We've just learned that Simon Pegg will star in Absolutely Anything, a brand new film that reunites the surviving Monty Python castmembers. But how will this movie stack up to the canon of Monty Python spinoffs? Here are 12 Python side projects, ranked in order of greatness.
Note: For the purposes of this list, we're focusing on projects that had two or more members of the Python crew involved — and the more Pythons involved, the stronger the claim.
12) Splitting Heirs
Who's involved: Eric Idle (Writer/Star), John Cleese (actor)
What's it about: A soggy "switched at birth" epic in which Idle is the true heir to a dukedom but they accidentally give it to Rick Moranis instead. Instead of a manic farce, in the mold of Start the Revolution Without Me, it's a mopey gentle comedy in which you don't really care who gets to be the duke. Cleese is a barrister who suggests just killing the imposter duke. It has 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and Roger Ebert panned it. See the whole movie for yourself, above.
11) Erik The Viking
Who's involved: Terry Jones (writer/director/actor), John Cleese (actor)
What's it about: Jones adapts his children's book into a mock-fantasy epic about a reluctant Viking warrior (Tim Robbins) who doesn't want to rape and pillage, and thus goes on a quest to put an end to Ragnarok, the war of the gods. It's cute but nothing to write home about, and the rape jokes get tiresome. Cleese is pretty great as the baddie, who wants to keep the war going. The whole movie is right here.
Who's involved: Graham Chapman (writer/star), Eric Idle (actor), John Cleese (actor),
What's it about: Once again, you can watch the whole thing right here! It's a lightweight pirate spoof in which Chapman is the notorious pirate Yellowbeard, who's searching for his lost treasure — but the map to the treasure is tattooed on the head of his useless son. Sadly, much like the Viking movie, the pirate movie is lacking a certain amount of lightness on its feet and feels at times like a comedy sketch that's just going on too long.
9) Broaden Your Mind
Who's involved: John Cleese (writer), Michael Palin (writer/actor), Terry Jones (writer/actor), Terry Gilliam (writer), Eric Idle (writer), Graham Chapman (writer/actor)
What's it about: Around the same time Monty Python was becoming a huge sensation, another British comedy series was sort of sneaking under the radar — the more kid-friendly slapstick show The Goodies. And before either Python or The Goodies existed, the three Goodies had this sketch show which featured many of the Pythons in various roles. The Goodies and Cleese knew each other from Cambridge University's Footlights comedy revue, and also took part in the radio show I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. Sadly, not much exists of Broaden Your Mind, and what there is isn't all that funny.
8) The Rutles: All You Need is Cash
Who's involved: Eric Idle (writer/director/star), Michael Palin (actor)
What's it about: A wacky spoof of the Beatles, with George Harrison and various other famous people involved. Spun off from the TV show Rutland Weekend Television, it goes ridiculously far to try and shadow the real-life Beatles' history, to the point where the comedy feels a bit subdued at times. Also depends a bit too much on cameos from Mick Jagger, rather than going full-bore with the satire.
7) Do Not Adjust Your Set
Who's involved: Eric Idle (writer/actor), Terry Gilliam (writer), Terry Jones (writer/actor), Michael Palin (writer/actor)
What's it about: Another precursor to Python — this sketch comedy show was aimed at children, but achieved huge crossover success, and some of the sketches were recycled for Python later. It's definitely not as wild or bonkers as Python, but it's crackling with energy and silliness. And unlike Broaden Your Mind, tons of episodes exist, and they're all on Youtube. Also, around the same time, Cleese and Chapman were doing a sketch-comedy show called At Last, the 1948 Show, and it appears that all of those episodes are on Youtube as well! Huzzah!
6) Starship Titanic
Who's involved: John Cleese (voice actor), Terry Jones (voice actor)
What's it about: Douglas Adams created this video game, which was released on CD-ROM, in which you explore a spaceship crashed on Earth and try to get it working again. Cleese voices the Bomb, and Jones is the Parrot. (Jones also wrote a novel based on the game.) There is absolutely tons of information about the game, along with links to surrounding materials, here. Apparently you can still play the game if you install the right emulator program. And by all accounts, it's a fun lark, full of great puzzles and lovely humor.
5) How to Irritate People
Who's involved: John Cleese (writer/star), Graham Chapman (writer/actor), Michael Palin (actor)
What's it about: Sort of a comedy documentary about how to be irritating, hosted by Cleese himself, which is an excuse to have lots of comedy sketches about people being irritating. Looks like all of it is on Youtube, in various clips, and it's got a very Python-esque vibe to it. The first sketch is about the well-known phenomenon of commenting obnoxiously while other people are trying to watch television.
4) Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
Who's involved: Terry Jones (writer/director/star), Eric Idle (actor), John Cleese (actor), Michael Palin (actor)
What's it about: A live-action movie version of Wind in the Willows, the classic children's fantasy. Jones is the toad who just wants to ride around in his motorcar, which winds up getting him into lots of ridiculous trouble. Unlike some of the other narrative films on this list, like Erik the Viking or Yellowbeard, this feels less like a comedy sketch blown up to movie length and more like a fun silly fantasy romp aimed at kids. I walked out of the theater grinning dementedly. The whole thing appears to be on Youtube.
3) Ripping Yarns
Who's involved: Terry Jones (writer/actor), Michael Palin (writer/actor), John Cleese (cameo).
What's it about: Words cannot express how much I love this show, which is a collection of spoofs of boys' own adventure stories. One week, it'll be about escaping from a Nazi prison, the next it'll be about fitting in at a tough boarding school. One of the best is an explorer story called "Across the Andes by Frog," in which the frogs don't entirely make it. What makes this show so great is that it celebrates as well as mocking the pulpy stories that it's spoofing. There are also two book tie-ins.
2) A Fish Called Wanda
Who's involved: John Cleese (writer/actor), Michael Palin (actor).
What's it about: A zany heist-comedy, in which Cleese plays a vain barrister and Palin plays a stammering crook. Along with Clockwise and a couple other films, this represents the best of Cleese's movie output, with pretty much every set piece being perfect and wonderful. The cast reunited for another film, Fierce Creatures, which we will never speak of again. (Apparently, Fierce Creatures ran into huge trouble because audiences didn't like an early cut, directed by the director of Splitting Heirs — so a year later, they did massive reshoots with a different director.)
1) All of Terry Gilliam's Early Films
Who's involved: We're compressing Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, Brazil and Baron Munchausen into one category because otherwise this list would be dominated by Gilliam films. Palin is in Jabberwocky, Brazil and Time Bandits (which he co-wrote), Eric Idle is in Munchausen, Cleese is in Time Bandits, and Jones is in Jabberwocky.
What's it about: These films are brilliant, and you should see them. Especially Brazil, a bleak dystopian comedy. And Time Bandits, a surprisingly savage film about time-traveling little people who take a child with them. Seriously, marathon these films over the holiday weekend.
So...what did we leave out?