How Does 'Spice World' Hold Up 20 Years Later?

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they're actually any good. In this edition: Spice World turns 20 and we take a look back.)

When one looks over the things that share their birthday, it can be a mixed bag. For me, there's a few standout moments that happened on the same date as my entrance into this world: the birth of Broadway legend Chita Rivera, the sad passing of Salvador Dali, Sweden becoming the first country to ban aerosol sprays, and...oh yeah, Spice World was released in the United States. And if you were a little kid in the '90s (like yours truly), that was quite the monumental event, one filled with female empowerment from head to platform shoe.

Spice World turned 20 last month and it is indeed time to give it a proper re-examination. Did this glitter-filled bit of marketable feminism stand the test of time? Is the joke about the little Gucci dress just as funny as it was when you were 8 years old? Well, grab your Lip Smackers gloss, rainbow tank top, and inflatable chair: we have a Nostalgia Bomb case to solve.

Remember the Spice Girls?

I'm sure that the majority of the pop culture-literate world remembers them just fine, but for the younger readers (or those who were living under a rock at any point) I feel it is my duty to pass on the legend that was this insane moment in pop culture. As trends are always in a cycle (seven years, specifically, it seems), it made sense that the rise of The Backstreet Boys and N'Sync would see a female version join their ranks. In the late '80s, we were introduced to the immortal TLC and the late '90s gave us Destiny's Child, but smack dab in the middle were the Spice Girls.

Mel C. (Sporty), Geri (Ginger), Emma (Baby), Victoria (Posh), and Mel B. (Scary) made a name for themselves in 1996 with "Wannabe," which eventually became the biggest selling single by a girl group of all time. This would lead this UK export to take the world by storm and (for the next year and a half) leave a mark on the '90s that is hard to forget (unless you never were there in the first place.) With their focus on "Girl Power" and friendship, the Spice Girls wanted to empower their young fanbase to be strong and independent, all while rocking ridiculously tall shoes and too many crop top/miniskirt combos for the public to handle.

But what exactly made these girls such a force in the first place? For one, they were visually bold in their fashion and music videos, which granted them the ability to be marketable to multiple demographics and ages. They also had various personalities that let their fans connect to them. Were you a bit of Sporty mixed with Ginger? How about Baby and Posh, with a dash of Scary? Everyone had a Spice Girl to call their own. And though they represented the most one-dimensional stereotypes of female figures in pop culture, fans of all ages ate it up like crazy.

I considered myself to be a pretty big Spice Girls fan at the timeI pressured my family into collecting all of the dolls, figures, and tiny biography books, even if they were insanely overpriced. I would play as them with my friends at school and would always be pushed into being Posh (who no one wanted to be). My favorite was, and always will be, Scary Spice, because she seemed like the one who could kick the most butt, and she was my pick to play live action Storm in the X-Men movie (I was seven!).

The girls went on to release more chart topping singles and albums and got themselves a movie deal. But by the end of 1998, the sparkle and shine of the band couldn't keep them together, and the Spice Girls lost Geri, ending their original line-up. This would lead them down a path of various solo and not-as-solo records, appearances on TV shows (like Mel B.'s judging gig on America's Got Talent) and marrying other famous pretty people (I'm looking at you, Victoria!) While the group would reunite, they never seemed to capture the wacky spark of their past.

But what did such a moment in time look like exactly? Let me point you in the direction of Exhibit A....


Enter Spice World

I'm going get straight to the point: I'm not jealous of the people who had to develop a Spice Girls movie. Heck, there's even two film industry-related characters in Spice World who can never seem to get a plot really going, and I'm sure their fictional frustrations mirror the film's actual screenwriting process. Kim Fuller (brother to producer Simon Fuller) and the Spice Girls themselves are credited with coming up with the "idea" for the film, but what exactly was that to begin with? Much like a Tootsie Pop's lick count, the world may never know.

The film opens on the Spice Girls performing "Too Much" on the series Top of the Pops, wearing their best white on white outfits. This leads up to an Elton John cameo and the introduction of two of our many subplots: the hijinks of their intense manager, Clifford (Richard E. Grant) and a documentary team following the group's every move (including the director, played by one of my crushes, Mr. Alan Cumming). These characters give us cinematic access to the crazy life of the group on their Union Jack bus, which pretty much consists of poorly written jokes about their stage personas, ranging from kid-appropriate to barely appropriate for anyone. But with Meat Loaf as their bus driver, it can't really be all that bad.

Then there are the villains of Spice World – the Paparazzi, played by Jason Flemyng, Barry Humphries and Richard O'Brien as the creepy photographer. Their mission is to find any dirt they can on the Spice Girls and break them up so they don't have to write any more articles about them. And if seeing one of them crawl up a toilet to snap a photo doesn't inspire true fear in you, then you don't remember how intense the real life paparazzi were in the '90s. A scene involving the late Princess Diana (who was killed during a car chase involving photographers) was deleted from the film. Truly scary (not Spice) kind of stuff.

The rest of the film attempts to cram whatever it can into its 93-minute run time, as if its life depended on it. The girl's meet up with their best friend (who just happens to be full-term pregnant and single), their manager meets with film executives and is given film pitches (which is actually the movie you're watching), Scary and Baby compare boys to ordering pizza, and they learn all about the wonders of dancing from a character named "Mr. Step."


Sex, Girl Power, and...Aliens

Back in the 90's, I grew up around parents who weren't too keen on me liking the Spice Girls, mostly due to their "hyper sexualized" image. So when it came time for a Spice Girls movie to come to the big screen, I was hoping (as were many other little '90s kids) that this cinematic experience would explain to our parents why we loved this girl group and all their quirks. And then a certain scene deleted any hope that we had for adults to gain some respect for our British idols.

The scene starts with the girls running into the woods as they hear a strange noise (mistaking it for a wonderfully lame fart joke), which leads them to being freaked out by aliens landing in a UFO. As they emerge from their ship, they instantly recognize the Spice Girls, and decide to shake their boobs first (rather than hands) and make a bunch of "hilarious" requests. Insanity ensues.

Now, don't get me wrong, I get why all of my friends at the time loved this part – it hit all the marks of tween comedic perfection. Yet when it came to the personal reaction of this writer in her eight-year old incarnation, something just didn't feel right. Maybe it was the alien designs that scared me half to death, or that seeing Ginger have to give an intergalactic smooch sent shivers down my spine, but this scene just wasn't for me. Flash forward to 2018 and this moment still gives me the same icky feelings for a much more obvious reason.

I, like many other Spice Girls fans, fell in love with them simply because of their "Girl Power" message. And sure, Tumblr might want to label that as "problematic" in the 2018 landscape of feminism, but when it came to the "OG" fans of this girl group, we all wanted that same theme going on throughout their cinematic adventure. So having a scene in which a bunch of aliens come down to Earth and physically throw themselves all over the girls wasn't exactly super appealing and undermined the meaning of the band's overall "philosophy." This scene stands out as the weirdest speed bump in the Spice Girls legacy.

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The Response

Spice World ends with the band (after a brief break-up) coming together to "save the day" by performing at Royal Albert Hall. All who watch take in the colorful sights and sounds of the glorious Spice Girls, which works very much as a visual representation of Spice World's box office haul. With a budget of $25 million, Spice World managed to make $101 million worldwide by the end of its theatrical run.

Now, that might not sound like a lot in today's climate of superhero movies and cinematic universes, but that's a pretty impressive number for the '90s, especially for a movie that basically didn't have much of a plot and starred members of a girl group. It also broke box office records at the time, including the highest-ever weekend debut for a movie during the Super Bowl weekend in the USA.

Of course, the critics were not kind. Much like the current success of The Greatest Showman, Spice World was not a hit with most critics. Roger Ebert was convinced it was the worst movie of the year (and it was only January), writing such memorable jabs as:

"The Spice Girls are easier to tell apart than the Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that is small consolation: What can you say about five women whose principal distinguishing characteristic is that they have different names? They occupy "Spice World" as if they were watching it: They're so detached they can't even successfully lip-sync their own songs."

Not every critic felt exactly the same way as Ebert. Derek Elley of Variety wrote "Spice World will delight the Fab Five's pre-pubescent fans, recall fond memories of the '60s to those who actually lived through them," referring to the similar cinematic adventures of The Beatles in  Hard Days Night. However, that review ended with the phrase "...and be forgotten within six months."

Oh how wrong you were, Derek. Oh, so very wrong.

20 Years Later

It can be easily said that Spice World is by no means a "good movie" in the traditional sense of the word, but it's hard to deny its entertainment value. If one needed receipts to prove the longevity of this cinematic "tour de force," look no further than the countless anniversary screenings that were hosted around the world last month in celebration of the film's existence. From a party at Alan Cumming's personal nightclub to quote-alongs at Alamo Drafthouse theaters, there is no denying the power that Spice World still has on cult movie lovers to this day.

But does Spice World bring anything to the table outside of its nostalgia? Well, unlike the movie offerings of The Beatles or The Who's Tommy, Spice World isn't exactly the kind of music-related piece of filmmaking that changes lives. Instead, it exists as an ornament on the tree of those that had the chance to experience the chaos first hand. It is a time capsule of the sparkle, mismatched femininity that many of us kids (or kids at heart) in 1998 were obsessed with. It's brainless, mushy fluff that dresses itself in '90s British flare – and the movie fully embraces that.

With its obviously fake special effects, cheesy marching tunes, and celebrity cameos, Spice World revels in its cheap humor, stupid characterizations, and problematic moments with a true sense of ownership. The pride that is has for itself is stronger than that of the spandex flag worn by Ginger, and it unabashedly adores every decision it makes to such an extent that you can't help but appreciate its existence.

So, Happy Birthday, Spice World! Sure, you might not have a cohesive plot, nor be the movie you could have been, but who cares? You rock your "Girl Power" on your sleeve some 20 years later, and some of us still love you for it. You might have the ability to become a drinking game with ease and have some of the worst acting humanly imaginable, but sometimes that is what makes the greatest of cinematic memories...and that's why you still remain one of my favorite birthday presents to this day.