The film, released 20 years ago this month, has since become a cult classic. But in 2000, its was an unlikely breakout, which helped make movie stars of Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union, and Eliza Dushku.
Bring It On, was the directorial debut of Peyton Reed – who would go on to direct both Ant-Man movies – and was a film about high school cheerleaders that somehow wasn’t positioned as a full-on exploitation exercise.
Dunst had starred a few months earlier in The Virgin Suicides, but Bring It On, which was written by Jessica Bendinger, was a different sort of high school role, one much less dark. Dunst played Torrance Shipman, a blonde high school senior who’s taken over as the captain of her school’s champion cheerleading squad, somewhere near San Diego.
Dunst had starred a few months earlier in The Virgin Suicides, but Bring It On was a different sort of high school role
She soon discovers, however, that her predecessor had, for years, stolen routines from an all-black squad in Compton (led by Isis, played by Gabrielle Union), to which she’s tipped off by Missy (Dushku), a tough girl who used to live in Los Angeles and joins the team.
A rivalry soon emerges between the squads, while Torrance enters a relationship with Missy’s brother Cliff (future Swimfan star Jesse Bradford.) Throughout, the proceedings are occasionally interrupted by the movie’s best supporting actor, Torrance’s brother (played by Cody McMains), who punctuates the dialogue with obnoxious comments and farts:
The film takes cheerleading seriously as a competitive sport, instead of making the cheerleaders mere accessories for football players. Bring It On is indeed structured like a sports movie, with several of the usual beats, complete with the Big Game at the end, but there’s a bit more going on than just that.
The film had some points to make, years ahead of time, about cultural appropriation. A lesser film might have made the Clovers (the black squad) the villains, or made them crude stereotypes, but Bring it On is smarter than that.
A lesser film might have made the Clovers (the black squad) the villains
Bring It On also spotlighted a strong cast, led by Dunst, who was then in the midst of an upward career trajectory that would include her Spider-man movie appearances, beginning in 2002. Dushku, also a former child actress, also made an impression, as did Union. Most of the cheerleaders weren’t played by actresses who went on to do much in the future – nor did the brother- and Jesse Bradford continues to occasionally pop up in the odd indie movie or TV episode.
In the twenty years since its release, Bring It On has had a long second life, beyond its frequent cable airings (it’s not on any streaming services, but can be rented on most VOD platforms).
The film had no less than FIVE direct-to-video sequels, between 2004 and 2017, none of which featured the original cast or creative team, and none of which I’ve seen. There was even a theatrical musical adaptation, with music by stalwarts Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt, although the show’s Broadway run was brief, only lasting a few months in 2012.
There’s a lot more cheerleading-based pop culture these days, including the Netflix show Cheer. But Bring It On was influential in other ways, showing a new way to tell a story about high school, race, and rivalry.