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Andre the Giant, 'The Princess Bride,' and when wrestling met movie history
Remembering the year The Eighth Wonder of the World became a pop culture legend.
In 1987, Andre the Giant participated in what would eventually become the two most widely seen events in his career. In March, 35 years ago this month, he competed in WrestleMania III in what has since been hailed as a landmark match by the WWE, battling Hulk Hogan on the biggest stage in professional wrestling. Just a few months later, The Princess Bride arrived in theaters, featuring Andre as the lovable giant Fezzik.
WrestleMania will stream live on Peacock Saturday, April 2 and Sunday, April 3 at 8/7c. The Raw After WrestleMania will air live on USA on Monday, April 4 at 8/7c. In honor of the event, we take a look back at Andre's time in the spotlight and how he used his WWE Superstar status to crossover and become a film legend.
Though both The Princess Bride and WrestleMania III have since gone down in history as cornerstones of 1980s pop culture, they represent vastly different elements of that culture in terms of audience, legacy, and even Andre's place in each of them. Yet together, they made him into a legend, transcending both wrestling and the movies. It wasn't the first time a well-known wrestler made a movie, and it obviously wasn't the last, but something about these two events unfolding just months apart still feels like a game changer.
Of course, Andre the Giant would probably have been a pop culture game changer even without the colossal events of 1987. The man born Andre Roussimoff in 1946 seemed destined for stardom on some level not just because of his legendary size, but because of his spirit. Yes, it was impossible not to notice him whenever he appeared in an arena or on a screen, but that magnetic quality went beyond the black singlet and massive hands. There was real heart to Andre, and that helped him climb to the pinnacle of sports entertainment by the mid-1980s.
That combination of heart and physical spectacle also granted Andre some degree of attention from Hollywood even before The Princess Bride arrived in his life. He made various small TV appearances in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and even popped up alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer in 1984. His stature was usually center stage, of course, but there was also a tremendous charm to him, something that he carried with him across wrestling broadcasts for what was then known as the WWF, and something that Rob Reiner noticed (even when he couldn't understand Andre during his audition) when he was looking for a giant personality for The Princess Bride.
All of which brings us back to 1987. We know Andre was a towering figure with a big personality, a legend-in-the-making even before these key events 35 years ago, so what about these two moments in tandem still rings as so important? It has to do with a certain contrast that created a sense of versatility, and a feeling that a wrestler-turned-actor could defy expectations.
See, by the time of Wrestlemania III, Andre had betrayed his longtime friend Hulk Hogan and joined legendary manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan in a bid for the WWE Championship Hogan had, at that point, held for three straight years. The Eighth Wonder of the World just entered the biggest nationally televised event in wrestling history to date as a villain, a brutal colossus intent on ending Hogan's benevolent reign atop the WWE. To add to the sense that a legendary clash was in progress, the match climaxed with Hogan lifting Andre up for a body slam, and while it's a myth that this was the first time Andre took a slam in a wrestling event (even Hogan had slammed him before in smaller matches), it was the first time just about anyone watching had seen it. Thus, the match attained titanic proportions in the public imagination, and for everyone watching, a great villain had just been vanquished by a great hero.
Then came The Princess Bride, and as the film started Andre was once again set up as a villain, an enforcer for the scheming Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) one his way to becoming a one-man Brute Squad. But even when he was nominally cast as a villain early in the film, something about Andre was already far removed from his wrestling persona. It was something in the way he smiled, in the way he calmly bargained with The Dread Pirate Roberts, in the way he resisted Vizzini's most ruthless remarks. A lot of that had to do with William Goldman's script, of course, but much of it was just Andre's spirit. In the years since, his co-stars have reflected on how much he cared about the movie, and how much he enjoyed being there despite the tremendous pain he was in at the time. You can feel that sense of care through the screen, and even if you'd just watched him play the villain during WrestleMania, you couldn't help but see the gentle giant at work.
It wasn't the first time a wrestler got to star in a film, of course, and in the years since we've seen everyone from Rowdy Roddy Piper to The Rock to John Cena star in blockbusters, cult classics, and everything in between. We're not arguing that They Live or Fast Five or Peacemaker wouldn't have happened without The Princess Bride, but something about Andre's ability to so charmingly walk in two worlds in the span of the same year still feels like a watershed moment.
There was this sense that the size of his personality was big enough to contain just about anything, and while he never got to have a lasting film career beyond Princess Bride's initial success and eventual classic status, Andre's star still shines bright even now, 35 years later. It's a testament to his charisma, and a lasting example that other sports entertainers have since followed to pop culture greatness of their own.