Bring It On, Peyton Reed’s big-screen directorial debut, was a much better movie than anybody could have expected. So much so that, when reviewing an inferior cheerleader movie in 2009, Roger Ebert called the Kirsten Dunst starrer “the Citizen Kane of cheerleader movies.” In celebration of its 20th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about Bring It On.
1. Bring It On was originally going to be a documentary.
Jessica Bendinger wanted to make a documentary on the national cheerleading competitions that began running on ESPN in the mid-1980s, but none of her colleagues at MTV News seemed interested. So she ended up writing a script titled Cheer Fever.
2. Kirsten Dunst's Torrance Shipman was based on Gwen Stefani.
Bendinger had a picture of the No Doubt frontwoman hanging over her desk while writing the script.
3. Kirsten Dunst turned down the lead in Bring It On—more than once.
Marley Shelton was the filmmakers' first choice before she decided to star in the other cheerleader movie that was starting production at the time, Sugar & Spice. Dunst was convinced to take the role while she was working "in Prague on a really depressing, bad indie film ... I read it and was like, 'Oh, this is a fun movie,' but then I was like, 'I don’t know.' Then I talked to Peyton Reed, the director, and he just sounded like the most awesome fun guy ever and I thought, 'OK, this is going to be a fun movie.'"
4. Jason Schwartzman and James Franco both auditioned for the role of Cliff in Bring It On.
James Franco auditioned just in case the show he just shot a pilot for, Freaks and Geeks, didn’t get picked up. Jesse Bradford took the part of Cliff without auditioning. "I took the meeting [with Peyton] to discuss it and then I liked this guy so much," Bradford told MTV. "I said to myself, this guy’s not trying to make a cheerleading movie, he’s trying to make a great movie."
5. Actors auditioning for Bring It On had to have a cheer prepared.
It was to see if they had a sense of rhythm and coordination. Reed wanted to use stunt doubles as little as possible, so he had the actors attend a four-week cheerleader camp before filming.
6. Bring It On cast a lot of real-life cheerleaders.
Though Dunst had been a cheerleader in 8th grade and Gabrielle Union cheered in high school, each squad was made up of eight actors and 12 cheerleaders. Most of the East Compton Clovers were from San Diego's James Madison High School, whose cheerleading squad was ranked third in the country at that time. "We were fortunate to have some of the top cheerleaders in the country on these squads," Reed said, "and they helped to motivate Kirsten, Eliza [Dushku], Gabrielle, and the rest of the actors during cheer camp."
7. Ian Roberts changed the role of choreographer Sparky Polastri.
Ian Roberts, an Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder, and Reed knew each other from Reed’s work directing the UCB television series. It was Roberts’ idea to make Polastri an "angry, pill-popping, Bob Fosse wannabe."
8. Eliza Dushku spent part of one night during filming of Bring It On in a Mexican jail.
9. Cheerleaders Whitney and Courtney are best friends in real life.
10. Blaque had trouble adjusting to appearing in a movie.
Natina Reed, Shamari Fears, and Brandi Williams made up the girl group Blaque, and made their movie debut in Bring It On as three of the Clovers. They were used to music video productions, but not movies, so at first, the three looked directly at the camera when they were supposed to be looking at Dunst. After a brief, private conversation with the director, Blaque figured it out.
11. It cost $40,000 to get the rights to Warrant's "Cherry Pie."
Reed thought Warrant’s song was the “perfect fit” for a scene in which a wannabe stripper auditions for the squad, so production worked with their fixed music budget to get the song.
12. Peyton Reed played guitar for Kirsten Dunst.
Rufus King’s “You’re Just What I Need” wasn’t ready for the scene in which Dunst dances around her bedroom, so Dunst instead danced to Reed's guitar playing.
13. Peyton Reed was "obligated" to direct a PG-13 movie for the studio.
Reed claimed he never got a straight answer from the MPAA about what would turn his film from R to PG-13 or vice versa. A producer explained that they were going to get an R rating if they kept a scene involving Jan lifting Courtney and then smelling his finger intact. After the editor cut out the part when Jan smelled his finger, they were fine. Reed still wanted to push as much sexuality as he could, and watched several “cheerleader exploitation” movies from the 1970s like the Paul Glickler movie The Cheerleaders while editing Bring It On.
14. Bring It On was screened for cheerleader groups.
"They were thrilled about it as there was a movie made about competitive cheerleading," Reed said. "I got calls from some people who said the movie was really great, but there were some technical errors in terms of the competition."
15. Two different endings for Bring It On were filmed.
In an alternate ending, Dunst's Torrance and Union's Isis join the same cheerleading squad at U.C. Berkeley; the scene was reluctantly put in by Reed in the DVD extras. Of course, the “Oh Mickey” blooper reel was the ending in the theatrical cut.
This story has been updated for 2020.