Kevin is just an average kid whose interest in history is definitely not shared by his shallow and materialistic parents. One night after he goes to bed, though, the strangest thing happens: his closet bursts open, and out pop a scraggly gang of dwarfs. They interrogate Kevin, demanding to know "the way out", before discovering said way to be behind Kevin's bedroom wall. After a good push, the wall reveals a long hallway. Just then, The Supreme Being (AKA "God") thunderously appears on the scene and the dwarfs make a run for it. Kevin is given precious little time to act before joining the dwarfs in fleeing from God. Thus begins a quirky adventure where the dwarfs reveal themselves as would-be bandits, armed with a stolen map of the fabric of the universe, detailing where all the holes are, which they use to jump around in time and space, robbing everyone they meet. Meanwhile, their journey is being covertly monitored by Evil, who has his own big plans for the map, not to mention the rest of the universe...
The movie was produced and directed by Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, who co-wrote the screenplay with fellow Python Michael Palin. Unsurprisingly, the story is thus very comical while also being quite dark. With quirky characters, Indy Ploys and nice historical backdrops, and ultimately a Good versus Evil battle, the film makes for a wacky, humorous yet still dramatic time travel adventure. This was the first part of the "Dreamer Trilogy": Time Bandits represents childhood, Brazil represents adulthood, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen represents old age.
- Adults Are Useless: Kevin has more Common Sense and smarts than the other bandits. The bandits were written as dwarfs so that audiences would accept Kevin as their equal. Kevin's parents represent the banal, materialistic existence that Evil wants to promote.
- An Aesop:
- "I think it's something to do with free will." (Also something of an in-universe - and very literal - Shrug of God.)
- Evil is obsessed with efficiency, technology and work. Kevin's parents are hopeless consumers. The morally grey bandits want riches and luxury. Only Kevin, the hero, is interested in the wonders that the world offers.
- All Just a Dream: Bizarrely subverted. At the end, Kevin apparently wakes up in his bed as his house is burning down, but finds he still has all the photographs he took on his journey, and his parents blow up after touching a piece of Evil that found its way back with him. Also, a fireman looking suspiciously like Agamemnon (also played by Sean Connery) gives him a knowing wink just before leaving. Even the conclusion may be a part of the dream, as hinted by George Harrison's end credits song "Dream Away".
- All Part of the Show: ... til Agamemnon realizes something is horribly wrong.
- Ancient Greece: Kevin gets stranded in Mycenae about halfway through the movie.
- Another Dimension: The Time of Legends
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Evil. Also borders on The Heartless and Satan.
- Army of the Ages: The title characters do this to battle Evil.
- Artificial Human: Evil appears human, but seems to be more machine than organism. His fingertips are on hinges that he can bend back to expose nozzles that fire magic. In the final battle he turns himself into an evil merry-go-round.
- Ascended Fanboy: Kevin always loved history; now he gets to see history in the making.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Supreme Being and the dwarfs. Kevin has to stay "to carry on the fight."
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The giant from the Time of Legends.
- Bad Boss: Evil, by definition. And that's the way his minions like it.
- Seriously, they even seem to enjoy it when he blows them up. Which makes one wonder why exactly it's a punishment for questioning him...
- Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Evil and his minions.
Evil: Suddenly, I feel very, very good.
- Baleful Polymorph: Og gets hit by a spell that turns his head into a pig's head. He later gets turned into a pig entirely.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: The Bandits order around Napoleon's troops so they don't witness them making off with all his loot.
- Behind the Black: When Wally is climbing up the rope and the other characters are concerned he fell, they only see him there once he appears onscreen. This is despite the fact that there is obviously still weight they can feel climbing up the rope and we are given no evidence of anything obscuring the vision of the characters looking past the bottom of the screen.
- Blindfolded Trip: When Kevin is taken to become the king's son.
- Bittersweet Ending: Kevin has lost his parents and his home, but he's still got the map, and Kevin seemed to want to be free of his materialistic parents anyway.
- Bolivian Army Ending: Kevin left alone and parentless, back in the normal world. Who knows how he'll manage.
- Captain Obvious: Robin Hood's commentary on The Poor.
- Caught in a Snare: The Bandits are caught and left hanging by snares set by Robin Hood.
- The Cavalry: A literal cavalry plus other warriors and technology from different eras. It gets subverted when Evil makes short work of them all.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Early in the movie, Kevin takes a random Polaroid picture of the dwarfs holding up the map. Later, after Evil has taken the map and caged them all up, Kevin uses the picture to figure out that there is a time hole nearby the cage.
- In some lost extended scene Agamemnon teaches Kevin an aesop about war and violence (it seems he finds too much amusement in historical wars and fights) and gifts him a knife. This token is later used to escape from the cage towards the end.
- Cool Old Guy: Agammemnon. He's a far better parent than Kevin's parents ever were.
- Covers Always Spoil: On the DVD cover it shows the ship atop the giant's head.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Definitely on the "good" side.
- Deadpan Snarker: All the bandits do this at one point or another.
- Death Is Cheap: "Dead? No excuse for laying off work."
- Deus Ex Machina: Agamemnon believes that Kevin was sent by the gods to save him from the minotaur. Also: the Supreme Being appears at the end and cleans up the mess the Bandits have made of things. Which is a Deus Ex Deus.
- Demon Head: How the Supreme Being confronts the Bandits when he initially appears.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: "Mum! Dad! It's Evil! Don't touch it!"
- Downer Ending: What happens after Kevin is done surfing through time? His parents explode and he is left alone beside his smoldering home. The last thing he says is a rather weak, "Mom...? Dad...?" as the camera pulls away, showing him very pitifully alone. However, many viewers insist that it is actually a Bittersweet Ending.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: After the end credits, that is.
- Evil Laugh: Done by, well... Evil.
- Evil Overlord: Evil, who else?
- Evil Plan: Evil's plans for the world include stripping everything away except cold, logical efficiency.
Evil: If I were creating a world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, day one!
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. It just keeps on going up...
- Extreme Omnivore: Vermin.
- Foreshadowing: Check out all the toys in Kevin's bedroom.
- Gender Blender Name: Robin Hood's right hand man is named...Marian. Whether or not he's linked to (or a replacement of) Maid Marian is unknown.
- Genre Blind: The dwarfs don't recognize Robin Hood and don't appear to realize that the Titanic is going to hit an iceberg.
- Genre Savvy: Kevin does recognize Robin Hood.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
Vincent: Pansy, look at me.
- God: Presented here as a slightly peevish no-nonsense businessman.
- God Is Inept: Subverted. At first, the bandits don't have all that much difficulty stealing the map and evading the Supreme Being whenever he shows up. Later, however, He reveals that it was all part of His plan, saying, "I'm not entirely dim." When the Supreme being is behaving ineptly, He looks like a terrifying magical face. When He reveals His plans, however, He looks like an elderly British gentleman.
- Godly Sidestep: God's explanation for the existence of evil is only partial: it has something to do with free will.
- Gold Fever: The primary motivation of the Bandits.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: In the final battle with Evil, the Bandits go to get help from throughout time.
- Good Is Not Nice: The Supreme Being presents himself as either a menacing face in the heavens or a somewhat stern old man. Kevin is rather horrified to learn that He arranged a lot of death and suffering just to test his creation. His first act once the bandits surrender is to order them to clean up the mess, and rehire them with a 19% cut in their salary backdated to the beginning of time, showing little concern for all their suffering and loss in the meantime. (Of course, some of this is because, as noted above, Death Is Cheap and God can set everything straight with a few casual miracles.)
- Good Is Old-Fashioned: God is an old-fashioned British gentleman, while Evil wants to reform the world around lasers and technology.
- Grand Theft Me: Evil can do this with weak-willed minds.
- Great Big Book of Everything: The map.
- Historical Hilarity: Kevin and the dwarfs run into Napoleon, Robin Hood, and the Titanic. All of them are played for laughs, especially Robin Hood.
- Historical In-Joke: Napoleon keeps one hand permanently hidden in the pocket of his jacket, referring to his iconic pose in portraits. It turns out that the reason is because his hand is solid gold.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Evil's way of dispatching all of the reinforcements the dwarfs summon.
- Hypocritical Humor:
Randall: You want to be leader?
- I Choose to Stay: Kevin is offered the opportunity to remain in Greece as the king's adopted son, but the Bandits drag him away. Considering what we know will eventually happen to Agammemnon, it's just as well...
- I'm a Humanitarian: The ogre couple intend to eat the Bandits when they're caught.
- Improvised Zipline: What the gang uses to escape the cage in Evil's citadel.
- Invisible Wall: In case you ever wondered what one looks like.
- Kick the Dog: Evil, being Evil, does this a lot. Including one literal example where he blows up his minion Benson (in dog form) with a Death Ray.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Before the dwarfs turn up, a knight on horseback leaps through Kevin's closet. In the final battle, a whole group of them charge at Evil.
- The Lancer: Wally to Randall.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Kevin stays behind to distract Evil's pursuing mooks while the other bandits get help from other parts of time.
- Made of Evil: The Big Bad
- Magitek: Evil is all about technology, and he's fittingly as much machine as he is man. He can tilt up his finger joints to reveal the nozzles of magical cannons that can destroy or polymorph his targets. To fight the Bandits' legions of time, he turns himself into a clockwork merry-go-round and then an inflatable pincushion. His lair is filled with creepy looking machines that are maintained by his minions, who wear rubber industrial gear. When staring into his black cauldron, he barks out, "Stand by for mind-control!" like a factory foreman.
- Mind Control: Evil does this to Og to lure the Bandits to the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness with the prospect of "The Most Fabulous Object in the World". True to Evil's mechanical nature, he barks out, "Stand by for mind control!" before casting his spell.
- Misaimed Fandom: In-universe example. Kevin thinks of Robin Hood as a hero. The dwarfs are disgusted by him.
- Moral Dissonance: Each time Robin Hood gives a piece of loot to a poor person, the individual is punched by one of his merry men.
Robin Hood: Is that absolutely necessary?
- The Napoleon:
- Randall, the pugnacious time bandit.
- The actual Napoleon is obsessed with height. It's almost all he'll talk about. He's overjoyed to discover the time bandits, who are all shorter than him, and promptly makes them all generals.
- Nice Hat:
- A giant walking on the ocean floor comes up directly underneath the ogres' boat and wears it as a hat.
- Each of the Bandits wears a hat of some description, from a dusty bowler to what appears to be an archaic miner's helmet.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: There's a theory that Terry Gilliam may have fashioned each of the personalities of the six dwarfs after the six members of Monty Python. Randall is John Cleese, Fidgit is Michael Palin, Strutter is Eric Idle, Og is Graham Chapman, Wally is Terry Jones, and Vermin is Gilliam himself.
- One-Sided Arm Wrestling: One of the merry men tears the arm off the man he's arm-wrestling and throws it into a pile of other arms
- Only in It For the Money: The entire reason the Bandits are time traveling.
- Only Sane Man: Agammemnon.
- Out-Gambitted: In the end, the Supreme Being appears and notes that he let the Bandits steal the map, and thus have it fall into Evil's hands, to test his creation.
- Parental Substitute: Agamemnon briefly becomes an adopted father to Kevin.
- Posthumous Character: An ambiguous example with Horseflesh, the apparent former leader of the Bandits, who Randall claims is dead. The character was originally supposed to have betrayed the group and joined Evil, but overtly having seven dwarf characters might have brushed against some legal issues. The character was demoted to an extra, as the dwarf in Evil's company, who receives no lines and doesn't do anything. It's unclear if the character is still supposed to be the gang's old leader.
- Rage Helm: Agamemnon's helm.
- Real After All: After Kevin is sent back, he appears back in his room. Kevin at first thinks it wasn't real, but he still has the pictures from his adventures. And then a chunk of Evil turns up and makes his parents explode!
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: The bandits, being formerly employed by God, are all thousands of years old.
- Recurring Character: Vincent and Pansy, throughout time.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Kevin admonishes Randall and the bandits several times for using the map to gain wealth and not anything else.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: Robert does this with one of Evil's questions.
- Robin Hood: In carrying on with the tradition of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin takes the Bandits' ill-gotten gains to divvy up among the poor, much to the Bandits' disgust.
Robin Hood: Jolly good!
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Evil can't leave the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness.
- Stop Helping Me!: Kevin is pissed when the dwarfs "rescue" him from Agamemnon's castle (and rob him, too.)
- Supervillain Lair: The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness.
- Suspect Is Hatless: Benson points out "the little one" has the map.
- Tempting Fate: Randall asks for champagne "with plenty of ice"... on the Titanic.
- That's No Moon: A ship ends up being a hat worn by a giant.
- Time Travel: The entire premise of the movie.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Bandits' greed overrides common sense in almost every case. Kevin's parents also ignore their son and touch a leftover piece of Evil, which promptly makes them explode. Considering his mother was going to risk her life to save the toaster...
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The hideous ogre has a normal human wife, played by the middle-aged but still very presentable Katherine Helmond. The character was originally going to be an ogre as well until she was changed at Helmond's suggestion.
- Unfazed Everyman: Kevin.
- The Unintelligible: Redgrave speaks only in gibberish, which is translated by Marian.
- Unwitting Pawn: The bandits, doubly so. They hand-deliver the map to Evil in their quest for "The Most Fabulous Object in the World." Meanwhile, Supreme Being also intended for them to steal the map the whole time to he could test his creation, Evil.
- Villainous BSOD: Napoleon goes almost catatonic while watching the Time Bandits do their musical number. They think he hates them until he snaps out of it and becomes ecstatic with joy.
- War Is Hell: A running theme in the film.
- What Have We Ear?: Part of Agamemnon's very fatherly behavior toward Kevin is to perform a magic trick. Kevin doesn't think he's very kingly, but likes him just the same.
- You Look Familiar: A man looking exactly like Agamemnon appears at the end as a fireman. It's never explained how or why this is.