Over in the "Director" section, we talk about Gilliam—and his fellow members of Monty Python—being kind of like rock stars. That's our sneaky way of getting to this bit. You see, the Pythons had a big admirer...and when we say "big," we mean biggest ever. That admirer was George Harrison, former Beatles guitarist and avid fan of dead parrot sketches. Dude love-love-loved the Pythons with all his sitar-playing heart.
Harrison and his business partner, Denis O'Brien, set up HandMade Films as a way of getting the Pythons' second feature, Life of Brian, off the ground. It was touch and go for a while: financing fell through for that movie at one point, and Harrison had to put a mortgage on his house to get the money for it. But, hey, he was a Beatle, which meant it was probably a very, very big house.
Life of Brian became a hit, and HandMade Films was on the map, now with enough funding to produce its own movies without anyone having to mortgage anything.
What were they going to lead with? Why, this film, of course. Gilliam was keen to get Time Bandits made, and HandMade was the way to make it. The film didn't have much money to work with—about $5 million, which was low even back then—but with Harrison and O'Brien keeping their hands on the purse strings, everything worked.
The film became a big hit—pulling in about $40 million against that $5 million starter—and HandMade Films capitalized on that with a few dozen other films released in the 1980s and 1990s. A lot of those films were comedies involving former Pythons, like The Missionary and Nuns on the Run, but also crime films like Mona Lisa and unbelievably bad Madonna vehicles like Shanghai Surprise.