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An ode to Robin Wright, from princess to queen
Robin Wright’s breakout role as Buttercup in The Princess Bride left a mark on a lot of childhoods, and it would be difficult to dismiss the importance of that role in her film career going forward. While she’s gone on to play a wide variety of complicated characters, it is also true that the no-nonsense and self-possessed attitude of Buttercup would be a defining characteristic, not just of Wright's career, but of Wright herself.
More recently, Wright had the chance to play a new icon of feminine power for audiences of all ages with her role as General Antiope in Wonder Woman. In many ways, these are two incredibly different characters, but they both carry with them that sense of sustained defiance that audiences have come to admire in many a Robin Wright role.
Though Wright’s first film appearance was in the slightly less-remembered Hollywood Vice Squad, the breakthrough iconic role most of us know her for is, of course, Princess Buttercup. The 1987 classic The Princess Bride is easily one of the great films of its era, a movie that still lives on through quotes and homages. The relative newcomer Wright had to stand fearlessly alongside a beyond-stellar cast and deliver, and she certainly did. The Princess Bride is not just a fantasy film but a commentary on the act of storytelling and why we as a society return to these tropes again and again, but the meta aspect of the plot never distracts from the core love story between Buttercup and Westley.
In a world where princesses of folktales and fables are portrayed almost completely across-the-board as damsels in distress, Wright’s Princess Buttercup threw that trope out the window. Passivity is considered the greatest virtue of a princess, and while it is true that The Princess Bride is great for many reasons, one of its most subversive elements is its consistent refusal to leave Buttercup powerless. Even when blindfolded with her wrists tied, this is a princess who mouths off and chooses love over everything. This was a huge statement, and its effects in genre continue to this day.
Wright went on to make significant strides in cinema outside of genre, but she has always returned to fantasy and sci-fi films whenever given the opportunity to do so. Not long after The Princess Bride, she starred in the bizarre but actually delightful Toys in 1992, which teetered between fanciful comedy and anti-war commentary. In 2000's Unbreakable, she portrayed the wife of Bruce Willis' main character, whose work as a physical therapist both defines and causes an uncomfortable power dynamic with her husband. In 2007's Beowulf, Wright was a stand-out in an otherwise mostly disappointing film as the Queen Wealtheow of legend, convincingly winning Beowulf’s heart in very little screentime. While Blade Runner 2049 certainly had its fair share of critical pans, it also featured a fierce and fascinating Wright as Lt. Joshi.
Even before its release, Wonder Woman was fated to be an important film for women in genre. Diana herself had long been regarded as a feminist icon while her creators had often attempted to distance her from feminism in every way imaginable on paper. The world was overdue for more women in action roles, more women directing, and a Wonder Woman who could proudly claim her heritage in new and interesting ways rather than constantly allowing Man’s World to define her.
In the film, General Antiope is the character who gives Diana that power. Defying the queen’s wishes and offering Diana the training she so desperately needs, Antiope does her job protecting Paradise Island even when her actions go against the wishes of its leaders. Wright’s interest in roles that aren’t easily definable is a trait that continues to shine through, and Antiope was one of the stand-out characters of Wonder Woman.
Wright has also worked with more female directors than just about any major actor in Hollywood, from her first feature film appearance in Penelope Spheeris’ Hollywood Vice Squad all the way through teaming up with Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman. Like Wright herself, her work for equality in cinema has been an ever-present force over the last few decades.
It’s hard to say what Wright is best known for because she has a complicated and long-spanning career that has placed her alongside many of Hollywood’s top stars, all while remaining personally low-key and forever active in philanthropic ambitions. Yet one thing is for certain, and that is her ability to bring a level of compassionate understanding to villainous women, as well as the underlying serenity that she brings to even the most explosive characters and scenes. From the beginning, Wright has always left a very specific mark on Hollywood, and the industry is all the better for it.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.