The year was 1999 and by the summer, teen films were all the rage. The year kicked off with two unexpected box office successes, Varsity Blues and She’s All That, before studios started pumping out hit after hit. In the same year, Drop Dead Gorgeous, a dark comedy about teenage girls competing in a local Minnesota beauty pageant, bombed at the box office. Unable to capture the same excitement as American Pie or 10 Things I Hate About You, the film quickly disappeared from theaters after earning a dismal $10.5 million at the box office.
It was only later, when released on DVD and VHS, did the movie become a cult classic. Similarly to Jawbreaker, which also came out in 1999, Drop Dead Gorgeous proved to be a pivotal film — introducing audiences to Amy Adams, making use of the mockumentary style — even if it was overlooked at the time.
On the 15th anniversary of the theatrical release, we talked to cast members, including Allison Janney, Denise Richards, and Mindy Sterling, who all shared tidbits from the set.
The film is a parody of the real life beauty pageant experience.
Taking place in Mount Rose, Minnesota, the film parodies the real life experiences of screenwriter Lona Williams, who grew up Rosemount. Williams was a beauty pageant survivor, winning runner up (and a $10,000 scholarship) at America’s Junior Miss in 1985. Like the character Amber Atkins, Williams was only in it for the money.
“It wasn’t a dream. It was a way out,” Williams told BuzzFeed. “I used my scholarship to go to the University of Minnesota, and that was great.”
Goldie Hawn and Sigourney Weaver were wanted for the main adult roles.
Director Michael Patrick Jann and producers originally wanted Hawn as Kirsten Dunst’s mother, a role that later went to Ellen Barkin. As for Kirstie Alley’s character, the murderous Gladys Leeman, the studio wanted Weaver.
Melissa Joan Hart reportedly auditioned for Amber Atkins.
The role ultimately went to Kirsten Dunst, who followed up the role with Bring It On a year later.
Extras walked out on Denise Richards’ performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes of You.”
Richards said that a number of extras had not read the script prior to filming. Her tone-deaf rendition of the Frankie Valli hit while dancing with a Jesus doll on a crucifix did not sit well with unsuspecting audience members. “Halfway through my performance they were offended and actually walked off the set and left,” Richards told VH1. But it turned out the worse Richards was at singing, the better. “That was the fun of the movie.”
Being on set was like being at camp.
“It was like being at camp,” Richards said. “It was a really fun environment.”
The fun environment carried over to most of the cast in the film. Mindy Sterling, who played Iris Clark, echoed that sentiment. “I remember hanging out with all the girls on the set,” Sterling told VH1. She also recalled really connecting with the male cast, including Mike McShane.
Everyone had a sense that Amy Adams was a star.
Making her big screen debut, Adams was hardly remembered in the film until fans revisited the cult classic years later. However, her co-stars knew she was a star-in-the-making. “I remember Amy coming in, and immediately I was like, ‘Well, that’s it, she’s got that part,’” Janney told BuzzFeed.
Janney also remembered there was something special about her but didn’t put it together until many years later when they filmed The West Wing. “We were filming in Pittsburgh and we went out to dinner together and she was like, ‘Do you remember I was in [Drop Dead Gorgeous]?’” Janney recalled with a laugh to VH1.
The movie proved to be a breeding ground of Hollywood stars.
In addition to Adams, the film cast a number of up-and-comers, including Janney (The West Wing), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!), Brittany Murphy (8 Mile), and Will Sasso (MADtv).
Critics ripped the movie apart.
Cult films tend to come out of a dismal box office performance, or are the result of just missing the moment. But not helping Drop Dead Gorgeous were the harsh reviews from critics, including Roger Ebert, The New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly, which gave it a “D.”
“Sometimes I wonder how anyone could have thought a screenplay was funny enough to film,” Ebert wrote. “The script for Drop Dead Gorgeous, on the other hand, must have been a funny read. It’s the movie that somehow never achieves takeoff speed.”
Despite the negative feedback from media, fans on Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 75 percent freshness rating.
The movie came out at the wrong time.
As to why it flopped at the box office? It didn’t hit at the right time, at least, that’s according to Sterling. If it came out a few years later, maybe it would have been saved through social media much like The Notebook was when it first stalled in theaters.
The movie is not available on Netflix or iTunes.
Prepare to drop some money on the DVD copy of the film, which can be found at Amazon or big box retailer (if you’re lucky). The film has not been transferred to streaming devices despite other late-’90s cult classic, such as Jawbreaker and Dazed and Confused, finding their way onto digital providers.
[Photos: New Line Cinema]