The Princess Bride is a fantasy/comedy movie based on a book by the same name, written by William Goldman (both the book and the screenplay). It was one of the first "twisted fairy tale" ideas that took ideas and turned them on their heads, with the inclusion of gentle giants and a prince who is not so charming. The film is presented as though it's being read aloud by a grandfather to his grandson from the actual book, now and then being interrupted by one of the two, but mostly taking place inside of the book.
In a house in the suburbs of Chicago, a young boy (Fred Savage) is sitting in his house sick, bored, just playing some games. His mother comes in and announces that the boy's grandfather (Peter Falk) is here, and the grandfather comes in and gives the boy a present. He happily unwraps it but, to his disgrace, sees it's a book. The boy is bothered, but his grandpa explains that it's a book that his father read to him, and that he read to the boy's father, and he's now going to read it to the boy. The boy's skeptical, but after the grandpa explains that there's pirates and sword fights and giants (and also true love), he accepts and sits back.
The grandpa opens a book and begins to read the story of Buttercup (Robin Wright), a young farm girl, who's only companion is a farm boy named Westley (Cary Elwes). She never calls him Westley, though, only referring to him as "Farm Boy" and tasking him with all sorts of menial things- carrying logs, fetching water, etc. He never says anything more to her than "As you wish" before quietly going on with his task, and one day, Buttercup realizes that he means "I love you" whenever he says that. She realizes she loves him too and she and Westley start a wonderful, loving relationship, wh-
About here, the boy interrupts and expresses his distate as to what's happening. Too much kissing, but the grandfather reassures him that if he can just read the book, it'll get better. The boy quiets down and the grandpa continues on.
Westley is too poor to really pursue a relationship and marriage with Buttercup, so he goes off to seek his fortune. However, his boat is sacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never takes prisoners, and Buttercup vows that she will never love again.
Despite that, 5 years later she is engaged to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) of the kingdom of Florin. The narration reveals that she's not happy and doesn't really love Humperdinck, and the only thing she find solace in is her morning horse ride, which she takes alone. Three "wandering circus folk" interrupt a ride one day and kidnap her. As they're loading her onto a boat, Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) outlines the plan to take her to Guilder, Florin's enemy state, and kill her, thus starting a war. Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) don't really want to kill her, but they go along because really, they just need the money, and were nothing without Vizzini.
They set off across the lake, and as night falls, Inigo notices that there's someone following them. Vizzini is surprised and runs over, but as they're all looking over, Buttercup throws caution to the wind and jumps over the edge of the boat (they hadn't tied her arms or legs) and begins to swim away. However, a scream rends the air as she swims away, and Vizzini announces that they're the screaming eels, who always scream louder when they're going to eat human. They begin to circle her and as they're about to attack, the boat draws to the side of them and Fezzik punches them away and lifts out Buttercup. Meanwhile, the ship behind is gaining on them, but Vizzini is counting on reaching the Cliffs of Insanity to escape.
When they reach the Cliffs of Insanity (named, apparently, for no reason- at least none explained), they strap themselves on to Fezzik and he begins to climb a rope they've prepared. Vizzini says that no one should be able to follow them (the Cliffs are extremely tall) but when the boat reaches them, a mysterious man in black gets out and starts to follow them immediately, and he's gaining on them.
When they reach the top, Vizzini cuts the rope and takes Fezzik and Buttercup forward and leaves Inigo to fight the man following them (who, despite the rope being cut, is still climbing, having caught the cliff wall). Inigo, a master swordsman, begins to pace and calls out for the man to hurry up and offers to help him. The man doesn't believe him, and so Inigo swears on the soul of his father, and the man accepts his help. Reaching the top, Inigo allows him to rest and begins to tell his story.
When Inigo was a young boy, and his father was alive, a man with 6 fingers on his right hand came in and asked for a sword to be made. His father, a master swordsmith, complies, and creates a beautiful sword for the man, who comes back later and wants the sword- for one tenth the price. A proud man, his father says "no" and the 6-fingered man kills his father. Inigo tries to get revenge on the spot, but the man defeats him and leaves 2 scars on his face as a reminder. Since then, Inigo has been looking for this man to avenge his father, and when he finds him, he'll look him in the face and say "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
When he gets finished with the story, he sees the man in black has recovered his strength, so they begin their match. It's clear that they're both highly skilled fighters, and they discuss their techniques with each other as they fight until Inigo, laughing, switches hands (he'd been fighting with his left, weaker, hand) and begins to get an upper hand. The man in black then switches to his dominant hand, too, and after a little, he overcomes Inigo and knocks him out, continuing on after Buttercup.
Vizzini looks and sees the man in black following them still and tells Fezzik to wait behind and hit him in the head with a rock when he comes by. When the man in black passes, Fezzik throws a rock but misses on purpose and challenges the man to a battle, hand to hand. The man accepts, and winds up dodging Fezzik's huge swings until the man in black gets him in a choke hold and knocks him out. He picks his sword up and continues on.
Prince Humperdinck has actually been tracking Vizzini's crew, and he's caught up to the top of the Cliffs of Insanity. Inigo is gone, apparently having regained consciousness and ran away, but Humperdinck can see there was a great battle between 2 master swordsmen, and the loser ran off, while the winner went after Buttercup.
The man in black has caught up with Vizzini, who has Buttercup at knife point and says that if the man continues, Buttercup dies. They're at an impasse, so the man in black challenges Vizzini to a duel of the wits, dropping Iocane powder into a drink and telling Vizzini to choose the cup that doesn't have it. Vizzini goes through a long logical train, switches cups, and then drinks. As he laughs at his victory, he falls over dead, and the man in black gets Buttercup and explains he put the poison in both, but is himself immune to Iocane. He then takes her along. Humperdinck, meanwhile, finds where the man fought Fezzik and his men continue on after Buttercup.
The man in black continues on with Buttercup, accusing her of loving Humperdinck and being, in general, loose with her love. She explains about Westley and realizes that the man in black is actually the Dread Pirate Roberts, hence his cruelty, and that he killed Westley, who she loves, and that she never loved Humperdinck. Roberts explains that he remembers Westley, who didn't beg, didn't cry, but said "Please, I need to live" and explained his love. Buttercup gets angry and tells Roberts to go die and pushes him down a hill, and as he rolls down, he yells "As you wish!" Buttercup immediately realizes it's Westley and throws herself down after him as Humperdinck and his men arrive.
Westley and Buttercup share a heartfelt, long-overdue kiss and run off into the Fire Swamps to get away from Humperdinck. On their way through, Westley explains what's happened to him the last 5 years. His story of Dread Pirate Roberts was actually true, and Roberts was intrigued by Westley, and took him as a Valet, but always with the threat of killing him. Then, one day, Roberts tells Westley that he's going to retire, and that he isn't the first Dread Pirate Roberts, and the one before him wasn't, and the REAL Dread Pirate has been retired for 15 years. Westley, having learned the years prior how to fight and be a pirate, took up the name and came afterwards to get Buttercup.
Back where they are, though, there's a Fire Swamp to deal with, and after a series of popping noises, a fire burst flies out and lights Buttercup's dress on fire. Cool as a cucumber, Westley puts it out, and they continue, but Buttercup quickly falls into a patch of lightning sand. Grabbing a vine to help himself get back out, Westley dives in and tries to save her, which he does. After they get better, Buttercup says there's no hope for them, but Westley says that there are 3 dangers of the Fire Swamp- the fire, which pops so they can avoid it, the lightning sand, which they now know what it looks like, and the ROUSs, or Rodents of Unusual Size. Westley says they may not exist, and one proceeds to jump right into his face.
After they battle and Westley manages to finally off it, they exit the Fire Swamp just for Humperdinck to round the bend and catch them. Westley chooses not to listen and says they can live in the Swamp, or die together, but Buttercup panics and turns herself in as long as Westley is let go. Humperdinck swears it shall be done, and immediately tells Count Rugen, his right hand man, to take him to the Pit of Despair. Westley notices that Rugen has 6 fingers on his right hand, but is knocked out when Buttercup leaves.
When Westley comes to, he's being sponged clean by an albino man in a pit, with a machine hooked up to him. Count Rugen comes in and explains that he's actually highly interested in pain, and that he's putting together the definitive volume with the use of this machine. Westley feels he can handle torture, but when Rugen puts it on the lowest setting, Westley is reduced to a whimpering shell of himself, and can't even answer how much it hurt. Rugen explains that the machine works on a simple property, and that what it does is sucks life out of someone. The brief time on the lowest setting was enough to suck 1 year from Westley's life.
Buttercup, meanwhile, is back in Florin with Humperdinck, and their wedding is in 10 days. She can't take it, though, and runs to Humperdinck to say that she's in love with Westley and that she'll never marry Humperdinck as long as Westley is out there. Humperdinck says that he'll have his 4 fastest ships go search for Westley before the wedding and if he doesn't come, Buttercup should just marry him instead of killing herself, as she planned. Before she came in, though, Humperdinck was discussing with Count Rugen about his plans for Buttercup- including murdering her on their wedding night and blaming it on Guilder. In fact, it was he who first hired Vizzini to go and kidnap Buttercup and start a war.
On the day of the wedding, Westley is still locked up, and Humperdinck calls in his security chief, telling him to clear the thieves forest, using a brute squad if necessary. It then cuts to an inebriated Inigo, fighting off anyone who wants to clear him out, until he hears a familiar voice- it's Fezzik, on the brute squad, and he cures Inigos hangover and tells him that the 6 fingered man is in Humperdinck's castle. They vow to crash the castle, but there are 30 guards and only 2 of them, so they need a plan, and decide the man in black is their best choice.
Humperdinck is checking on the security, meanwhile, and tells them to double the guards. Buttercup comes in and asks about Westley, who Humperdinck sadly explains away, but that the whole armada is waiting for them to go off on their honeymoon after the ceremonies. She realizes that "whole armada" means that even the 4 fastest ships are still there, and calls Humperdinck a coward for not sending for Westley. Enraged, Humperdinck runs to the Pit of Despair and turns the machine on to its highest setting- 50. Westley's scream is heard throughout the land, and Inigo and Fezzick use it to help find his general location.
When they get there, the albino has a wheelbarrow to cart off Westley, but Inigo and Fezzik catch him and ask where Westley is. Fezzik hits his head to jog his memory, and he passes out. Since the entrance to the Pit of Despair is secret, Inigo gets down and asks for his father's spirit to guide him to where he needs to go. He circles the clearing with his eyes shut, sword drawn, and stabs a tree. Sad that his plan didn't work, he collapses against the tree- which then opens and leads them to Westley's body.
They take him and decide that what they need is a miracle, so they go to Miracle Max, who sells miracles. They only have a little money, but Max is able to see that Westley is only mostly dead, which is still partly alive. He pumps air into Westley and asks "what is so important that you need to live?" When he pushes the air out, Westley clearly mumbles "true love" but Max refuses to hear it until his wife comes out and berates him. When he finds out that the love is the one that Humperdinck is married, Max, who was fired by the prince, sees a good chance for revenge. Then he accepts to make a miracle for them, despite how cheap it is, and gives them a pill to give to Westley to bring him back to life.
In front of the castle, the give Westley the pill, and he comes to, but is completely limp. He tries to create a plan, and using a cloak, a wheelbarrow, and Fezzik's giant body, he makes it seem like the Dread Pirate Roberts is attacking the castle, causing the guards to scatter and letting them enter... just AFTER the wedding is over. Humperdinck caused the priest to skip parts of the marriage, though, and get to "man and wife" so it can be over. Buttercup is shocked that Westley didn't arrive in time, and vows to kill herself in her bedroom.
Inside the castle, Inigo finds Count Rugen and gives him the line he'd rehearsed for years. Rugen draws his sword, but then turns and scampers away. Inigo gives chase, and Fezzik is left holding Westley, who is still getting used to being alive again. Fezzik leaves Westley for a bit to open a door Rugen had locked, and when he comes back, Westley is gone.
Inigo gives chase to the six fingered man, who throws a knife at Inigo as a sneak attack. Inigo collapses against a wall as Count Rugen begins to taunt him. Inigo pulls himself together, though, and begins to repeat his mantra. Rugen stabs at him, but is deflected twice before Inigo gets up, bleeding from multiple wounds, and continues to repeat himself. He defeats Rugen, who begs for his life, offering gold, anything in return. Inigo stabs him and says "I want my father back" and after Rugen falls over dead, he runs off to find the rest of the party.
In the bridal suite, Buttercup walks in, grabs a knife, and is about to kill herself, when Westley's voice calls out to stop. She looks over and he's sitting on the bed and he explains that if she didn't say "I do" during the marriage, then it doesn't count. Humperdinck walks in as he's explaining, and challenges Westley to a fight- to the death!
No, Westley, says, to the pain, which consists of him cutting off Humperdinck's hands, feet, and gouging out his eyes, but leaving his ears so that he can hear every gasp of horror and fear as he's passed by in the streets. Humperdinck calls his bluff and says that Westley probably can't even stand, which he does, and a frightened Humperdinck is ordered to sit down, and then Buttercup ties him up as Westley loses his balance- he's still weak, but at least he was strong enough to catch himself.
Inigo stumbles in and offers to kill Humperdinck, but Westley says that he'd rather Humperdinck live with his cowardice. As they wonder where Fezzik is, they hear his voice call out, and they go to the window, where Fezzik is with 4 white horses. They get on the horses and ride off into the sunset, ending with Westley and Buttercup sharing a final kiss- the most pure and passionate in the history of the world.
Back in the real world, the grandfather is finished reading. The boy asks if the grandfather could come read it to him again the next day, and the grandfather looks at him and says one thing. "As you wish."
The Princess Bride existed in various states of development for around 12 years, with Michael Goldman originally wanting to do a version in the 1970s with a then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger (since Goldman couldn't get his first choice of Andre the Giant). Years later, when the movie was finally going into production, Schwarzenegger was too expensive, but Andre the Giant was available, so it went as originally planned. Cary Elwes, meanwhile, was cast by Rob Reiner because of his Errol Flynn quality.
Problems during the shoot
There were a few problems during the shoot, most notably with Cary Elwes getting hurt a lot. During the scene where Count Rugen knocks him out, for example, he told Christopher Guest to really hit him, and Guest obliged so hard that Elwes had to go to the hospital. He also managed to break his toe while driving a small cart around- a rock go lodged between the gas pedal and his toe, and you can still see him limping. A special shoe was made for him so they could continue to film.
Andre the Giant, meanwhile, was suffering from back problems so wasn't able to lift anything very heavy- even including Robin Wright, who had to be suspended by wires in the scene where he catches her. In the scene where he fights Cary Elwes, Elwes is actually standing on a ramp behind him instead of just being held up. He couldn't even climb up the hill he was supposed to fight Cary Elwes on, so he had a little cart that he'd drive up it. In addition, they noticed in rehearsal that his thick accent made understanding him difficult, but Mandy Patinkin slapped him and told him to concentrate and it apparently got better.
On that note, Mandy Patinkin's largest injury was a bruised rib from trying not to laugh while Billy Crystal was on camera. (He's not alone. Director Rob Reiner apparently would laugh so hard it made him feel nauseated).
The ROUSs were actually small actors inside rodent suits, and on the day Elwes was to fight one, the actor got arrested for speeding. He had to get bailed out and they completed the scene with him out on bail.
Mel Smith, who played the albino, had the usual make up horror stories- the contact lenses he had to wear actually used a solution he was allergic to, and he was in constant pain as a result of it. Smith has never watched his parts in the movie because it would be like reliving a painful experience.
Almost everything was filmed on location, including scenes the in castle, which was around 900 years old at the time and still had original tapestries on the wall. Most of the locations really exist in England and Ireland. The Cliffs of Insanity, for example, are the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Humperdinck's Castle is actually Haddon Hall, which has been used in a few other movies, such as Elizabeth and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice.
The only real set would have been the house in Chicago where Fred Savage is sick.
Differences from the book
The differences from the book have only a few notable instances.
First, there are no shrieking eels in the book. Instead, they're just sharks- regular sharks- and as Buttercup attempts to swim away, Vizzini spills his own blood into the water to call for them.
Second is Count Rugen's death, which is longer and more graphic in the novel. After stabbing Rugen in the stomach, Inigo goes on to cut out Rugen's heart while Rugen is still alive, explaining what he's doing as he does it. Rugen dies of fright during the process, though.
In addition, the book is structured as though the author is writing an abridged version of a classic tale by a fictional S. Morgenstern. In the movie, breaks in the action are a result of the boy interrupting his grandfather, but the book is interrupted instead by the author, making notes and detailing new things about the story.
Reception The Princess Bride was, critically, a highly successful film when it was released. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up, and the film was voted one of Time's "Best of '87." The film sits at a 95 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 77 on Metacritic. IMDb has it listed as an 8.1, and the film has received a cult following and is still big on DVD and other home video releases. It's also a staple of "greatest comedy" and "greatest romance" lists all over the media, and can even be caught popping up on greatest movies of all time lists (though hovering near the bottom).
The film was a moderate success at the box office, earning back around twice its original gross. The real money winner for it was home video release, where it was picked up and really began to earn money again.
Around 2006, William Goldman and Tony-award winner Adam Guettel began to work on a musical version of The Princess Bride. This project, however, was scrapped when it was revealed that Goldman asked for 75% of the writers fee, though he didn't write any of the music or lyrics. There hasn't been any work on it done since then.