‘The Princess Bride’: Inside an Inconceivable Cult Classic
Based on a 1973 fantasy novel, the 1987 movie “The Princess Bride” has something for everyone: action, comedy, drama, fantastical creatures, miracles, revenge, sword fights, true love and a fairy-tale ending. Since it had everything, it was tough to describe and accurately market.
After a slow start, the movie became a cult classic, beloved by all ages. Not only has it spawned board and video games, but it also has crept into everyday life as lines from the script can apply to many situations.
A Film About True Love – Between Friends
Part of the appeal of the movie is its universality; everyone can relate to one or more of the subplots of the story. While the romance between Westley and Buttercup is what drives the action, the other characters and their relationships are more deeply developed.
Though Fezzik’s sheer size makes him intimidating, his gentleness and dedication to his friends shows him to be the kind of person we all want on our side. On the surface, Inigo Montoya’s quest for revenge makes him appear heartless, but later shows of emotion indicate otherwise.
Its Goodness Makes It Popular
At its heart, “The Princess Bride” is a story of good overcoming evil. So much so that one of the movie’s stars, Chris Sarandon, tells Variety that the good values in the movie have made it the most popular movie in Utah.
Production Was Thought to Be Impossible
William Goldman’s book was optioned for the big screen several times over 20 years, but it never got far in the production process. Rob Reiner, who had loved the novel since receiving it as a gift from his father, dreamed of making it a movie since he first started directing.
Though there was initially considerable resistance, he persisted, After getting financial support from Norman Lear, he made the movie a reality. He tells Variety that he was thrilled to learn that Goldman liked his ideas from the start, which enhanced their working relationship.
Box Office Returns Were So-So
Though it was critically acclaimed, the movie only succeeded modestly at the box office, grossing $30.8 million in the United States and Canada on a $16 million production budget. It was released on VHS in 1988 and found new audiences, ultimately becoming a cult classic. To date, DVD sales top $53 million.
Much of the Cast Was Relatively Unknown
Today the cast members are household names, but at the time of the film’s release, most were relatively unknown. This was the second film role for both Robin Wright and Fred Savage, and the first comedic role for Carey Elwes. “The Princess Bride” was André the Giant’s first acting role. Though Christopher Guest had more than a decade of television and minor film roles, he was then primarily known as a one-season performer on SNL.
Elwes Was Meant to Play Westley
When Reiner saw Elwes in the movie “Lady Jane,” he knew he wanted him to play the character of Westley. However, Elwes was on set for the film “Maschenka” in Germany while they were casting in Los Angeles.
Reiner flew out to meet with Elwes (who he referred to as having an Errol Flynn quality) and quickly confirmed his choice. Elwes told ABC News that he had been a fan of the book as a teen and particularly liked the character of Westley, adding, "I couldn't have imagined myself playing him!"
Buttercup Was Heaven-Sent
The role of Buttercup wasn’t cast until late in the process, only about a week before filming. Reiner and casting director Jane Jenkins had auditioned several English actresses but had not found the right Buttercup. Wright's agent contacted Jenkins for an audition. Though Wright had not impressed Jenkins at her last audition for another movie, this time the casting director knew it was a fit.
Reiner was also convinced right away, but they needed Goldman to sign off. They arranged for Wright to meet Goldman at his house. Jenkins tells Vice: "The doorbell rang. Rob went to the door, and literally, as he opened the door, [Wright] was standing there in this little white summer dress, with her long blonde hair, and she had a halo from the sun. She was backlit by God. And Bill Goldman looked across the room at her, and he said, 'Well, that's what I wrote.' It was the most perfect thing.”
Andre Was Fated to Be Fezzik the Giant
When Goldman first considered turning his novel into a movie in the early 1970s, his first choice for Fezzik was Andrè the Giant; his second choice was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at the time was almost unknown as an actor. By the mid-’80s, when “The Princess Bride” was finally being produced, Schwarzenegger was a major film star and therefore unaffordable.
Jenkins contacted the World Wrestling Federation to hire Andre, but the filming conflicted with a wrestling match in Tokyo. Buying him out of that contract at $5 million was also too pricey an option. Jenkins went on to audition other tall actors, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lou Ferrigno and Carel Struycken, but for various reasons, none worked out. Near the end of casting, Andre's match in Tokyo was cancelled, clearing him to play the role of Fezzik.
It's One of the Most Quotable Movies of All Time
In a 2012 article with New York magazine, Mandy Patinkin says he hears his catchphrase “My name is Inigo Montoya…” from fans at least twice a day. Elwes told Entertainment Weekly that not only do people quote portions of the script to him, but they also have it tattooed on their bodies.
Several scenes that have reached iconic status, such as the Battle of Wits, the Mawwiage ceremony and Miracle Max’s treatment and send-off of Westley, and other quotes have made their way into everyday life where appropriate such as:
- “I do not think that means what you think it means.”
- “Have fun storming the castle!”
- “I am not left-handed.”
Some of the Funniest Lines Were Unscripted
Reiner gave Billy Crystal and Carol Kane freedom to create some of their lines. They spent some time together brainstorming before meeting up with the rest of the cast on set. Known for his standup, Crystal’s ad-libbing (including his Mutton Lettuce and Tomato sandwich line) made it challenging for the cast to keep straight faces.
Even director Rob Reiner had to walk away from the shooting during his scenes. Mandy Patinkin claimed his most serious injury on set was a bruised rib from trying to not laugh at Miracle Max.
Andrè the Giant Couldn’t Carry Buttercup
Though Andrè was a strong man, years of wrestling, combined with the acromegaly that caused his tremendous size, had taken their toll. By the mid-’80s, he suffered from acute pain, especially in his back and neck. This was compounded by the fact that he had back surgery shortly prior to shooting the film, leaving him physically unable to do much. A little known fact: The scene where he carries Buttercup, she was held up with wires as even her light weight was too much for him to bear.
Westley’s Limp Through the Fire Swamp Was Real
Since walking distances was a struggle for Andre, he traveled around on an ATV that was much like one he had at home. He was familiar with the vehicle, but Elwes was not. After a brief lesson in how to ride and a rough start, Elwes went over a patch of rocks and stalled the ATV, breaking his big toe in the process. (There was no doubt it was broken as it was at an unusual angle.)
Fearing he would hold up production, or worse, be replaced, he brushed off the injury and worked through the pain. While the fight scene with Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya was scheduled to be filmed near the end of the production schedule (to give them more time to perfect their technique), he had to attempt to hide his pain during the other scenes, resulting in some rather unusual leg positioning.
The Fencing Was Real
Elwes and Patinkin learned to fence for the movie. They were trained by the same swordsmen who designed the “Star Wars” lightsaber sequences: Bob Anderson, a Canadian Olympic fencer, and Peter Diamond, a swordsman and stuntman.
Perfectionists, they wanted to get it right, so they watched every fencing movie they could find and practiced every day in their free time both on and off the set. At the recommendation of one of the trainers, they learned each other’s parts to reduce the risk of accidents.
They Performed (Most of) Their Own Stunts
Elwes admits to Entertainment Weekly that there was one fencing scene (but only one) where they brought in an acrobat to swing around on the bar. He tells ABC News that a stunt double coached him on falls and such to reduce the chance of injury. A stunt double was also used when Westley rolled down the hill in one of the movie’s most quotable moments.
It Made Cary Elwes a Best-Selling Author
Elwes’ 2014 memoir, “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride,” co-written with Joe Layden, was a behind-the-scenes story of the film's production that was No. 33 on The New York Times bestseller list the day it was published.
Though he tells Entertainment Weekly he didn’t remember much about the filming, the call sheets Norman Lear sent him resulted in a flood of memories, enabling him to relive the moments along with other cast members who share their memories throughout the book.
The Film Spawned Quote-Along Viewings
Only the most quotable film could spawn a new genre of viewing: the quote-along. Similar to a singalong, these viewings began at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cinema chain based in Austin, Texas. A number of rules were put in place: audience members were permitted to boo along with the old hag, ring bells for the “gross kissing stuff,” groan in the Pit of Despair, blow bubbles when Princess Buttercup is freed at the end and smack their foreheads each time “Inconceivable!” was uttered.
The audience was also encouraged to quote as much of the script as desired and permitted to shout, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die” while waving a large inflatable sword, first in their left hand, then at the appropriate time, switching to the right.
A Favorite Movie of Cast and Crew
By all accounts, this was a fun project. In multiple interviews 30 years later, the cast shared fond memories. In 2017, casting director Jenkins told Vice that “The Princess Bride” is her favorite movie and that she will stop to watch it whenever it’s on. Elwes tells Entertainment Weekly that even William Goldman (who in addition to “The Princess Bride” wrote “Butch Cassidy,” “All the President’s Men” and “Marathon Man”) says this movie is his favorite of all the things he’s ever been involved with.
In “As You Wish,” Elwes tells how he and Robin Wright made excuses to delay filming’s end and relates that Andrè’s family said he called the experience “one of the highlights of his life.”
No One Wants to See a Remake
In a story on Norman Lear in Variety, it was mentioned in passing that there is talk of remaking “The Princess Bride." Fan reaction was negative both in the comment section and on social media.
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