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Stardust Stirs Memories of Princess Bride

by Anne Thompson
August 10, 2007 9:23 AM
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Stardust2_large769704[Posted by Peter Debruge]

Box office predictors are crying doom and gloom for Stardust (some suggest the weekend total will be as low as $15 million off 2,540 situations), and I’m inclined to believe them. Nobody seems to like the Stardust trailers — no argument here (judge for yourself). (The reviews are fine: 73 % fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.) It’s a shame, really, given how original the film is, but how do you sell it?

For me, the best analogy is to The Princess Bride, another multi-genre fantasy film that blends adventure and romance and pirates and princes in such a way that marketers simply can’t seem to wrap their minds around it (plus, with the addition of stars such as Robert De Niro, Peter O'Toole and Ricky Gervais in what amount to cameos, the Stardust ads have to squeeze them in, too). For some perspective, I went back to my bookshelf and consulted Princess Bride screenwriter William Goldman’s 2000 memoir, Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman writes:

The studio did not know how to sell us. (No criticism intended here. Heartbreak sure, but everybody was behind the movie.) But what the hell was it? They never figured it out. Our trailer—one of the more crucial selling tools—was so confusing I was told it was pulled from theaters, something I had never heard of before. The ad campaign was changed and changed again. We had nothing to sell us, no stars. The book, successful, was a cult success, but no King, no Grisham.

We came out and were a mild hit: $30 million, would have been $60 today. A double, to use their terminology. (A home run today is over $100 million in box-office gross—although your children will live to see the day when that’s a flop.) Audiences loved us once we got them in. They just didn’t see any reason to come. When we came out on cassette, word of mouth had caught up with us and we were the hit we should have been in theaters.

Have a look at the Princess Bride trailer — it truly is among the worst I’ve ever seen:

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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