Beauty pageants have all the necessary elements to make a great movie. Indeed, there’s only one location, where a lot of strangers are gathered all fighting for the same crown and title. This and the drama are the reasons why, over the last few decades, there has been a rise in the number of movies about beauty pageants. Here’s a list of the subgenre’s films.
The team will see or revisit all these films to write a more in-depth review to allow you to discover or rediscover these works. We also thought about TV series enthusiasts. We are going to list all the episodes with beauty contests as a backdrop in the next article.
THE AMERICAN VENUS (1926)
Mary Gray, whose father manufactures cold cream, is engaged to sappy Horace Niles, the son of Hugo Niles, the elder Gray’s most competitive rival in the cosmetics business. Chip Armstrong, a hot-shot public relations man, quits the employ of Hugo Niles and goes to work for Gray, persuading Mary to enter the Miss America contest at Atlantic City, with the intention of using her to endorse her father’s cold cream should she win. Mary breaks her engagement with Horace. When it appears that she will win the contest, Hugo lures her home on the pretext that her father is ill, and she misses the contest. Chip and Mary return to Atlantic City, discovering that the new Miss America has told the world that she owes all her success to Gray’s cold cream. On this note, Chip and Mary decide to get married.
ELLA CINDERS (1926)
Ella Cinders is a slave in the household with her stepmother and two stepsisters. The one joy in her life is her iceman boyfriend, Waite Lifter. She reads in a movie magazine of a beauty contest with the winner being awarded a Hollywood contract. Despite the fact that the picture the photographer submitted of her was snapped when a fly had landed on her nose and she was looking cross-eyed at it, the judges declare her the winner when they see her in person. Waite, really a rich-man’s son and only hauling ice to get in shape for football, tells his father he is going to marry Ella. In Hollywood, through an accident, a director signs her up for a film and sends her on a desert location.
MISS EUROPE (1930)
Also known as Beauty Prize, this French film is set in Miss Europe. Lucienne, typist and gorgeous bathing beauty, decides to enter the ‘Miss Europe’ pageant sponsored by the French newspaper she works for. She finds her jealous lover Andre violently disapproves of such events and tries to withdraw, but it’s too late; she’s even then being named Miss France. The night Andre planned to propose to her, she’s being whisked off to the Miss Europe finals in Spain, where admirers swarm around her. Win or lose, what will the harvest be?
THE CASE OF THE LUVKY LEGS (1935)
Margie Clune wins the “Lucky Legs” beauty contest concocted by Frank Patton, but has trouble collecting her $1,000 prize when the promoter skips town. It turns out it is all a scam he has pulled before. When he later turns up stabbed to death, she is a strong suspect.
WAIKIKI WEDDING (1937)
A beauty contest winner of the “Miss Pineapple Princess” pageant takes part in a publicity scheme in Hawaii, and is pursued by an advertising executive for the agency doing the promotion.
MANHATTAN ANGEL (1949)
Gloria Cole and Eddie Swenson are working to keep an old house, now being used as a youth center, from being razed to make room for a new skyscraper in Manhattan. Gloria enters a friend in a beauty contest with a $25,000 first prize and, after some iffy-maneuvering, her friend wins the contest and the money goes to preserving the youth center.
BEAUTY ON PARADE (1950)
Marian Medford Woodstock gave up a chance twenty years ago to compete for the Miss USA beauty title in order to marry Jeffrey Woodstock. She hopes to realize her past ambitions for fame and fortune through her daughter Kay, whom she persuades to enter a local beauty contest. Kay wins and is interviewed by reporter Gil McRoberts, who advises her to get married and settle down. Jeffrey is very upset with his wife’s and daughter’s passion for beauty contests and, when Kay enters the national contest, he informs Marian that she must choose between him and her chase after empty honors for Kay.
MY BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER (1950)
My Beautiful Daughter (also known as Miss Italia) is a 1950 Italian comedia film, that is set during Miss Italia.
HEAR ME GOOD (1957)
Comedy involving a beauty contest that has two pre-chosen winners; one the special girlfriend of a not too savory character, the other, the true love of the promoter.
A country girl who is a diligent devourer of picture stories, decides to participate in a beauty contest without the consent of her father. She dreams of a glamorous career in the big city. When she loses the contest, she is approached by two men who offer her a modeling job. However, they are in fact human traffickers who intend to lure her to Brazil.
LE AMBIOZIOSE (1961)
In this Italian movie, in a fashionable seaside resort a beauty contest is organized in which about thirty ambitious young girls take part, sometimes pushed by their ambitious mothers, with the hope of a success that could open the doors of the cinema to them. In the feverish atmosphere that precedes the event, with recommendations, threats, coaxing or complaints, each of the participants tries to influence the members of the jury. Only Marina, called at the last minute to replace a failing colleague, has only the simple ambition of winning the sewing machine promised to the winner. A jaded journalist, Fedrerici, is fascinated by Marina’s disarming modesty and decides to help her. To do this, he does not disdain to resort to a little blackmail. But, the indecision of the jury does not seem to have an end, he decides to use the big means….
THE BEAUTY JUNGLE (1964)
While on hers holidays, Shirley, a young girl from Bristol, is persuaded by a local journalist to enter a beauty contest. When she wins, she decides to give up her previous career and life and take up entering beauty contests full-time, despite the disapproval of her parents.
The movie shows the backstage of several contest and the naively of the main character. At the end of this movie, disillusioned with the beauty profession she stops entering beauty contests completely.
Later on, after being required as reigning champion to judge a beauty contest in the UK, she sees that her younger sister Elainehas entered the contest and just immediately walks away completely from the beauty profession and all of its hypocrisy and sordid publicity stunts.
CARRY ON GIRLS (1973)
Local councillor Sidney Fiddler persuades the Mayor to help improve the image of their rundown seaside town by holding a beauty contest. But formidable Councillor Prodworthy, head of the local women’s liberation movement, has other ideas. It’s open warfare as the women’s lib attempt to sabotage the contest.
Smile is a film directed by Michael Ritchie, who takes a semi-documentary approach to his movies. This movie is no different as it follows the lives of around 20 girls from different states as they prepare for a teenage beauty pageant set in Southern California.
They were gowned, drilled, exhorted, and choreographed to keep the smiles on their faces for a whole week. Ritchie made sure to consider the girls as well as the world they are living in. He highlighted the rivalries, friendships, and strategies that the girls employed and formed on the pageant. The movie did an excellent job of overcoming challenges such as sexism and hypocrisy that are typical in beauty contests.
DANGEROUS CURVES (1988)
A college graduate is offered a deal of a lifetime – deliver a Porsche for a client and join the company of your dreams in return. When the car gets stolen, he and his friend must go to a beauty pageant run by the thief to get it back.
SCREWBALL HOTEL (1988)
Three boys drop out of military school. They get jobs working at a hotel, but it’s about to go under. They decide to help the owner raise enough money to stay in business. They prove that sex sells by holding “Miss Purity Pageant” starring some of the females staying at the hotel.
MISS FIRECRACKER (1989)
The main character, whose main goal in life is to enter all the beauty contests she sees. However, she is not considered to be a serious contender as she attempts to join the Miss Firecracker contest, which her cousin has previously won before.
The best thing about Miss Firecracker is that the cinematographer and director featured much of the local scene of Yazoo City with a bonus romantic glow. What makes the film stand out is how it veers the focus away from who wins the contest. It shows how pageants are a niche for people who wants to be loved.
Summer of 1963. Carson is getting married to her boyfriend so her friends Melaina, Pudge and Luanne take her to Myrtle Beach for one last irresponsible weekend.
NO CONTEST (1995)
A Miss Galaxy competition is hijacked by a gang who take a number of hostages and demand diamonds as a ransom. However, the host, Sharon Bell, a kick-boxing actress, is determined to stop them.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR (1995)
After tying for the win in New York City’s “Drag Queen of the Year” contest, Noxeema Jackson and Vida Boheme win a trip to Hollywood to take part in the even bigger “Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant”.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1995)
Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town.
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (1999)
Drop Dead Gorgeous features a killer plot about a group of girls who are driven enough to do anything and win. The movie is also a satire about pageant experiences. The women in the film are contestants of the Sarah Rose Cosmetics American Teen Princess Pageant held in Minnesota.
HAPPY, TEXAS (1999)
3 prisoners escape. 2 end up in Happy, Texas, where they’re mistaken for a gay couple expected there to help with the small girls beauty pageant. As the 2 are paid $1000, they decide to stay until the heat is gone.
FOREVER FABULOUS (1999)
Beauty queen road trip about mother and daughter pageant pros going back home to Texas for a shot a redemption.
MISS CONGENIALITY (2000)
If we are to talk about beauty pageant films, Miss Congeniality is arguably the most popular one. With the pageant being the target of an attack by international terrorists, an agent from the FBI needs to step up and go undercover as one of the contestants.
An FBI agent played Sandra Bullock accepts the assignment and puts on the contact lens for Beauty Queens.
Through the direction of Sally Field, Beautiful tells the story of a mother who tries her best to make her pageant dreams come true, even if it meant putting her relationship with her daughter at stake.
Featuring Minnie Driver as Mona, who continues to chase her dream of being a beauty queen despite being ineligible because of her daughter. The movie is a combination of both drama and comedy that will offer you fun makeover sequences, emotional stakes, and the hope of fulfilling a dream.
CHASING PAPI (2003)
The women discover that their boyfriend has been dating all three of them at the same time—a discovery that leads them on an adventure throughout Los Angeles, California.
MISS CAST AWAY AND THE ISLAND GIRLS (2004)
The American film is a parody anarchic comedy film. A plane carrying beauty contestants crash lands on a deserted island. Captain Maximus Powers and co-pilot Mike Saunders have to take care of their passengers, while avoiding the dangers of Jurassic Pork (a giant prehistoric pig) and a group of apes busy trying to relaunch Noah’s Ark.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine is more than just a film about beauty pageants. With their charming characters, a family travels across America for Olive’s show.
Little Miss Sunshine successfully weaves the tropes of a dysfunctional family and a road trip together as they attempt to make the kid’s dream come true. It is also brilliantly made in a way that every small action of the characters is essential for the plot. It also features the iconic and arguably the best “you do you” speech in film history.
ELVIS AND ANABELLE (2007)
Groomed by her overly ambitious mother, Anabelle is on the road to winning the Miss Texas Rose title when she dies tragically due to an eating disorder after being crowned on stage. Her death lands her on the embalming table of Elvis Moreau, an embittered young man whose sense of family duty and love for his ailing father keep him from following his dreams. When Anabelle is miraculously resurrected on Elvis’ embalming table, the two unexpectedly connect and sparks fly. With the help of each other and Elvis’ father, they discover love, freedom and happiness as the real world and their own demons threaten to force them apart.
Pageant is a 2008 documentary film directed and produced together by Ron Davis and Stewart Halpern. The film explored the behind-the-scenes dramas and realities of the 34th Miss Gay America Contest held in 2004. The film’s central theme was the universal desire to be beautiful, noticed and chosen.
WHIP IT (2009)
Bliss Cavendar is a misfit in the small town of Bodeen, Texas, with no sense of direction in her life. Her mother, Brooke, a former beauty queen, pushes her to enter beauty pageants despite her lack of interest. During a shopping trip to Austin with her mother, Bliss encounters three roller derby team members and finds herself intrigued by the sport in which teams and players are given pun names that highlight the violent aspect of the sport. Intrigued, she and her friend Pash attend a roller derby bout under the pretense of going to a football game, where they see the “Holy Rollers” defeat the “Hurl Scouts”, a perennially unsuccessful derby team.
MISS BALA (2011)
After entering a beauty contest in Tijuana, a young woman witnesses drug-related murders and is forced to do the gang’s bidding.
JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA (2013)
86-year-old Irving Zisman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8-year-old grandson, Billy, back to his real father.
To celebrate, Irving and Billy crash a beauty pageant after spotting a flyer for it on their road trip. Billy gets dressed up as a girl and charms most of the judges, even though one reigning child champion and her mother note the unusual event of a girl being there with a grandpa. Billy dresses up as a sailor girl to put on a show. It appears cute until he rips off the outfit to reveal him wearing women’s underwear and then put on a risque dance to “Cherry Pie”, then for Irving to throw money at him. Everyone, including the judges, are completely speechless. His wig falls off and the duo runs out. Irving drives up to a bridge where he and Billy finally get rid of Ellie’s body by throwing it into a river before proceeding to fish, fulfilling Billy’s desires.
ASS BACKWARDS (2013)
Loveable losers Kate and Chloe are best friends with a not-so-firm grip on reality. Two best friends (Kate and Chloe) embark on a cross country trip back to their hometown to attempt to win a pageant that eluded them as children.
On the road, they face some hard truths about themselves and each other as they encounter drug addicts, spring breakers, strip club hooligans, a feminist farming collective, and their favorite reality TV star, leading to the girls’ homecoming and final reckoning with their past, present and future.
MISS INDIA AMERICA (2015)
Lily Prasad plans to become a neurosurgeon and live happily ever after with her boyfriend Karim. But when she finds out he’s in love with a beauty queen, she decides to compete with her for the Miss India title.
THE BITUMINOUS COAL QUEENS OF PENNSYLVANIA (2015)
The film follows the past and present contestants and winners of the annual beauty pageant sponsored by the bituminous coal industry of Greene County, Pennsylvania and was shot over a 10-day period in August 2003
Much like its predecessors Drop Dead Gorgeous, Miss Congeniality, and Smile, Dumplin’ also offers a satirical view on the superficiality of pageants.
Dumplin’ brings something new to the table by focusing on the contestants and what they learn through the experience. While there is competition among the contestants, they are also shown to be friendly and sympathetic to each other. The film also does an excellent job by respecting the women who invest time and effort in pageants. It shows how these women should not be defined whether they win the crown or not.
MISS BALA (2019)
Based on the 2011 film of the same name, Gloria finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into a dangerous world of cross-border crime. Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.
The 1970 Miss World competition took place in London, hosted by the US comedian Bob Hope. At that time Miss World was the most-watched TV show in the world with over 100 million viewers. Arguing that beauty competitions objectify women, the newly formed women’s liberation movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. When the show resumed, the result caused uproar: the winner was not the Swedish favourite but Miss Grenada, the first black woman to be crowned Miss World. In hours a global audience had seen the patriarchy driven from the stage and the Western ideal of beauty subverted.
In this French film, Alex, a graceful 9-year-old boy who happily navigates between genres, has a dream: to one day be elected Miss France. 15 years later, Alex has lost his parents and his self-confidence and stagnates in a monotonous life. An unexpected meeting will awaken this forgotten dream. Alex then decides to compete in Miss France by hiding his identity as a boy. Beauty, excellence, camaraderie … Through the stages of a merciless competition, helped by a colorful family of hearts, Alex will set out to conquer the title, his femininity and above all, himself …
MISS JUNETEETH (2020)
A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant.
We are preparing for many very pleasant evenings to watch all these films in order to criticize them. We will regularly update this list with all releases.