The Sandra Bullock comedy first hit theaters 15 years ago this week

By Drew Mackie
Updated December 23, 2015 01:15 PM
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Credit: Everett Collection

Fifteen years ago this week, Miss Congeniality opened in theaters, on Dec. 22, 2000. It wasn’t one of star Sandra Bullock’s Oscar bait roles, nor was it one of her smooshy romantic comedies. No, it’s pretty much an out-and-out comedy, with Bullock starring as frumpy, awkward FBI agent Gracie Hart, who goes undercover at a beauty pageant and finds her inner swan. And don’t forget that female-led comedies were hard to come by back then and are still pretty rare all these years later.

Today, it’s a well-loved entry in Bullock’s filmography. It’s light, it’s fun and it’s fairly well-done. It’s one of those movies you find while flipping through channels and then, all of sudden, you’re an hour into it, just because Bullock makes it so easy. And in case you’re home and wanting a solid, non-Christmassy movie to enjoy on a cold night, here are 15 reasons to love Miss Congeniality.

1. It was a slow starter

Miss Congeniality was only No. 5 during its first weekend at the box office, but the following week it did something most movies don’t: It moved up to the No. 3 spot. It continued to pull in money after that less-than-stellar start, ultimately making $212 million worldwide and becoming one of Bullock’s top-grossing films. It’s just like Gracie, starting off a little rough and then finishing bigger than anyone would have suspected.

2. Sandra Bullock is in full-on dork mode

And to prove that is a full minute of her unabashedly snort-laughing.

See Sandra Bullock’s Funniest Onscreen Moments

3. With a dash of mean girl

Let’s face it: Beauty pageants are corny, hokey and ripe for mockery. Gracie comes around to all the other aspects of pageantry, of course, but it’s still funny to hear her skewer the sillier parts of the whole experience.

4. But she’s always quick on her feet

Because female characters in romantic comedies may often be klutzes but that doesn’t mean they can’t be smart klutzes.

5. That name ‘Gracie Lou Freebush’

In the office, she’s Gracie Hart, a perfectly pageant-friendly name. Under her assumed pageant identity, however, she’s Gracie Lynn Freebush. We see what you did there, PG-13 movie.

6. Candice Bergen and William Shatner, pre-Boston Legal

Bergen and Shatner had great chemistry on all five seasons of Boston Legal, and if you were a fan, it’s fun to see them interacting four years before that series kicked off and getting a feel for each other as actors.

7. It has a decent makeover moment

It’s not like it’s surprising that Sandra Bullock looks good in a dress. But that doesn’t mean her character’s big reveal, post-makeover, isn’t a big moment. You go, awkward girl.

8. Michael Caine, Michael Caine, Michael Caine

He’s a veteran and a pro, and he does more with a small supporting role as Gracie’s pageant prepper than most could have. He actually seems like he’s having an okay time slumming it.

9. The Sandra Bullock-Benjamin Bratt fight scene you didn’t know you needed

It’s sexy and physical while also offering a debate about women in the workplace and expectations about femininity. There’s actually a lot going on in this one scene between Gracie and her partner, Eric (Bratt), and the final exchange is especially good. “Where am I going to put my gun?” Gracie asks about the swimsuit competition portion of her new assignment. Bratt has a good response: “No place I want to know about.”

10. Bullock vs. Bratt, part two

Who knew it would be so much fun watching a Hollywood A-lister beat up a Law & Order detective?

11. The ‘you think I’m gorgeous’ song

It’s catchy. It’s goofy. It doesn’t end in the kiss you think it’s going to. And it’s a perfect example of Bullock in top romcom mode.

12. It got a Best Original Song nomination

No, not for the “you think I’m gorgeous” song. And it was a nomination for a Golden Globe, not an Oscar, but still, Bosson’s “One in a Million” could have been an award-winning song. Bullock picked up a Golden Globe nomination as well, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical.

13. And Sandra Bullock saves the day, of course

It’s maybe only second to Drop Dead Gorgeous in terms of spectacular endings to beauty pageant movies. Take that, evil Candice Bergen.

14. And she learns a valuable lesson about beauty pageant contestants

They’re not all dumb, catty airheads. Or maybe they are, but they’re at least grateful when you save their lives. Also? You can be emotional without being weak. Also also? It’s okay to fix your hair up from time to time.

15. And it inspired a sequel with a noble premise

In 2005, the sequel, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous opened in theaters, and while it didn’t turn out to be as successful as the original, you have to give Bullock credit for pushing for a female-led comedy that wasn’t romantic in any way. There’s no Benjamin Bratt character in the sequel, and instead, Gracie is paired with a new character played by Regina King. As Bullock herself said in an interview while promoting the sequel, “I want women to be able to do the same thing that men get to do in comedies and say, ‘That’s a comedy.’ Why does it always have to be a romantic comedy? Why does the girl have to end up with the guy? Why can’t it be a buddy film?”