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The Princess Bride vs. Marathon Man

October 11, 2012

Some people quote one-liners from their favorite movies; others collect the crusty, old books that those movies are based on.

2012 is the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride movie (and any other movie that came out in 1987), and I’m not sure how to celebrate.  Dressing up in costume seems outdated.  Quoting one-liners from the movie would just get me strange looks.  So I’ll do what I do best, engage in a bit of literary combat, pitting two of William Goldman’s most successful books (and their respective movies) against each other. 


The Princess Bride (the movie) has a weird fan base (the fans themselves aren’t necessarily weird; it’s the composition of the fans that is a bit bizarre).  From my experience (no other data to back this up), people who don’t otherwise care for fantasy enjoy The Princess Bride, but people who like fantasy don’t care for The Princess Bride

I saw the movie with my literary girlfriend in college, and she loved it (we didn’t dress up in costumes back then).  I didn’t care for it, and back then, I couldn’t figure out why.  Now (from what I remember) I think it’s because the characters seemed like they were in on the joke.  I don’t like comedies (a lot of stuff with Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller) where characters seem like they’re in on the joke.  But since my literary girlfriend liked the movie a lot, I pretended to like it a lot as well. 

I’m pretty sure my literary girlfriend pretended to like other stuff that I liked a lot, so I guess it was a trade-off. 

The Princess Bride has a bunch of one-liners that guys who quote movies love to say.  I say “guys” because I’ve never met a woman who quotes movie one-liners.  Even though I get annoyed when people quote movie one-liners, I used to have a bunch of friends who did it.  Now I don’t have any friends that quote movie one-liners (and I don’t have very many friends anymore either), but I get less annoyed than I used to. 

Here are a few one-liners that I got tired of movie quoters quoting: 

1. “As you wish.” 

2. “Inconceivable!” 

3.  “Inconceivable!” was also followed by “I don’t think you know what that word means.” 

4.  “Turns out your friend here is only mostly dead. See, mostly dead is still slightly alive.” 

The Princess Bride the book has a lot of great lines too, but I don’t remember them because I’ve never had any friends who went around quoting one-liners from novels.   I’m not sure any of my friends who saw the movie ever read the book.  

The novel is clever (with a lot of self-awareness that annoys me when it’s in a movie), but the focus is different.  I don’t do synopsises (or synopses), but if you’re interested in the book publishing process (as it was in the 1970s), then you’ll find the first section of The Princess Bride interesting.  It also helps if you are a bit familiar with Marathon Man

I liked (but didn’t love) The Princess Bride novel.  I was almost ambivalent about the movie.  Therefore, the winner is The Princess Bride the novel. 


The movie doesn’t hold up well because the tone and the music and almost everything about it are very 1970s, and that 1970s feel can ruin a movie for people who aren’t used to it.  The movie ending is a lot different, and I’ve changed my mind a few times about which version I like better. 

Marathon Man has only one quote that movie quoters quote, but that one quote is very memorable. 

“Is it safe?” 

Unlike the one-liners from The Princess Bride, there are real life situations where saying “Is it safe?” (with a thick fake German accent) is appropriate, and people think it’s funny even if they have no frame of reference. 

For example, when a co-worker walks out of the office bathroom holding a newspaper, asking “Is it safe?” will always draw some laughs.  Unfortunately, some co-workers then feel alienated or self-conscious.  The lesson is that if you’re not holding a newspaper, you can always blame the guy before you; when you’re holding a newspaper, you’re busted. 

Marathon Man the novel holds up much better than Marathon Man the movie.  Plus, it’s a short entertaining read without 1970s taint. 


The Movies:  I’d still rather watch Marathon Man than The Princess Bride, but nobody celebrates the anniversary of Marathon Man the movie.  I also think “Is it safe?” beats any one-liner from The Princess Bride, but if you have to choose, go with the one that’s more pop culturally relevant.  And that’s The Princess Bride

The Novels:  Marathon Man is one of my all time favorite thrillers.  It’s short.  There are scenes with emotional impact.  The ending isn’t a let down.  When I get reader’s block, I know I can turn to Marathon ManThe Princess Bride is a good, clever novel and deserves to be read, but you probably have to be in a certain mood to appreciate it.  Therefore, the novel to choose is Marathon Man


It was easier when I celebrated the 25th anniversary of Predator.  All I did was flex my biceps a few times.

From → Literary Combat

One Comment
  1. I never saw the movie Marathon Man, and I probably won’t because I don’t like movies that are set in the 70s.

    But I have had two friends quote to me one liners from novels — “Who is John Galt?” Hmmm, I think I have some pretty nerdy friends.

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