Hollywood Screenwriting Directory

The Princess Bride (1987)

Screenplay Genre: Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy / Family

Movie Time: 98 Minutes

Synopsis: Narrated by a Grandfather (Peter Falk) to his sick Grandson (Fred Savage), The Princess Bride is the story of true love between poor stable boy Westley (Cary Elwes) and farmer’s daughter Buttercup (Robin Wright). Thinking Westley murdered by pirates, thebeautiful Buttercup is chosen by the detestable Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) to be his bride. After she is kidnapped to start a war, it’s up to Westley (returning as the Dread Pirate Roberts) to save her. His quest to save his beloved Buttercup before she is married against her will to Humperdink is aided by a revengeful swordsman Inigo Montoya (Many Patinkin), towering giant Fezzik (Andre The Giant), and a disgruntled former miracle working employee of Humperdinck, Miracle Max (Billy Crystal).

Sequence Note: Screenplays in the Action/Adventure genre often contain an additional Intro Sequence (preceding the traditional Sequence One) that begins the movie either with the hero at the end of the last adventure. In The Princess Bride this sequence is used unconventionally to introduce the Narrator’s in addition to the Protagonist.


ACT I

INTRO SEQUENCE

Introduce Narrators (Opposites): A Grandfather visits his Grandson, who is staying home sick. The Grandfather attempts to begin reading a story called The Princess Bride to his reluctant Grandson.

The World of the Story: Swashbuckling character driven comic adventure set in the storybook medieval kingdom of Florin in the midst of a regime change.

Introduce Protagonist (Warrior): Westley a stable boy.

Introduce Supporting Character (Lover): Buttercup. Her family owns the farm.

Plant: Westley only replies to Buttercups every demand with “As You Wish.”

Dramatic Premise: The two are bound together by true love. True love doesn’t happen everyday, and Westley will always fight for Buttercup.

Introductory Plot Point: Wesley has no money for marriage, so he packs his belongings and sets out to seek his fortune across the sea. Buttercup hears the news that Westleys has been murdered by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup swears that she will never love again.

(00:5:40)


SEQUENCE ONE

Status Quo: Five years later Buttercup has been ‘chosen’ (against her will) by Prince Humperdinck to be his bride.

Introduce Main Antagonist (Dictator): Prince Humperdinck, future ruler of Florin.

Status Quo Obstacle: Buttercup doesn’t love Prince Humperdinck.

Introduce Rival #1 (The Bully): Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) a short, balding, arrogantly brilliant leader of a band of rogues.

Introduce Rival/Friend #2 (Fool): Inigo Montoya, the well-meaning, sword-wielding, henchman of Vizzini.

Introduce Rival/Friend #3 (Fool): Fezzik a giant, warm-hearted rhyme obsessed henchman of Vizzini.

Inciting Incident (Plot Point #1): Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini and his two henchmen (both of whom don't agree it is right to kill an innocent girl), but Vizzini is set on killing her on Guilder soil to instigate a war. (00:08:05)

(00:10:00)


SEQUENCE TWO

Supporting Character Predicament: Buttercup wants to escape her captives, but she is on a ship in unfamiliar waters surrounded by the ‘Shrieking Eels.’

Predicament Solution: A mysterious Man in Black is pursuing the ship relentlessly toward the Cliffs of Insanity.

Action Block #1: The mysterious Man in Black and Inigo Montoya duel.

Introduce Sub-Plot: Inigo Montoya is searching for the scoundrel that killed his father, the Six-Fingered man.

Predicament Solution: The Man in Black defeats Inigo Montoya with his superior fencing skills and wits, letting him live.

Action Block #2: The mysterious Man in Black and the giant Fezzik fight.

Predicament Solution: The Man in Black uses his speed and quick thinking to defeat Fezzik’s brute strength.

Antagonist’s Objective: Prince Humperdinck pursues Buttercup as well, avoiding all of the conflict by keeping a safe distance.

Introduce Sub-Plot Rival (The Nemesis): Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest) is the right hand man of Prince Humperdinck.

Lock In (Plot Point #2): The mysterious Man in Black catches up with Vizzini and his captive Buttercup and challenges Vizzini to a battle of wits. The Man in Black adds what appears to be poison into one goblet of wine and with a fevered application of logic, Vizzini chooses, drinks, and dies. As a result, the Man in Black saves Buttercup, explaining he put poison in both goblets because he had spent years building up a tolerance to the poison. The Man in Black kidnaps Buttercup.

(00:29:40)


ACT II

SEQUENCE THREE

First Act Two Obstacle: Prince Humperdinck is pursuing Westley and Buttercup on horseback.

Raise the Stakes & Payoff: After running away from Humperdinck’s pursuit and a lot of exposition about true love, Buttercup pushes the Man in Black (whom she believes to be the Dread Pirate Roberts) down a hill. The Man in Black cries out “As You Wish” revealing himself to be Westley. True love is re-united.

Establish Second Act Main Tension: Westley and Buttercup want to be together, but Prince Humperdinck has other plans for Buttercup.

First Act Two Obstacle Solution: In order to elude Prince Humperdinck and his soldiers, Westley and Buttercup must take a shortcut through the Fire Swamp.

(00:40:50)


SEQUENCE FOUR

New Act Two Obstacle: Nobody has ever survived the Fire Swamp.

Action Block #4: Flame geysers, Lightning Quicksand, and ROUSes.

Reveal: Westley explains how he has lived the past five years as the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Predicament Solution: Westley calmly guides Buttercup and himself through the geysers; dives in after Buttercup falls into the quicksand and pulls her back to the surface; and wrestles and kills the ROUS.

New Act Two Obstacle Solution: Westley and Buttercup miraculously make it through the Fire Swamp, only to be captured immediately by Prince Humperdinck’s men.

Mid-Point (Plot Point #3): Buttercup makes a deal: marry the Prince in exchange for Westley's freedom. Prince Humperdinck, however, tells Count Rugen to throw Westley into the Pit of Despair. (00:49:27)

Sub-Plot Revival: Westley notices six-fingers on Count Rugen’s hand, revealing that Count Rugen is Inigo Montoya’s Nemesis.

(00:50:25)


SEQUENCE FIVE

Highest Act Two Obstacle: Westley has been captured and put in the Pit of Despair.

Predicament: The Pit of Despair has a devious Machine built by Count Rugen capable of sucking 50 years of a man’s life.  

Fantasy Sequence: Buttercup has a dream that the King dies, and she has to marry Prince Humperdinck and an old hag boo’s her for turning her back on ‘True Love.’

Raise the Stakes: After Prince Humperdinck lies, telling Buttercup that he will send his four fastest ships to seek out Westley (still in the Pit of Despair), Prince Humperdinck reveals that he was the one who hired Vizzini to murder Buttercup. He has a new plan to strangle her to death on their wedding night and blame the murder on the country of Guilder, instigating the war.

Predicament Ramifications: Count Rugen uses the machine to suck one year of Westley’s life.

Plant: Count Rugen explains the machine can go as high as 50 years, but he would never go that high.


SEQUENCE SIX

Sub-Plot Revival: Prince Humperdinck orders the Thieves Forest cleared to prevent anyone from murdering Buttercup. Fezzik is hired as one of the brutes to clear out the forest. While clearing out the forest he finds a drunk and despondent Inigo Montoya and nurses him back to health. Inigo, now with knowledge of his nemesis Count Rugen’s whereabouts, vows to track him down. But, in order to get into the castle he knows they need Westley.

Plant: There is only one way into the castle, and the Gatekeeper holds the only key.

Highest Act Two Obstacle Solution & Payoff: After an impassioned speech by Buttercup, Prince Humperdinck realizes that Buttercup and Westley’s true love is binding. He races to the Pit of Despair and cranks the machine up to ’50.’ The sound of Westley’s dying screams leads Inigo and Fezzik to the Pit of Despair.

Main Culmination (Plot Point #4): Following Inigo and Fezzik's discovering of Westley's body in the Pit of Despair, they take the corpse to Miracle Max, who agrees to bring Westley back to life only because Inigo, knowing that Humperdinck had fired Max, promises that Westley will ruin Humperdinck's wedding. Delighted at the prospect of bringing harm to the Prince, Max concocts a chocolate-covered miracle pill.

(1:14:30)


ACT III

SEQUENCE SEVEN

Third Act Tension: It’s the night of the wedding and Westley must fight his way into the castle, grab Buttercup, and somehow escape.

Act Three Obstacle: There are at least 60 men guarding the castle gate and Westley is still weak from being revived.

Act Three Obstacle Solution & Payoff: Westley hatches a plan to put Fezzik in a Holocaust cloak, light him on fire, and push him in a wheelbarrow at the gate; scaring off the 60 guards, leaving just the Gatekeeper. He immediately hands over the key.

Raise the Stakes: Prince Humperdinck orders the priest to say “man and wife” before Westley and the gang can break into the castle. Buttercup and Prince Humperdinck are now married.

Action Sequence #4 and Sub-Plot Revival: Count Rugen leads a band of soldiers against Fezzik, Inigo, and the still unable to walk Westley. Fezzik and Inigo are able to easily defeat the soldiers. Inigo Montoya confronts Count Rugen with his revenge agenda, and Count Rugen runs away.

Predicament Ramifications: Inigo chases Count Rugen and Rugen throws a dagger into Inigo’s stomach.

Sub-plot Culmination: Through sheer will power Inigo fights and kills Count Rugen.

Third Act Twist (Plot Point #5): As Buttercup prepares to kill herself in her honeymoon suite, she turns to find Westley reclining on the bed and throws herself into his arms. After a moment of blissful reunion, Buttercup asks for forgiveness, confessing that she married Prince Humperdinck without meaning to. Westley asks if she said, "I do." She did not. Westley then illustrates that it wasn't a legal wedding.

(1:27:20)


SEQUENCE EIGHT

The Last Obstacle: Prince Humperdinck discovers Buttercup and Westley. He is about to kill them and Westley is too weak to defend himself.

Resolution: Westley uses his wits to terrify Prince Humperdinck into believing that Westley is strong enough to kill him. Inigo Montoya, Westley, Buttercup, and Fezzik escape on horses found by Fezzik.

Sub Plot Resolution: Westley deems Inigo Montoya to be the next Dread Pirate Roberts.

New Status Quo: Westley and Buttercup, safe from harm, share true love’s kiss.

(1:38:35)