The Princess Bride at 30: 8 things you didn't know about the beloved film
From fight scene injuries to hidden baseball caps, 8 fascinating facts about the film classic.
By Jennifer Van Evra
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
If you recognize that line, chances are you're among the legions of fans of The Princess Bride, one of the most beloved films of the modern era — and one that, as Peter Falk promises near the beginning, involves fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles and more.
It also features top actors, from Wallace Shawn to Peter Cook, and from Billy Crystal to Christopher Guest.
Amazingly, the film almost didn't get made, and there were innumerable hitches along the way. Then, when it first came out, it snoozed at the box office — many blame poor marketing — but then exploded in popularity when it was released on VHS.
This week, The Princess Bride turns 30, so to mark the occasion, we've gathered eight fascinating facts about the beloved film classic.
1. The Princess Bride almost didn't get made
The Princess Bride regularly lands on lists of funniest movies and best love stories, and in 2016 it was inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry — but it almost didn't get made. In 1973, Twentieth Century Fox reportedly paid author William Goldman $500,000 for the film rights to his novel, and Richard Lester was set to direct the movie version, but then the head of production at Fox was fired and the project was put on hold.
Goldman eventually bought back the rights, and the movie almost got made several times over the years that followed — Norman Jewison, Robert Redford and François Truffaut were among the directors who were interested — but it didn't happen until 1987, when director Rob Reiner secured funding from Norman Lear, the producer behind top 1970s sitcoms including All in the Family, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time and Maude.
2. Wrestler André the Giant didn't do the heavy lifting
At seven feet four inches and 540 pounds, André the Giant was truly giant — but before filming The Princess Bride, he had major back surgery, and could not lift heavy objects. So in the wresting scene, where André carries actor Cary Elwes on his back, Elwes is actually walking on a series of ramps below the camera frame; in wider shots, a stunt double stood in for André.
At the end of the film, when André is carrying Robin Wright — the actress who today plays Claire Underwood in House of Cards — she is actually suspended by cables. Another bit of trivia: Arnold Schwarzenegger almost played the giant, but by the time they got around to making the film, he was too big of a star and they could no longer afford him.
3. Elwes seriously knocked himself out
In another fight scene, Rugen (played by Guest) hits Westley on the head with a sword handle, but Guest was afraid of actually hitting Elwes. Problem was, the fight scene didn't look authentic, so Elwes — who earlier in the shoot had broken a toe while driving on an ATV with André the Giant — told Guest to actually hit him once so they could get the timing right. The next thing he remembers is waking up in hospital.
"I woke up in the emergency room, still in costume, to the frightened sound of stitches being sewn into my skull," wrote Elwes in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. "From the same doctor, no less, who had treated me only a few weeks earlier for my broken toe. I remember him saying to me after I came to, 'Well, Zorro! You seem to be a little accident prone, don't you?'"
4. Mark Knopfler wanted a certain baseball cap in the film
Of course one of Reiner's most famous films is This is Spinal Tap, and when Reiner asked Dire Straits singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler to create the soundtrack for The Princess Bride, he agreed on one condition: that the USS Ooral Sea OV-4B baseball cap that Reiner wore as Marty DiBergi in Spinal Tap appear somewhere in the film. Reiner couldn't find the original cap, but included one that was similar in the grandson's room. Knopfler later admitted that he was only joking, and didn't expect Reiner to actually include the ball cap. See it at 2:00:
5. The sword fight on the Cliffs of Insanity took months
Although The Princess Bride isn't seen as a fight movie, it has one of the greatest sword fighting scenes in film history — an epic three-minute battle between Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya). The scene was choreographed by Bob Anderson, the veteran sword master behind legendary fights in Highlander, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Mask of Zorro and many more. He was also the stunt double who played Darth Vader during lightsaber battles in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and coached Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster. Elwes and Patinkin reportedly practiced for months, and learned how to fight using both their left and right hands; the scene took nearly a week to film from all angles.
6. When Patinkin repeated his most famous line, he really was thinking of his father
One of the most famous — and most repeated — lines in the film is when Patinkin says, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." But it turns out that, to muster the passion he needed to deliver his character's lines, Patinkin really did think of his father.
"It was 1986. My father died in 1972," he wrote. "I read that script and I wanted to play Inigo because my mind immediately went, If I can get that six-fingered man, then I'll have my father back, in my imaginary world. He'll be alive in my imagination. So that was it for me. It was like, I'll become the greatest sword fighter, and my reward will not be to be in this movie that ended up being what it's become to all these people; my reward will be that my father will come back."
7. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane improvised many of their best lines
Some of the funniest scenes in the movie come courtesy of comic actors Crystal and Carol Kane, and it turns out they ad-libbed many of their best lines. Kane reportedly improvised the chocolate-covered pill scene, while Crystal came up with the idea of rating true love on a scale with the MLT — mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
While Patinkin's character appeared in several fight scenes, he says his only injury was from laughing so hard at the Crystal scenes. "I literally bruised a rib from holding in my laughter," Patinkin wrote. "That's the only injury I got on the whole film."
8. The chemistry between Westley and Buttercup was real
When Elwes first met Wright — who was then a 20-year-old soap opera star — he was smitten. "It was as if I were looking at a young Grace Kelly, she was that beautiful," Elwes wrote in his book about the making of the film. "To be honest, I couldn't concentrate on much of anything after that first encounter with Robin. She was the perfect Buttercup in my mind's eye."
For the final scene, it took six takes to get the kiss between Elwes and Wright just right. "I could have gone on shooting that scene all day, as I don't think I wanted the movie to end," Elwes wrote. "It was also a very tender way to end the movie. Sealing it with a kiss, so to speak."
The feeling, it seems, was mutual. "I was absolutely smitten with Cary," wrote Wright, who was given a year away from Santa Barbara to shoot the movie. "So obviously that helped with our onscreen chemistry. And we really enjoyed one another. We made each other laugh constantly. He was and is still hilariously funny."