It would be almost impossible to pick one movie that is definitively my favorite. There are so many great ones that are worth talking about and new ones every year that get added to my list of favorites. But if you were to ask the question “What movie has been your favorite for most of your life?” I can pretty easily answer that.
The Princess Bride is a 1987 romantic comedy/fantasy adventure film directed by Rob Reiner, with a screenplay by William Goldman based on his 1973 novel. Although it was a box office bomb when it released in theaters, the film has achieved cult classic status and there are very few people who haven’t seen the film by this point. Most significantly for me, the movie was one of my mother’s favorites and I was introduced to the movie at a very young age. Two decades later, it’s still one of my go to movies when I just want to throw something in and know I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
While the bulk of the movie’s story is a love story set in medieval fantasy kingdom called Florin, the movie starts with a grandfather (played by Peter Falk) visiting his sick grandson (Fred Savage). He hopes to cheer him up by reading one of his favorite books, giving a hard sell that is one of the most crucial scenes in the movie. He talks about monsters, fencing, pirates, giants, torture, suspense… and true love. It convinces the boy to listen to his grandpa read it, and also serves to calm the nerves of men in the audience who are probably expecting a sappy, cheesy love story that will bore them to tears.
And let’s not mince words here; The Princess Bride is a sappy and cheesy love story. There’s a handsome leading man (Cary Elwes in probably his defining role) and the titular princess, named Buttercup and played by Robin Wright, is straight out of a Disney movie. Fortunately, the two characters have a lot of chemistry with each other and have a lot of odds to overcome. They are easy to invest in and root for and provide a lot of the movie’s charm. It’s a love story done right.
But The Princess Bride is also an exciting adventure with one of the best sword fights ever put on film between Westley and Inigo Montoya. There’s a wrestling match, a treacherous journey through a swamp that spits fire and inhabited by enormous killer rats, and three men storming a castle to stop ruthless villains. It’s also one of the funniest movies you will ever see, with memorable characters delivering one liners left and right. It’s this blending of genres that makes Princess Bride stand out and very few movies have been able to successfully replicate the formula that makes this such a hit with viewers over twenty-five years later.
While the love story between Westley and Buttercup is the driving force behind the film’s narrative, it isn’t the first thing that I think of when I remember this movie. It’s three secondary characters that are hired to kidnap and kill Buttercup near the start of the film: insufferable brainiac Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), soft-hearted giant Fezzik (pro wrestling legend Andre the Giant) and charismatic Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). It quickly becomes evident that Fezzik and Inigo are not bad guys, but people looking for work and Vizzini is willing to pay them. The comedic back and forth between the three establish the tone of the film very early on.
One of the things I like most about this early portion of the movie is that each of these three characters gets a spotlight scene where they go one on one with Westley, dressed in black as the Dread Pirate Roberts, as he makes an attempt to rescue Buttercup. No, I’m really not spoiling anything with that revelation, it’s pretty obvious that it’s Westley the whole time. Anyway, Westley first goes up against Inigo in a great sword fight where Inigo is established as an honorable man who is also looking for revenge on a six-fingered man who killed his father. Westley is able to best him, but refuses to kill him, knocking him out with the hilt of his sword.
After that challenge, Westley if forced to compete in a wresting match with Fezzik when it becomes clear that the giant could kill him by throwing a boulder at his head. Using his speed and a choke hold, Westley is able to knock Fezzik out. Finally, Westley goes up against Vizzini in a battle of wits. I won’t spoil how this goes down, because if you haven’t seen the movie it’s one of the best twists I’ve ever seen. But each of these scenes is allowed to go down without interruption, allowing us to gain an appreciation for who the characters are and all work to showcase how capable and charming the lead hero is.
Fortunately, it’s not the last time that we see Fezzik and Inigo as they later work together with Westley to rescue Buttercup from her unwanted fiancee Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and his accomplish Count Reuben (Christopher Guest). Once again, I don’t want to get into the details of how they get through this, but it’s a thrill ride that is worth watching.
Man that is a glorious crown isn’t it?
The Princess Bride is a movie I have watched probably a hundred times over, and I could readily recite entire conversations from it. But even without my sentimental nostalgic feelings, I would still consider this to be one of the best movies of all time. It’s family friendly, it’s short enough not to overstay it’s welcome, and the characters and quotes are strong enough to stick with the viewer years after watching it. If you have somehow avoided seeing it so far, make plans to remedy that situation. There is a reason that Princess Bride always has a place on my shelf.