13 Beloved '90s & '00s Movies That Thrived On The Mystical & Totally Unrealistic Power Of "Makeovers"
It's a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy ignores girl, girl takes off her glasses and becomes hot stuff, boy falls for girl, boy and girl kiss, the end. OK, so, maybe it's not such a classic story after all. It is, however, one of the most common tropes found in teen movies of the past few decades (if not century). We've all seen it: the nerdy girl who feels like she'll never be accepted gets a shiny new makeover and suddenly rockets to the heights of popularity. Of course, in the end it's clear that she was worthy all along, but the makeover sure helps viewers get that concept visually, doesn't it? I can feel the eye rolls from here, but even I have to admit, no matter how many times I've seen the trope, I still find myself returning to the films that taught us the mythical makeover trick, no doubt thanks to these 13 movies from the '90s and '00s that turned the nerdy girl into a popular chick.
Over the years, this trope has changed forms a bit, whether it be relegated to a side character or — gasp — gender swapped, with the man in the story getting the desired makeover. Looking at teen movies it's impossible to say that the nerdy-girl-turned-popular plot will ever go away — like ever — and while it's problematic, it's not hard to see why the trope keeps coming back when you look at these classic teen movies from the '90s and early '00s. Makeovers may be problematic, but I'm still a sucker for a good ol' teen movie.
1. Bring It On (2000)
Bring It On puts a bit of a spin on the trope. Instead of a nerdy-girl-turned-popular, there's a badass-chick-turned-cheerleader, but the essence is still there. When we meet Missy, she's a gymnast with fake dreads, a fake tattoo and an attitude problem, but it isn't long before she's wearing that Toros uniform and smiling like a maniac. Missy doesn't really have a love story in Bring It On, and she isn't the main character, but the trope remains strong.
2. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
10 Things I Hate About You is full of characters trying to change who they are to impress a lady/fella. There's the nerdy guy trying to impress the popular girl, so he pays a rebel to seduce said girl's mean older sister, who used to be popular but now hates everyone. Meanwhile, the rebel gives the nerdy guy advice on how to get the popular girl. Yeah, it's complicated. The makeovers in 10 Things are on the inside, but you can still spot the same old tropes if you look hard enough.
3. Easy A (2010)
What happens when a nerdy girl pretends to have very loud sex with a friend at a party? She gets labeled the school slut, shooting up her high school profile, but complicating her friendships along the way. Add in a slut-shaming rebellion makeover, and you've got yourself a complex take on the nerdy-girl-turns-popular trope.
4. John Tucker Must Die (2006)
One of my personal favorites, John Tucker Must Die also tries to add some new twist to the nerdy-girl-turned-popular staple. In this movie, three girls wronged by the same man, the titular John Tucker, help transform a fourth girl into a hottie who can break John's heart and finally give him a dose of his own medicine.
5. Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed, another fav of mine, turns Josie Grossie into Josie, the most popular girl in school. Never Been Kissed might just be the most pure form of the nerdy-girl-turned-popular, because it literally gives Josie the opportunity to re-write her awful high school experience as a popular girl.
6. A Cinderella Story (2004)
So Hilary Duff's character in A Cinderella Story wasn't exactly a nerdy girl to begin with, but she wasn't a popular girl either. Instead, she was a modern day Cinderella, who gets a shot at having a relationship with the most popular boy in school... only by showing up at a school dance in a fancy ball gown and a mask. Not exactly a makeover, but not exactly a make-under either.
7. Drive Me Crazy (1999)
Drive Me Crazy, the movie based on Britney Spears' hit song (nah, I'm just kidding, though it was on the soundtrack), gender swaps the classic trope, turning it into nerdy-boy-turned-popular via extensive makeover. In this movie, Nicole gives her geeky neighbor, Chase, a makeover to turn him into a cool guy so that they can both make their crushes insanely jealous. I don't think I need to tell you where this is going...
8. The Princess Diaries (2001)
The Princess Diaries gave us Anne Hathaway and her princess hair, but not before it gave us frizzy-haired, invisible girl, Mia Thermopolis. The makeover in The Princess Diaries is more of a royal duty than a ploy to become popular, but the basics are still the same.
9. Model Behavior (2000)
Who didn't love Model Behavior (aka the Disney Channel Original Movie starring JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)? This movie is like the makeover movie meets Parent Trap, where a model and a nerdy high school girl, who just happen to look identical, switch places. The model shocks everyone at school with her newfound confidence, while the high school nerd gets a high fashion makeover and shocks photographers with her new, chill attitude.
10. Mean Girls (2004)
Another subversive-(ish) take on the nerdy-girl-turned-popular trope. In Mean Girls, Cady willingly transforms herself into a mini-skirt wearing, pink loving mean girl so that she can infiltrate the Plastics. Who knew a makeover could turn someone so evil?
11. Clueless (1995)
Clueless, of course, is one of the most iconic makeover movies, but not quite in the traditional sense. It's not the main character that gets a makeover — though she does, eventually, makeover her soul — it's Tai, the new girl, who is adopted by Cher and Dionne and turned into their little popular protege.
12. She's All That (1999)
The holy grail of nerdy-girl-turned-popular movies, She's All That perfected the trope. For those of you who haven't seen it (and, really, you should), it's about a popular jock, Zack, who makes a bet with his dumb friends that he can turn the most geeky girl in school, Laney, into the Prom Queen. Oof.
13. Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
Finally, She's All That leads us to Not Another Teen Movie, a parody of all the teen movies from the late '90s, with a particular focus on She's All That. Check it out for baby Chris Evans, or for the genre busting fun, your choice!
Oh teen movies, you never were known for your nuance.