was resplendent and new while the other was old and decrepit. The sets were joined to each other by the central mirror, a piece of transparent glass giving the illusion that a single set was reflected and used to create the effect.
There were originally to be about 500 effect shots, but it increased to 800. The post-production conflict between Gilliam and the Weinsteins also gave enough time for Peerless to work on another film, The Legend of Zorro. Four different creatures were required for computer animation: a Wolfman, a mud creature, the Mirror Queen, and a living tree. John Paul Docherty, who headed the digital visual effects unit, studied the animation of the computer-generated Morlocks in The Time Machine for the Wolfman. Docherty depicted the Morlocks "as a nice mix between human and animal behaviors". The death of The Mirror Queen was the most complex effect of the film. In the sequence, the Queen turns into hundreds of shards of glass and shatters. With computerized rendering, this could not happen, as the 3D volume of the body suddenly turns into 2D pieces of glass. The problem was eventually solved due to sudden advances that occurred with Softimage XSI software.
The original theatrical release date was due in November 2004 before being changed many times; the dates had been moved to February 2005, 29 July, 23 November, and finally 26 August. Executive producer Bob Weinstein blamed the pushed back release dates on budgetary concerns. To help promote The Brothers Grimm, a three-minute film trailer was shown at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, while twenty minutes of footage was shown at the 2005 event.
The Brothers Grimm was released in the United States in 3,087 theaters, earning $15,092,079 in its opening weekend. The film eventually grossed $37,916,267 in the United States and $67.4 million internationally, coming to a worldwide total of $105,316,267. The Brothers Grimm was shown at the 62nd Venice International Film Festival on 4 September 2005, while in competition for the Golden Lion, but lost to Brokeback Mountain, also starring Ledger.
The Brothers Grimm was released with mixed reviews from critics. Based on 179 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 38% of the critics enjoyed the film, with an average score of 5.2/10. By comparison, Metacritic collected a score of 51/100 based on 36 reviews. The majority of critics believed Gilliam sacrificed the storyline in favor of the visual design. Roger Ebert called the film "an invention without pattern, chasing itself around the screen without finding a plot. The movie seems like a style in search of a purpose, with a story we might not care about."
Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post wrote that "The Brothers Grimm looks terrific, yet it remains essentially inert. You keep waiting for something to happen, and after a while your mind wanders from the hollow frenzy up there with all its filigrees and fretwork." Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle felt "despite an appealing actor in each role, the entire cast comes across as repellent. Will and Jake Grimm are two guys in the woods, surrounded by computerized animals, putting audiences to sleep all over America." Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone magazine, largely enjoyed The Brothers Grimm. He explained that "if you're a Gilliam junkie, as I am, you go with it, even when the script loses its shaky hold on coherence." Travers added, "even when Gilliam flies off the rails, his images stick with you." Gene Seymour of Newsday called the film "a great compound of rip-snorting Gothic fantasy and Python-esque dark comedy".
Currently, Miramax owns the home video rights, while Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer holds the television rights. The DVD release of The Brothers Grimm in December 2005 includes audio commentary by Gilliam, two "making-of" featurettes, and deleted scenes. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc format in October 2006. Both the DVD and Blu-ray were released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, under license from Miramax.
The film served as inspiration for the manga series Blue Exorcist.