Spice World Premieres, And Everyone Hates It, Making It A Cult Classic
December 15, 1997 is a day that will live in infamy forever. Theaters across the country were invaded by Spice World, a film that followed the madcap adventures of the Spice Girls on their quest for worldwide domination. More visual collage than film, this cockney fever dream sends up the larger-than-life celebrity of the Spice Girls without ever committing to a narrative. It gave fans of the girl group something to experience between albums and tours, but despite its success, the film wasn't a critical darling by any means. It was panned across the board as pop music fluff, but somehow, the film has persevered.
In the decades since its release, Spice World has taken on a new life. Kids who grew up with the film have only doubled down on their love, and pop culture historians have noted the film's surrealism and avant-garde nature that have bolstered its status as a camp classic.
Spice World was a number-one hit out of the gate
This isn't the story of a film that failed at the box office only to garner a meager cult audience decades after the fact. The film was a huge hit on both sides of the pond, grossing $151 million against a $25-million budget and breaking the U.S. record for box office sales during Super Bowl weekend.
Whether they knew it or not at the time, 1997 was the apex of the Spice Girls' career. The film hit theaters one month after the album of the same name hit music store shelves, which is about as close as the British get to total world domination. By the end of its initial theatrical run, Spice World was number 53 at the worldwide box office in 1998 with $56,042,592 in ticket sales. By comparison, The Big Lebowski only made $46 million, and Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas only made $13 million.
The film continued its success on home video
People who loved Spice World really loved it. When it was released on VHS in 1998, the film became the number-one charting video. It was the ninth best-selling VHS of 1998 in the U.K. and the fifth in the U.S. Tragically, right around the time of the film's home media release, Geri Halliwell ("Ginger Spice") left the group, but while that definitely weakened the Spice Girls' stock as a group, it didn't do anything to hurt sales of the VHS. In fact, it's possible that the film was so successful because it provided fans the only way to see their favorite group together forever.
An "entertainment-free dead zone"
At the time, film critics were decidedly less enthusiastic about Spice World than the preteens who shelled out their allowance for tickets "2 Become 1" with the group. Roger Ebert said of the film:
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-synch their own songs.
Ebert later described the film as "an entertainment-free dead zone," although he refused to name it the worst film of 1998. Armageddon still managed to snag that honor.
The movie is one of the most bizarre things you'll ever see
If you still don’t understand why people still talk about Spice World decades after its release, it's likely you haven't seen it. There are a myriad reasons why Spice World is a cult classic---the age of its fans, shifting perspectives, general nostalgia---but the main reason that the movie is still popular is because it's so incredibly weird. Like The Room or Danzig's Verotika, Spice World is little more than a series of bizarre choices assaulting your senses in rapid-fire succession. It's as if Andy Warhol and John Waters made a movie starring five clones of Tommy Wiseau.
Spice World is dumb, and that's the point
What the Roger Eberts and Gene Shallots of the world failed to understand was that they were never going to enjoy Spice World. It's not a movie for them. It's a strange series of vignettes that makes no attempt to be a "good" movie, and that's exactly why audiences are drawn to it. The fact of the matter is that the intensely negative critical reaction to the film likely had little effect on its success among an audience who couldn't tell you the difference between Richard Roeper and Richard Gere.
Like The Monkees' Head 30 years before it, Spice World rips apart the idiotic nature of pop music packaging as well as the critical response to it. By refusing to take itself seriously, Spice Word puts itself in the same vaunted category as The Ramones' Rock 'n' Roll High School. The original audiences for each film didn't care about the critical response because the critics---who were overwhelmingly white, male, and middle-aged---weren't speaking to them anyway.
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