The roots of its success, of course, go back to a clever, well-refined script. Screenwriter Jessica Bendinger tapped into racial conflicts and moral dilemmas with her story of an ambitious white high school cheerleader (Kirsten Dunst), who discovers that her team has been stealing routines from a group of black cheerleaders on a rival squad. "We made a good film for the right price," says Marc Abraham, one of the producers who would've been perfectly happy had the film raked in $40 million. But good scripts don't always translate to box office success (see last weekend's grosses for "Almost Famous"). When the marketing minds at Universal tested the concept with teenagers earlier this year, they discovered that the kids were less than interested in a cheerleading movie. "They thought cheerleading was kind of death," says Universal's marketing president Marc Shmuger, who thus veered the campaign away from cheerleading, played up the rivalry between the black and white squads and changed the title from "Cheer Fever" to the more combative "Bring It On." When the trailer made its debut in front of "Big Momma's House" in June, its response from teenagers, twentysomethings, blacks and whites indicated that they had a crossover hit on their hands.
The film has held up because of favorable word of mouth, and because we in the media have played catch-up with a movie most of us ignored in the beginning. Kirsten Dunst appeared on "The Tonight Show" early in the film's run. Other members of the cast scored spots on MTV. Entertainment shows recycled footage from a bouncy press junket that had been staged prior to opening weekend at UCLA with legions of real cheerleaders. Also, of course, the cheerleading movie got lucky. Like all monstrously profitable films, it arrived quite by accident at a time when audiences were in the mood to see it. You go, girls.