Lights, Camera, Pageant: 9 Movies That Illuminate the World of Beauty Competitions

Beauty pageants have always captivated audiences with their glamour, grace, and occasional drama. These events of beauty and talent have inspired numerous movies over the years, each offering a unique glimpse into the world of pageantry. From heartwarming tales of self-discovery to comedic escapades, pageant-themed films have become a beloved genre among moviegoers. 

Here, we’ll explore nine of the most captivating movies about beauty pageants, uncovering their intriguing behind-the-scenes facts and what makes them truly special.

1. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

One of the most popular contemporary films to shine a spotlight on pageants is “Little Miss Sunshine.” Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, this indie gem follows the Hoovers, a quirky and dysfunctional family embarking on a road trip to support their youngest member’s dream of participating in a beauty pageant. Despite its micro-budget, the movie managed to gross over $100 million at the box office and even secured a Best Picture nomination. 

Surprisingly, the screenplay for “Little Miss Sunshine” was written by Michael Arndt, who, before this breakout success, had been Matthew Broderick’s assistant. Inspired by the stack of spec scripts he saw at Broderick’s house, Arndt took a leap of faith, quit his job, and penned the heartwarming and comedic tale of the Hoovers’ journey to Redondo Beach. The film’s success is proof of Arndt’s talent and determination in bringing this heartwarming story to the big screen.

2. “Miss Juneteenth” (2020)

“Miss Juneteenth,” directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, is a pageant movie that delves into themes of family, ambition, and tradition. The film centers on Turquoise Jones, a former beauty queen, and single mother, who dreams of her daughter, Kai, winning the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant. 

The movie explores the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, the struggles of single parenthood, and the pursuit of dreams against all odds. “Miss Juneteenth” earned critical acclaim for its moving performances and its authentic portrayal of African-American culture. Its heartfelt narrative and powerful message have cemented the film as a standout in the pageant movie genre.

3. “Pageant” (2008)

Directed and produced by Ron Davis and Stewart Halpern, “Pageant” brings audiences to the world of the 34th Miss Gay America Contest, which took place in 2004. The film offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the dramas and realities of the five gay men’s journey in the competition. With diversity at its core, “Pageant” showcases contestants of different ages, sizes, and backgrounds, adding depth and richness to the narrative. 

The film’s exploration of the challenges and sacrifices faced specifically by the five gay contestants adds emotional depth to the film, bringing something unconventional to Hollywood movies. From navigating personal struggles to embracing their true selves, “Pageant” presents the contestants as individuals with unique experiences and lives, making the competition anything but stale.

4. “Miss You Can Do It” (2013) 

“Miss You Can Do It” is an inspiring documentary that shines a spotlight on the Miss You Can Do It pageant, a heartwarming event created for little girls with learning or physical disabilities. The film takes viewers on a journey that celebrates the strength, resilience, and beauty of these young contestants, challenging the conventional notions of beauty and perfection. 

At the heart of the film is the founder of the pageant, Abbey Curran, who is an inspiration in her own right. As the first woman with a disability to compete in the prestigious Miss USA Pageant, Abbey’s determination and courage serve as a guiding light for the contestants. Her dedication to creating a platform that celebrates abilities rather than disabilities is both touching and uplifting.

5. Miss Firecracker (1989)

In the delightful comedy “Miss Firecracker,” director Thomas Schlamme brings to life the captivating story of Carnelle Scott, a restless and spirited girl from Yazoo City, Mississippi. Carnelle, known locally as “Miss Hot Tamale,” desires to break free from the monotony of her small-town life and find a way to prove herself to her community. In her pursuit of validation and recognition, she sets her sights on the local Miss Firecracker beauty pageant, which her cousin Elain had won years ago. 

Despite facing skepticism and opposition, Carnelle remains determined to enter the pageant, hoping that a victory will be her ticket to a brighter future away from her small Mississippi town. As the Fourth of July pageant approaches, Carnelle finds herself on a journey of self-discovery, empowerment, and self-acceptance. Through a mix of lighthearted goofiness and poignant moments, “Miss Firecracker” explores the complexities of small-town life, the pursuit of dreams, and the desire for recognition and approval.

6. Miss Congeniality (2000)

In the 2000 comedy film “Miss Congeniality,” Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) shines as FBI Special Agent, a tough and unapologetically tomboyish agent, who is tasked to undercover as a contestant in the Miss United States beauty pageant for a potential terrorist plot. This unexpected and hilarious transformation brings together action, comedy, and heartwarming moments, making “Miss Congeniality” a beloved classic.

Throughout the film, Gracie faces numerous comedic challenges and hilarious mishaps as she navigates the glamorous world of beauty pageants, all while keeping her tough and witty personality intact. As the competition progresses, Gracie’s unique personality and unconventional approach make her stand out among the other contestants, giving her a high chance of actually winning the competition. 

7. Misbehaviour (2020)

Set in the year 1970, “Misbehaviour” revolves around the prestigious Miss World beauty pageant, held in London. As a group of determined women protests against the pageant, they demand equality and an end to the objectification of women in such events.

The film portrays the struggle of the Women’s Liberation Movement, led by Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), who fights against the societal norms and expectations imposed on women. Alongside her, Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), becomes the first black woman to be crowned Miss World, breaking barriers and defying racial prejudices.

Director Philippa Lowthorpe skillfully weaves together the stories of these women and examines the debates surrounding beauty pageants, from empowerment to questions of misogyny and toxic beauty standards.

8. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

In the satirical mockumentary black comedy “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (1999), directed by Michael Patrick Jann and written by Lona Williams, the small town of Mount Rose, Minnesota, is buzzing with excitement as it prepares for the annual Sarah Rose Cosmetics American Teen Princess Pageant. 

This star-studded film takes audiences on a hilariously dark and chaotic journey into the competitive world of a beauty pageant, where contestants, played by two leading contenders: Amber Atkins (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Becky Leeman (played by Denise Richards) will go to extreme and deadly lengths to secure the coveted crown. The film explores themes of ambition, rivalry, and the desperate desire for recognition and success.

9. Dumplin’ (2018)

In the heartwarming coming-of-age comedy “Dumplin’,” director Anne Fletcher and writer Kristin Hahn weave a story that revolves around Willowdean “Will” Dickson, portrayed by the talented Danielle Macdonald. Will is a plus-size teenager living in a small Texas town, raised primarily by her former beauty queen mother, Rosie Dickson, played by Jennifer Aniston. 

Feeling overshadowed by her mother’s beauty queen ideals and struggling with body image issues, Will decides to participate in the pageant as an act of protest. This bold move sets off a chain of events that revolutionizes the pageant and the way her town perceives beauty and self-worth, finding beauty beyond societal norms and learning to love oneself fully.

Wrapping Up

As depicted in these nine movies, beauty pageant movies offer more than just glitz and glamour. They showcase the human stories of contestants, the challenges they face, and the transformations they undergo. From child pageants to adult competitions, these beauty pageant movies illuminate the intricacies of what it means to be beautiful, empowering viewers to reflect on the complexities of society’s beauty standards. While controversies surround beauty pageants, these movies provide an understanding of the hopes, dreams, and determination of contestants, highlighting the potential for these competitions to be empowering and transformative experiences.