How Does ‘Spice World’ Hold Up 20 Years Later?


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.

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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.

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