Celebrate 'Bring It On' 's 15th Anniversary: 15 Life Lessons from the Classic Teen Movie

The best cheerleading movie ever first hit theaters 15 years ago this week

Photo: Everett Collection

Bring It On

is a fantastic film. It’s a fantastic film about teenagers, about girls, and about sports – and it just might be good enough to win over someone who otherwise would never want to watch cheerleading.

The film, which first hit theaters on Aug. 25, 2000 – 15 years ago this week – has Kirsten Dunst playing cheer team captain Torrance Shipman with a winning smile that hides guts and determination. It’s no wonder that Dunst recently told Interview magazine that it was a role she easily related to: “I was that girl,” Dunst said. “It was like me being in high school as myself. It wasn’t a stretch at all. I was a cheerleader, my best friend was a cheerleader.”

Dunst was joined by a supporting cast with great teen movie cred: Eliza Dushku (Buffy), Gabrielle Union (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That), Nicole Bilderback (Clueless), Clare Kramer (Buffy, again) and Jesse Bradford (Romeo + Juliet). Together, they helped make a movie that’s fun but also imparts a lesson or two or 15.

Here’s what we can learn from Bring It On.

1. Being feminine and perky doesn’t mean you’re not tough.

In another movie, the blonde head cheerleader would be a ditz or even a mean girl. In Bring It On, she’s peppy and popular, sure, but she’s also clever and kind in the way she goes about achieving her goals. She’s also the girliest girl in a movie full of girly girls, and the film doesn’t present this as a positive or a negative: That’s just the way Torrance is.

2. Judging someone on the way they look is one of the quickest ways to be proven wrong – grandly and publicly.

When Dushku’s character, Missy, auditions for the cheerleading team, she’s instantly dismissed by the other cheerleaders for looking tough and unfeminine. The only one to see her for her abilities, not her appearance, is Torrance, and Torrance is therefore the only one not completely shut down when Missy shows off her ace gymnastic skills.

3. Sometimes being a good leader means being a benevolent dictator.

Torrance has the courage to stick to her convictions, override the rest of the team and bring Missy on board, citing the famous line, “This is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy.” She may be a despot in this moment, but she’s one who lays down the law with a smile.

4. Wear underwear.

Courtney (Clare Kramer) is known for not wearing undies despite the fact that she knows she’s going to be lifted high in the air while wearing a short skirt. This is a poor life plan.

5. Calling someone out via dance is the best way to call someone out.

When the East Compton cheerleaders, led by Isis (Gabrielle Union), publicly point out how Torrance’s team had stolen their moves, they don’t just say so – they dance it out. Something to think about: The next time you want to prove a point, dance-prove it.

6. Winning at any cost isn’t winning.

Torrance knows that cheating her way to victory won’t sit right, and she has to convince her teammates of this. She does, because she’s a good leader.

7. Toothbrushing can be a sensual activity.

Bring It On may feature the one scene in the history of movies where budding love is representing by a prolonged side-by-side toothbrushing scene.

8. Even in the age of digital music, mixtapes are still magic.

Cliff (Jesse Bradford) makes Torrance a mixtape that even by 2000 standards would have been outdated technology, to say nothing of the fact that all these characters would have been listening to their music in MP3 form in just a few months. Still, in movies and in real life, mixtapes have special properties, and this one gives Torrance the drive to push through the final leg of the story. It’s a lot more romantic than, say, giving someone a thumbdrive.

9. Cultural appropriation will not make you friends.

Stealing something from someone else’s culture – even if you don’t know you’re stealing – is still going to make some people mad. In the age of Iggy Azalea, there’s a lot to read into Isis’s anger about Torrance’s mostly white team copying the choreography of her team, which is mostly black. Key line: “Every time we get some, here y’all come trying to steal it, putting some blonde hair on it and calling it something different.”

10. You can say a lot with a single eyebrow raise.

“And the award for Best Supporting Actress goes to Gabrielle Union’s eyebrow.”

11. Second place is still pretty good.

In the end, Torrance’s team comes up with an original routine and nails it in the final competition. They did their best. Isis’s team just happens to have done better, so they take first, but no one is bummed about being the runner-up because they know they lost fair and square.

12. There’s a time for humility, and there’s a time for owning it like a boss.

Here, Torrance is choosing the former and Isis the latter. Just know that whenever you pick one, you’re setting yourself up for the latter.

13. Every movie becomes more enjoyable when it ends with a dance sequence involving the entire cast.

Bring It On proves this. The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved this. Federico Fellini proved this. More of this in movies, please.

14. Yes, cheerleading is a sport.

The movie seems to be written to address viewer objections about how cheerleading somehow doesn’t qualify as a “real” sport. These characters train. They get hurt. One character even says explicitly that high school football games are only practice before the real, cheerleading deal: full-fledged tournaments with ESPN cameras and all the thrill of athletic competition.

But just watching the movie, seeing how hard the characters work as a team to overcome obstacles and function as a cohesive whole, you may realize that Bring It On is following the basic plot points of any sports movie – it’s just that this one focuses on cheerleaders instead of baseball players or football players.

15. And finally, spirit fingers are gold.

The importance of this cannot be overestimated.

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