Written by William Goldman, and directed by Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride is a 1987 fantasy / romance / comedy, tarring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, and Christopher Guest. Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and others also make memorable appearances.
The film was first released in the United States on September 25, 1987, and was well received by critics at the time. After only having modest success at the box office at first, it has over time become a cult film and been considered as one of the best films of 1987. The film is number 50 on the Bravo‘s “100 Funniest Movies”, number 88 on The American Film Institute‘s (AFI) “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions” list of the 100 greatest film love stories, and 46 in Channel 4‘s 50 Greatest Comedy Films list. In 2016, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The film also won the 1988 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: William Goldman
Stars: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, and Christopher Guest
Run time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
A grandfather (Peter Falk) reads a book to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), who is skeptical of the book.
The starts by telling the grandson about Buttercup, a beautiful woman on farm in the kingdom of Florin. Buttercup derives joy from ordering around the farmhand Westley, but when she does, he always answers, “As you wish.” After a while, she realizes that he loves her, and vice versa. As Westley is poor, he leaves to make money overseas so they can be married. His ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Westley is believed to be dead.
Five years later, Buttercup is forced to become engaged to Prince Humperdinck, who was free to marry whomever he wanted. Before the wedding, she is kidnapped by three men, one of whom is a short Sicilian named Vizzini, a second is giant from Greenland named Fezzik, and the third is a Spaniard named Inigo Montoya, is a fencing master seeking revenge against a mysterious six-fingered man who murdered his father. After Buttercup’s kidnapping, a mysterious masked man wearing black pursues, as does Prince Humperdinck and his soldiers.
The man in black catches up to the bad guys atop the Cliffs of Insanity. After a friendly chat, he defeats Inigo in a duel and knocks him out, rather than killing him. Next, he confronts Fezzik and in hand to hand combat, chokes him out- though he does verify that the giant is alive after doing so. Finally he catches up with Vizzini and in a battle of wits, tricks him into drinking poison, killing him. The man in black then takes Buttercup prisoner and they run from Humperdinck who is closing in, too. Buttercup correctly guesses that her new captor is the Dread Pirate Roberts before angrily accusing him of killing Westley. The man in black admits to being Roberts but tells her that it is good he killed Westley so that he did not have to observe her lack of faithfulness. Once she sees Humperdinck and his men approaching, Buttercup shoves Roberts down a comedically long and steep hill, encouraging him to die in the fall. As he rolls down, Roberts shouts, “As you wish!” Buttercup suddenly realizes that Roberts is Westley, so she throws herself down the slope too. They both survive and are reunited at the bottom. From there they flee into the fire swamp together to avoid Humperdinck and his men.
Westley explains to Buttercup that “Dread Pirate Roberts” is a title, passed down from pirate to pirate, so that captains can retire, and explains that he has been Roberts now for some time. He tells her that since he has her once more, he will retire and surrender the name to someone else. After enduring fire, quicksand, and rodents of unusual size, the two escape the fire swamp, only to meet Humperdinck and his men as they escape. Buttercup tells Humperdinck that she will return with him on the condition that he promise not to hurt Westley. Humperdinck agrees but does not follow through. He secretly orders his Count Rugen to take Westley to the Pit of Despair, a torture chamber. Westley notices that Count Rugen has six fingers on his right hand and tells him that someone is looking for him, just before he is himself knocked unconscious.
Buttercup tells Humperdinck that she will not marry him and that she will kill herself if forced to do so. He agrees to send his four fastest ships to Roberts’ pirate ship, and he says that if Westley still wants to marry her, their own wedding will be off. He adds though that if Westley does not, that he hopes she will consider marriage to him a better outcome than suicide. She agrees. He is of course lying though, and his real intention is to strangle her on their wedding night in order to start a war with the country of Guilder, by framing Guilder for her death.
Elsewhere, Inigo and Fezzik are reunited after Humperdinck orders that the thieves forest to be cleared out by a brute squad. Fezzik – who has learned somehow about Rugen’s six fingers – tells Inigo about him. When the two realize the castle is too well fortified for Inigo to reach him, though, Inigo decides that he needs help from the man in black to storm the castle.
Buttercup comes to realize that Humperdinck did not send ships to find Westley, so she calls him a coward. Humperdinck, furious, runs to Westley in the Pit of Despair and tortures him to death. As Westley cries out in anguish, the sound rings out loudly through Florin. Inigo and Fezzik follow Westley’s wails and then find his body. Undeterred by his death, Inigo and Fezzik take Westley’s body to Miracle Max, a healer, who was recently fired by Humperdinck. After learning that Westley intends to embarrass Humperdinck, Max agrees to help, and brings him back from being “mostly dead.”
Westley, Inigo and Fezzik storm the castle. Hearing their assault during the wedding ceremony, Humperdinck orders that the officiant of his in-progress wedding ceremony skip to the end. Inigo finds and kills Rugen. Westley, who can still barely stand after his near-death ordeal, locates Buttercup in her honeymoon suite before she can kill herself. Westley explains to her that the marriage is did not occur because she never spoke any wedding vows. Humperdinck find them, and threatens to kill Westley, but Westley wills himself to stand up and bluffs Humperdinck into surrendering without a fight. Humperdinck is tied up as all four castle stormers flee. Westley suggests to Inigo that he would make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts. Westley and Buttercup kiss.
The grandson asks his grandfather to read him the book again the next day, causing the grandfather to reply, “As you wish.”
At the ripe old age of 35 years, this movie still holds up extremely well. I suspect that its charm will never wane. Almost every line in the film is quotable, the comedy is still funny, the action is still exciting, the visuals remain fantastic despite the passage of time – with the places where it looks aged only enhancing its fairy tale qualities.
This is a kids movie, but upon a re-watch, I would limit that viewing to older kids. A younger audience might struggle with the almost suicide of Buttercup, the torture of Westley, the story of the murder of Inigo’s father, the whimsical but regularly present violence (duels, stabbing of giant rodents, choking out of a giant, threats to rip off a gatekeeper’s arms, etc.), and I suspect that for some the brief use of profanity during Inigo’s duel with Rugen will violate a household rule. Thematically, these are mostly the kind of things which are present in most fairy tales but I believe there is a difference between imagining events read aloud in a book, and in seeing them depicted visually on a screen.
If the movie does feel aged at points, those scenes are mostly in the Grandson’s bedroom, where he is playing an ancient form of Nintendo and wearing a Chicago Bears t-shirt (not to rub it in or anything, but the Bears have not won a Super Bowl in the long years since this movie was released, so seeing their merch featured is a bit of a throw-back.) For his part, Peter Falk’s Grandfather character is dressed like a man from a now by-gone era, too, as I think the “old man in a fedora” look has not survived the passage of time. Nevertheless, the relationship between the two is timeless and their interactions are enjoyable and relatable.
One thing that aged particularly well about this movie is the sword dueling. Westley’s fight with Inigo is iconic, even with the comedic gymnastics flip interlude in its middle, and the fight between Inigo and Rugen is also still great despite it being so one-sided in one direction before it flips to being one-sided in the other.
In many respects, despite its age, The Princess Bride has never really left the public zeitgeist. It is to this day one of the most heavily meme’d movies on the internet:
I will not endeavor to quote the entire movie, but here are some of my favorite lines:
Inigo Montoya: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Vizzini: HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Buttercup: You mock my pain.
Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
Inigo Montoya: That Vizzini, he can *fuss*.
Fezzik: Fuss, fuss… I think he like to scream at *us*.
Inigo Montoya: Probably he means no *harm*.
Fezzik: He’s really very short on *charm*.
Inigo Montoya: You have a great gift for rhyme.
Fezzik: Yes, yes, some of the time.
Vizzini: Enough of that.
Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?
Fezzik: If there are, we all be dead.
Vizzini: No more rhymes now, I mean it.
Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?
Prince Humperdinck: Surrender.
Westley: You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.
The Grandson: See, didn’t I tell you she’d never marry that rotten Humperdinck?
Grandpa: Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.
This movie is still great and I will forever recommend anyone who thinks of a re-watch to do so. It may due your heart some good.