This week marks The Princess Bride’s 30th anniversary! But before you break out your favorite fire swamp and brute squad quotes, let’s take a moment to properly appreciate what is easily one of the greatest fantasy films of all time (and also one of the funniest). Then you can quote it. Or act out the entire Westley-Inigo duel. Or fight someone To The Pain. In fact, let’s just instate a yearly tradition where we all get together and recreate the whole movie on September 25. We’ll call it Project Dread Pirate Roberts.
The genesis of this gem was simple enough: Rob Reiner’s father Carl handed him a book by William Goldman called The Princess Bride. (Charmingly, the title of the novel came when Goldman asked his two daughters what sort of story they would prefer, and the first asked for a tale about a bride, while the other wanted one about a princess.) Eventually, Reiner started making movies of his own, and after successfully helming classics like This Is Spinal Tap and Stand By Me, that book got dusted off and brought to the table. Then it was just a matter of assembling the right team of people.
And it’s the people that really make The Princess Bride so special. Here are a few fun stories about what happened on and off set, all of them contributing to what makes this movie stand out a quarter of a century later….
Cary Elwes was chosen for the role of Westley because he reminded Reiner of the swashbuckling heroes of early cinema, specifically Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. Which is ironic yet unsurprising when you consider that all three actors played Robin Hood at some point. At one point during filming, he told Christopher Guest (Count Rugen) to actually hit him on the head with his sword hilt to get a take—Guest listened to him, and filming came to a halt for the rest of the day while they took Elwes to the hospital. He and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) did perform the entirety of their duel (minus the somersaults). They were taught by swordmaster legend Bob Anderson.
Billy Crystal was apparently too funny to work with: Rob Reiner claimed that he had to leave set whenever they shot Crystal’s scenes because he couldn’t hold his laughter in. Mandy Patinkin admitted that the most serious injury he got on set was a bruised rib, which he obtained while trying not to laugh at Miracle Max. (Bonus book trivia: Miracle Max and his wife Valerie were named after William Goldman’s parents.)
André the Giant was Goldman’s first pick to play Fezzik when the film was being optioned in the 70s, but he could not make the commitment. As a result, Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered, but he was happily too famous by the time the movie got made. Andre was available, although he had undergone back surgery prior to the film shoot; Robin Wright (Buttercup) recalled that he was in far too much pain to be able to hold her at the end of the film, so she was held up with wires to prevent him from having to take the weight. When asked about his favorite part of shooting, André said, “Nobody looks at me.” Being just another actor on a set full of quirky talent, where no one made issue of his height, made the Giant feel like he fit right in for once.
Mandy Patinkin considers Inigo to be his favorite role of all time, and one can hardly blame him; in the midst of such a hilarious yarn, Inigo’s fight to avenge his father is perhaps the most moving subplot of the film. But there’s another layer to this tale: it turns out that not long before taking the part, Patinkin’s own father had died of cancer. He said that while filming the final duel between Inigo and Count Rugen, he imaged it as a fight between himself and that cancer. That whole habit of art imitating life allowed Patinkin the opportunity to truly mourn his father. So if watching that scene doesn’t already make you tear up, it probably will next time. If it already had you crying, you’ll be weeping into buckets from now on.
On that note, it’s probably time to head home and cue it up. There’s always more – everyone has their favorite moment, favorite line, and it varies wildly from person to person… But this is a hard film to appreciate properly in words. It is eminently quotable, but that doesn’t explain why it’s funny. It has all the action a fantasy film could ask for, but how that action manages to ride so easily alongside wit and whimsy is a thesis all its own. It’s heartwarming without pandering to us, which is rare enough in a fairytale, but barely touches why we root for Buttercup and Westley to the very end.
It allowed a little boy who hated stories about kissing to have an adventure with his grandfather, and grow up a little while he waited out the flu.
So that’s a very happy birthday to Westley and Buttercup. I hope you all have fun storming the castle, and remember not to go up against Sicilians when death is on the line. And if someone happens to say “As you wish” to you today, well….
You’ll know exactly what they mean.
This article has been updated from a version that originally published in September 2012 for the film’s 25th anniversary.