The bargain bins of the world are littered with attempts to make films for the whole family. Making something that will please young kids, grandparents, and everyone in between (a four-quadrant hit, as studio types call it) is a tough nut to crack. But one of the most enduring family favorites of the last few decades is one that, against the odds, managed to thrill audiences, make them laugh, and make them swoon: Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride.”
Based on the novel by screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men“), it’s a fairy tale (allegedly a rediscovered classic by one S. Morgenstern), which involves the long-thwarted love between Princess Buttercup and her childhood sweetheart Westley, taking in Cliffs of Insanity, Rodents of Unusual Size and one Spaniard’s search for the man who killed his father.
The film took fourteen years to make it to the big screen, and the effort was worth it, as the film remains a total delight, genuinely romantic, quietly moving, exciting and consistently hilarious. The film was released in theaters on September 25, 1987 — twenty-five years ago today — and to mark the occasion, we’ve collected up five facts you may not be aware of about Reiner and Goldman’s family classic. Read on below.
1. François Truffaut and Robert Redford were among the directors who planned to adapt the book.
William Goldman wrote the novel “The Princess Bride” in the early 1970s after asking his daughters what they’d like him to write a story about, with one replying “a princess,” the other “a bride.” Published in 1973, it was a success, and swiftly came to the attention of Hollywood, with Goldman writing a screenplay that would, over the next fourteen years or so, gain a reputation as being one of the best unproduced scripts. The film kept failing to get the green light for various reasons, but not for lack of trying, with several big name directors attempting an adaptation at various points. Norman Jewison tried to make it for years, intending to make the framing device revolve around an immigrant family. Robert Redford wanted to both make his directorial debut on the film (before “Ordinary People“) and play the lead role of Westley. “Excalibur” director John Boorman was another who sniffed around it, while most remarkably, French New Wave legend François Truffaut considered making the film at one stage (what we wouldn’t give for that version…). But in the end, it fell to sitcom star-turned-fledgling filmmaker Rob Reiner, who’d recently broken through to film directing with “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Sure Thing” and “Stand By Me.” And the project fell firmly within the family — Reiner had been given the book originally by his father Carl, while producer Norman Lear had been behind Reiner’s breakout show “All In the Family” and, as he had with all of Reiner’s films until that point, personally financed the project.
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2. Courtney Cox, Meg Ryan and Uma Thurman were among those who auditioned to play Buttercup, while Danny DeVito was the first choice to play Vizzini.
With a relatively meager $15 million budget, the cast ended up being a curious mix of Reiner’s pals (Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal), British comics local to the film’s shoot (Peter Cook, Mel Smith), those that Goldman had always had in mind (Andre The Giant, although there were back up possibilities — several NFL players, and reportedly even Liam Neeson, also auditioned for the role), and relative unknowns. Casting the Errol Flynn-ish Cary Elwes as Westley was a relatively easy pick, but Buttercup, described in the script as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” was a trickier one. Goldman considered Carrie Fisher early on, while Meg Ryan, Uma Thurman, Sean Young (an early favorite of Reiner’s), Suzy Amis, Courtney Cox, Alexandra Paul and even Whoopi Goldberg all pursued the part. In the end, it was soap veteran Robin Wright who won the role. Meanwhile, Wallace Shawn was nervous on set, knowing that he was far from the first choice to play the cunning Vizzini — Danny DeVito had originally been sought by Reiner, but had turned the role down. And as for his enormous pal Fezzig, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been considered in an earlier iteration on the project, but had told Goldman that Andre The Giant was a better choice.
3. The sword fighting was mostly done without stunt doubles, and shot on two mirrored sets to allow the cast to fight left-handed.
In his script for the film, the sword fight between Dread Pirate Roberts/Westley and Inigo Montoya at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity (the climb of which was a combination of mattes and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland) is described by Goldman as “The second best sword-fighting sequence on film. The first comes later.” In fact, Reiner says on his commentary that the earlier scene is technically better than the later duel between Count Rugen and Inigo, and it’s easy to agree. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes trained for six months, with the former telling EW last year: “I knew that my job was to become the world’s greatest swordfighter. I trained for about two months in New York and then we went to London and Cary and I trained every day that we weren’t shooting for four months. There were no stunt men involved in any of the sword fights, except for one flip in the air.” To help the actors appear ambidextrous, two identical, but mirrored, sets were constructed, to make it appear that the pair were just as good with their other hand. Even, so, Patinkin says, “Mandy and I got so good at both left- and right-handed fencing that by the time we showed the sequence to Rob, we’d gotten too fast at it and the fight was over very quickly in a couple of minutes. Rob went, ‘That’s it? You guys have to go back and add some more!’ ” Christopher Guest (who says that he made sound effects on set: “I was so into it, I was making the sound of the sword hitting the other sword. I was doing the ‘chk-chk-chk’ — because that’s what you do when you’re a kid. Rob said, ‘Cut! You don’t need to do that. We’re going to put in the sound of the swords later.’ I was like, ‘Ah!’ “) was injured in the thigh by a sword during the rehearsal of the final fight, but Patinkin maintains that the worst injury he suffered on set was bruising a rib by trying to stop himself from laughing during Billy Crystal‘s scenes as Miracle Max.
4. Not a success on release, the film has since won over mobsters, and even saved lives.
On its release in September 1987, the film wasn’t a disaster — eventually taking $30.8 million domestically ($60 million when adjusted for inflation — nearly twice the budget, but still a tenth of the year’s top-grossing movie, “Fatal Attraction,” which had been released the week before). Still over the years (aided by endless home video releases and re-releases, and TV airings), the film’s become the family favorite it was always destined to be, spawning “quote-a-long” screenings. The cast all report they’re regularly approached by fans in the street, but the film’s reach is even more surprising than that. Reiner related two particularly memorable encounters with fans of the film to EW. “I remember once Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi said, ‘There’s this restaurant in New York that (legendary mobster) John Gotti always comes to — you should come.’ So we went, and sure enough, in walks John Gotti with, like, six wiseguys. We finish the meal and I walk outside and there’s a man standing in front of a huge limo who looks like Luca Brasi from ‘The Godfather.‘ He looks at me and he goes, ‘You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ ‘The Princess Bride!’ I love that movie!” I almost shit in my pants.” Perhaps more inspiring was another tale of how the film helped to save lives. “Another time, a woman came up to me—she had to be 25 or 30 years old—and she says to me, ‘The Princess Bride saved my life.’ I go, ‘What do you mean?’ She says, ‘I do extreme skiing, and they dropped me off at the top of a mountain with four other people and we skied down this mountain and we got caught in an avalanche. We got stuck. We couldn’t get out.’ She showed me that her frostbite was still going away. And she said, ‘I kept everybody alive and kept everybody going because I know ‘The Princess Bride’ by heart—every line from beginning to end. I started reciting it. I acted it out. I kept everybody’s spirits up until we got rescued.’ “
5. A long-promised sequel, “Buttercup’s Baby,” is yet to materialize.
So far, the specter of sequels and remakes have avoided “The Princess Bride,” bar a video game a few years ago. But Goldman’s talked about a sequel, “Buttercup’s Baby,” for years now, although said in 2007 that “I desperately want to write it, and I sit there and nothing happens and I get pissed at myself. I got lucky with ‘The Princess Bride’ the first time, and I’d love to get lucky again.” That said, the writer did manage to get as a far as a first chapter, included in later editions of the novel. The plot in the story involves a villain with no skin on his face kidnapping Westley and Buttercup’s daughter Waverly and throwing her off a cliff, with Fezzig, her babysitter, leaping off after her to protect her from the impact. We remain hopeful that Goldman might be sneakily working away on the rest, although he was briefly distracted a few years ago by teaming up with composer Adam Guettel (the Tony award-winning “The Light In The Piazza“) to work on a Broadway musical version. An orchestral suite was performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006, and a workshop conducted at Lincoln Center in 2007, but the project collapsed alter that year when Goldman allegedly demanded 75% of the author’s share, despite Guettel writing the music and the lyrics for the show. The pair fell out acrimoniously, and nothing came to pass. Appetites were whetted recently for more ‘Bride,’ though, when Jason Reitman included the film as part of his live-read series at the LACMA last December. The reading featured Paul Rudd as Westley, Mindy Kaling as Buttercup, Nick Kroll as Count Rugen, Patton Oswalt as Vizzini, 6′ 6″ actor Bill Fagerbakke as Fezzik, Goran Višnjic as Inigo Montoya, Kevin Pollak as Miracle Max and Collette Wolfe as his wife, while Cary Elwes returned to play Prince Humperdinck, Rob Reiner himself voiced the grandfather, and Fred Savage reprised his role as the grandson.