When I finished my rewatch of The Princess Bride the other night with my friend, he told me (and I may be paraphrasing) “That was good, I enjoyed that… but I don’t get why people love this movie so much.” This sort of took me aback, but then I started thinking. Why DO people love this movie so much? Just the week before I was talking to a homeless man (who I’ll keep unnamed) about his favorite movie, and he said it was The Princess Bride. It’s reached and touched so many people. But why? It’s not spectacularly well-made, the performances aren’t Oscar-worthy, and the plot isn’t masterfully orchestrated, yet it is beloved by people over the world, including myself. It’s widely regarded as a timeless classic. I think it comes down to a few things; the movie is lighthearted, highly quotable, and incredibly humorous. But deeper than that, it embraces what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else.
I saw The Princess Bride for the first time when I was roughly 12 at my youth pastor’s house with one of my close friends. I remember my pastor, who was a kid who grew up in the 80s, saying, “Oh, this is a must-watch classic.” At the time, I never realized how big this movie was in pop culture. Honestly, it was before I even really knew what pop culture was, but I immediately fell in love with it. Looking back on it, the charm of the movie is in its simplicity and satirical humor. William Goldman’s screenplay is perfect in every way and creates a fantasy that isn’t typical, generic high fantasy. In fact, it somewhat mocks the tropes of fantasy, while also integrating itself into a somewhat plausible real world.
There are no trolls, wizards, goblins, dragons, or other fantastical elements; but giant man-eating rats? Sure. Fire geysers in a swamp? Sweet. Six fingered man? Sounds grand to me. A machine that sucks away your life? Okay, maybe that one isn’t that plausible, but hey, it’s still more likely than most high fantasy elements. It even attempts to place itself in our own geography through the mention of countries like Spain and Italy. This type of world-building makes the movie feel unique and separated from other classic medieval fantasy tales. It’s creating its own thing and making sure the audience KNOWS it’s not trying to be serious. This is no Middle-Earth or Narnia, and it’s not trying to be.
The highlight for most people, myself included, is the quotability of dialogue and characters. Again, this is attributed to Goldman’s genius writing. Every line each character recites in the movie is nothing short of iconic. “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” “Have fun storming the castle.” “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Each person is perfectly cast in the movie too. They add their own personal flair to their respective roles. I can’t see any other actor playing them. The stand out is undoubtedly Andre the Giant as Fezzik (my personal favorite character.)
Above all that though, The Princess Bride is simply trying to entertain: to make you smile and laugh; to take you to another world where you can forget the worries of this one. It’s not The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Psycho, or anything akin to that; but it’s accessible to almost everyone. It’s not trying to be the greatest character study of all time or give deep commentary about our society, it simply is trying to entertain the audience through its humor, characters, and dialogue. I wholeheartedly believe that’s why this movie is so cherished and beloved by countless people and will continue to be. Thinking back again on why the homeless man said The Princess Bride was his favorite movie, I came to a realization; sometimes all it takes for a movie to be beloved is to make a person happy.