The Inconceivable Marketing Fail of The Princess Bride

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” – The Dread Pirate Roberts

For the past 25 years, The Princess Bride has entertained and captured the hearts of millions across the world. Unfortunately, when it was released in 1987, Fox had an amazing movie on their hands that they had absolutely no idea how to sell. This timeless tale crosses many genres while keeping audiences on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Star Cary Elwes acknowledges one of the moments he knew the incredible staying-power of the film was when he met Bill Clinton. The President told Elwes he and his daughter Chelsea had watched The Princess Bride together more than a hundred times.

Inconceivably, in 1987, when The Princess Bride quietly made its way onto theater screens, it was a total flop. This was especially disappointing after the film spent over fifteen years in development! With the studio’s marketing department unaware of how to sell the multi-genre film (Action flick? Comedy? Romantic Adventure?) the movie never gained an audience and it quietly disappeared from theaters.

In October of 2014 Cary Elwes came to Kansas City to talk about his new book “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.” In it he regales us with a fascinating and nostalgic look back into the making of one of the world’s favorite films. He also provided an intriguing insight to the initial failure to market the film that spoke to me personally as a digital marketer.

“Looking back I only wished the Internet had existed in 1987. I suspect that social media would have raised awareness of the film’s unique quality and helped propel it to blockbuster status. Alas, movies in those days relied on traditional platforms for publicity and we didn’t even have that going for us,” Elwes states.

They certainly didn’t. If you haven’t watched the trailer, don’t bother unless you are looking for a laugh. You won’t even recognize the movie and will probably be distracted by the terribly cheesy 80’s saxophone. That alone might have kept me out of the theater.

Elwes continues, “Not to be disingenuous to Fox’s marketing department, but they were confused. They were presented with a film that had many genres. Was it a comedy? An adventure film? A romantic film? A kid’s movie? An adult’s movie? They didn’t know what angle was best, so they settled on the grandson-and-grandfather angle, and we didn’t feel that was the best way to market the film, and neither did the audience. The film didn’t really find its legs until it was released on VHS and people began renting it, buying it, and giving it as gifts to friends and family.”

That is how we all fell in love this movie. We watched it at home with family, friends, babysitters, siblings, or perhaps even the common room of a juvenile detention center somewhere! We watched it over and over again. Now that I think about it, maybe I am being too hard on the marketing team of the Princess Bride. In hindsight, it isn’t too hard to imagine why they thought America would love terrible saxophone music. After all, only a few months prior America said they loved this oily stud:

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