Kevin (Craig Warnock) is 11 years old and has a wild imagination. He is fascinated by history, especially that of ancient Greece. One night, an armored knight on a huge horse bursts out of his wardrobe and rides off through a forest. When he comes out of hiding, he finds a photo of that forest on the wall. The next night, he is prepared with a satchel of supplies and a polaroid camera. Six dwarves tumble out of the wardrobe, following a large map they have stolen. They find they can push his bedroom wall down a long hallway. The floating head of the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) appears, demanding they return the map. Kevin and the dwarves fall into a void at the end of the hallway and land in Italy during the Battle of Castiglione.
The dwarves are Fidgit (Kenny Baker), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon), Og (Mike Edmonds), Wally (Jack Purvis), Vermin (Tiny Ross), and Randall (David Rappaport), who is the lead dwarf. They used to work for the Supreme Being repairing holes in the fabric of spacetime but realized they could use the map and their access to Time to steal stuff. Kevin helps them rob Napoleon Bonaparte (Ian Holm) and Robin Hood (John Cleese) and documents everything with his camera. They are watched by Evil (David Warner), who wants the map to rule the universe.
Kevin is separated from the group and ends up in Mycenaean Greece, where he helps King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) defeat a Minotaur. The king adopts him, but the dwarves soon find and abduct him, falling through a hole to land on the RMS Titanic. They end up treading water and arguing (They argue a lot.) Evil transports them to the Time of Legends, where they survive ogres and a giant. They believe the most fabulous object in the world is located in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. Evil takes the map away and hangs them in a cage over a bottomless pit. Looking at his photo of the map, Kevin notices a hole in space-time nearby. They escape and take off with the map.
Evil catches Kevin and takes back the map. The dwarves return with warriors and fighting machines from all of time, but Evil overpowers them all. Getting ready to unleash his Ultimate Power, he is suddenly engulfed in flame and reduced to charcoal. The Supreme Being emerges from the smoke. It was all a test, of course. He forces the dwarves to collect all the pieces of Evil and leaves with the dwarves. Kevin is left alone with a bit of smoldering Evil. Kevin awakes in smoke. Firefighters break down the door (Sean Connery is one of them.), rescue him, and put out the fire started by his parents’ toaster oven, which has a smoldering rock inside. Ignoring Kevin’s warning, they touch it and explode, leaving only their shoes. The Supreme Being rolls up the universe.
The screenplay was written by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. It was co-produced by George Harrison, who wrote music for it. The role of Agamemnon was written for someone like Sean Connery, but cheaper, but Connery got a hold of the script and loved the role. Usually, he hated his roles. Connery’s career was not going well but he signed for a part of the gross. It was he who suggested he return as the fireman in the end. The studio, however, was not thrilled with the film and George Harrison and Dennis O’Brien had to mortgage their office building to finish it. All the attackers that fight evil in the end are Kevin’s toys. Sir Ralph Richardson made notes on his script: “God would not say that.” When Terry Gilliam was a child, he worked with dwarves in the circus. It took weeks to train the horse to jump out of the wardrobe. All of the dwarf bandits later appeared in Return of the Jedi.
John Cleese also played a Robin-Hood-like character on Monty Python’s Flying Circus--Dennis Moore, who steals from the poor and gives to the rich, stupid bitch. The studio didn’t want the parents to be blown up at the end, but they tested the picture on children and that was their favorite bit. Terry Gilliam said there were only six dwarves because he didn’t want to be sued by Disney. The time bandits as written all have personalities like the dwarves who play them. What’s more, they are remarkably like the Monty Pythons themselves--Fidgit, the nice one, is Michael Palin, Randall, the self-appointed leader, is John Cleese, Strutter, the acerbic one, is Eric Idle, Og, the quiet one, is Graham Chapman, Wally, the noisy one, is Terry Jones, and vermin, the gross and nasty one, is Terry Gilliam--all documented in Monty Python: The Case Against Irreverence, Scurrility, Profanity, Vilification, and Licentious Abuse, by Robert Hewison.