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Movies about pageants

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Film cannisters


Since many pageant fans are also movie fans, we've listed a few well-known movies that are about pageants or have a significant "beauty queen" presence.

Most are widely available.

 1920

"The American Venus" (1926)

A lost film that satirized pageants. The supporting cast included Fay Lanphier, who was Miss America at the time of production, several other Miss America participants and Louise Brooks in her first role.

"Ella Cinders" (1926)

Silent classic about a phony beauty contest that sends a naive girl off to Hollywood.

 1930

"Free and Easy" (1930)

Buster Keaton classic about a young man whose pageant-winning girlfriend goes into show business and changes both their lives.

"Madame Satan" (1930)

Cecil B. DeMille's second talkie, an odd comedy about Jazz Age decadence, features a bizarre masked pageant. Madame Satan is the winner, in a manner of speaking.

"Goldie Gets Along" (1933)

A French-American girl goes from small-town New Jersey to Hollywood stardom by way of crooked beauty pageants. It stars French actress Lili Damita, who's best remembered today as the wife of Errol Flynn and the mother of ill-fated actor-journalist Sean Flynn.

"Search for Beauty" (1934)

A parody about the "Search for Beauty" contests that were used in the 1930s to recruit attractive young people for the movies. The plot concerns a shady contest, but some of the stars were winners of legitimate searches.

"Prix de Beauté" (Sometimes titled "Miss Europe") (1930)

French classic from the early sound era about a working woman who becomes a beauty queen. Stars American actress Louise Brooks.

"Miss Pacific Fleet" (1935)

Showgirl wins a Navy-oriented contest.

 

Suntan

"Page Miss Glory"  (1935)

This one is hard to find, and that's too bad, because it's considered a classic comedy. It's about a con man who "creates" a beauty queen as part of a publicity stunt. 

It stars Pat O'Brien and Marion Davies. (For those too young to remember the golden age of Hollywood, O'Brien was the man and Davies was the woman.)

"Waikiki Wedding" (1937)

Bing Crosby musical is about a pineapple queen's adventures in Hawaii.

"The Case of the Lucky Legs" (1938)

Lawyer-sleuth Perry Mason solves the murder of an unscrupulous pageant director.

"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1938)

How can this be a pageant movie? Well, it has Shirley Temple as "Little Miss America" and then as "Little Miss Universe," pitching products on radio. It shows the commercial application of beauty titles during the 1930s. As you might guess, all this has little to do with the 1903 novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

"Fast and Furious" (1939)

Busby Berkeley, famous for his Depression-era musicals featuring armies of leggy chorus girls, directed this entertaining fare about murder at a pageant.

 1940

Gangway for Tomorrow"  (1943)

An odd film with an odd title. The characters are World War II munitions workers looking back on their civilian lives. One, played by Amelita Ward, is a former Miss America. Today, it seems dull and dated. There's nothing wrong with patriotic speeches, but they play much better in a war movie when there is combat to liven things up.

"Cover Girl" (1944)

Lush, entertaining musical about a cover girl model search.

Large cast includes Jinx Falkenburg, a former Miss Rheingold, and Patricia Donnelly, a former Miss America.

"Bathing Beauty" (1944)

Strictly speaking, this lavish musical comedy isn't about a beauty contest at all. But the grand finale is a "water pageant," and the emphasis on women in swimsuits is typical of beauty pageants in the 1940s.

"Having Wonderful Crime" (1945)

Comic murder mystery with a parade of national beauty queens thrown in for no particular purpose. Interesting period piece. The title is in "telegraphese," harking back to a time when people sent messages by wire and every letter cost money.

"Strangler of the Swamp" (1945)

A low-budget horror film that has become something of a cult classic. 

Stars Rosemary LaPlanche, Miss America 1941, opposite future director Blake Edwards. Directed by German expatriate Frank Wisbar, based on his 1935 German film "Ferryboat Woman Maria."

"Juke Joint" (1947)

Two traveling entertainers help a young woman prepare for a beauty contest. 

African-American film made in an era when Hollywood ignored minorities.

"The Senator Was Indiscreet" (1947)

American political satire about a candidate who wins high office mostly by having his picture taken with beauty queens.

"Miss Mink of 1949" (1949)

Woman wins a fur in a contest, sees her life change. 

"On the Town" (1949)

Much of the plot in this classic musical concerns a sailor's search for Miss Turnstile, official queen of the New York Subway.

"The Girl from Jones Beach" (1949)

Little gem of a screwball comedy, rather bawdy for its time and still funny. The story is about the discovery of the perfect swimsuit model -- who just happens to be a prude. Virginia Mayo, looking like a pinup painting come to life, is perfect in the title role.

 1950

"Beauty on Parade" (1950)

Former beauty queen becomes a "stage mother" when her daughter enters competition.

"Duchess of Idaho" (1950)

Romantic misadventures of a citrus queen at a water-ski resort.

"Peggy" (1950)

Comedy about the competition to be Rose Bowl queen.

Bathing beauty

"The Petty Girl" (1950)

Musical comedy based on the career of George Petty, whose drawings of pinup girls made him one of the most successful commercial artists in history. The frothy, mostly fictional plot has Petty romancing his favorite model, who is chosen "Miss Spontaneous Combustion." Interesting look at the time when the pinup girl and the beauty queen had the same slightly racy image.

"Mr. Universe" (1951)

Not to be confused with the later documentary. This is a comedy about a winner of a bodybuilding contest who is talked into a career in professional wrestling. The hero, Vince Edwards, became something of a TV star a decade later.

"Lady Godiva Rides Again" (1951)

British comedy about a pageant winner has a truly memorable cast. The star is Diana Dors, who was known as the English answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Contestants include future stars Anne Heywood and Joan Collins as well as bit player Ruth Ellis, who later murdered her boyfriend and became the last woman executed in Britain.

"We're Not Married" (1952)

Anthology movie features the young Marilyn Monroe as a pageant winner.

"I Vitelloni" (1953)

Early film by legendary Italian director Federico Fellini begins with a seaside beauty contest and its stormy aftermath, but the beautiful women are not the focus of the story. It is really about young men looking for a sense of direction in postwar Italy. (The slang word in the title has been variously translated as "idlers," "vagabonds" or simply "guys.")

"Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" (1953)

A group of international beauty queens play the Amazons of outer space. They're beautiful, they're brave and they're infatuated with Lou Costello. Well, this is science fiction. 

"Yankee Pasha" (1954)

Miss Universe and her court play the women on sale at the sultan's slave market. Jeff Chandler, in the title role, pays them a few half-hearted compliments and continues his search for slave girl Rhonda Fleming. One-track mind. The brief scene is no great shakes, but the movie itself is more entertaining than most of the costume epics that beauty queens found themselves in during that era.

"I Married a Woman" (1956)

Comedy about an advertising executive who marries a beauty queen he helped make famous.

"Wicked As They Come" (1956)

Pageant competition helps a not-so-respectable girl rise to greater heights. Also titled "Portrait in Smoke.'

"Four Girls in Town" (1957)

The "town" is Hollywood, and the "girls" are actresses who come from various corners of the globe to compete for the same starring role. Interesting movie shows how much show business resembles the pageant world.

"Missile to the Moon" (1959)

A group of international beauty queens play lunar lovelies who have a rocky relationship with earthmen. Like the moon itself, this has more scenery than atmosphere. It's a remake of "Cat Women of the Moon" (1953), in which the beauties were played by "Hollywood cover girls." 

 1960


"The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963)

Offbeat comedy about a father-son relationship has Stella Stevens playing a gorgeous but underappreciated Montana beauty queen.

"The Girls on the Beach" (1964)

Also called "Summer of '64," this beach picture includes lots of Top 40 music of the era. 

It also contains an appearance by "Miss Teen USA," whose title is unrelated to the current Miss Teen USA system.

"The Beauty Jungle" (1965)

Also called "Contest Girl." 

British-made drama with a negative view of the pageant business.

Bathing beauty

"How to Murder Your Wife" (1965)

Dated comedy about an American cartoonist who marries an Italian beauty queen, then fantasizes about getting rid of her.

"Every Girl's Dream" (1966)

Black-and-white short is about a tour of the MGM studios by Nancy Bernard, the 1966 Maid of Cotton. It's used partly as a promotion for the Doris Day comedy "The Glass Bottom Boat," which was then in production. Despite being made in the late 1960s, this little oddity has the feel of something from the 1940s, very starry-eyed and sanitized in its view of Hollywood.

"How to Seduce a Playboy" (1966)

A shy man is chosen "Playboy of the Year" due to a mix-up, complicating his life and drawing the suspicion of reporters. The original title of this European production is "Bel Ami 2000 - Oder Wie Verfuehrt Man Einen Playboy."

"The Queen" (1968)

Documentary, still very controversial, that touches on a gay-oriented pageant. 

 

"McCloud: Who Killed Miss U.S.A.?" (1969)

A cowboy lawman on assignment in New York City has to solve the murder of a beauty queen. This was the pilot for the long-running "McCloud" TV series.

 

 1970

"The Great American Beauty Contest" (1973)

Made-for-TV comedy drama contains every imaginable stereotype about pageants. It may offend some, and it's not very believable, but it's fun in its way.

A young Farrah Fawcett plays a contestant.

"Carry on Girls" (1973)

One of the bawdy "Carry On" comedies that played in Britain in the 1960s and '70s, this is about a seaside swimsuit contest that runs into trouble with feminists, among others. You will find its humor either tasteless or unpretentiously lowbrow.

"Smile" (1975)

An acclaimed satire on middle-class American life that uses a pageant as its focus. 

It's very funny, which excuses a lot.

"Carrie" (1976)

Classic horror film in which a prom queen competition plays a large part.

"Miss Nude America" (1976)

Surprisingly good documentary about an annual nude pageant in a rural area. It's definitely not the kind of movie you would expect from the title, but it does have strong sexual content.

"Old Dracula" (1976)

Supernatural comedy that critics didn't find very funny. The vampire count holds a beauty contest in his castle. 

David Niven stars.

"The Night They Took Miss Beautiful" (1977)

American cheesecake with a campy flavor. Terrorists kidnap five pageant finalists. 

Gary Collins, husband of a former Miss America, plays the hero. Made for TV. 

"I Wanna Be a Beauty Queen" (1979)

Semi-documentary of an "Alternative Miss World" contest hosted by transvestive film star Divine.

 1980

"Prom Night" (1980)

First of several slasher films featuring a prom queen. Not for children or people with refined tastes.

"Elvis and the Beauty Queen" (1981)

The story of Elvis's last great love. Don Johnson plays Elvis.

"Miss All-American Beauty" (1983)

A fairly weak made-for-TV satire on the pageant business. 

Oscar-winning actress Cloris Leachman, a one-time Miss America contestant, has a major role.

"Spring Break" (1983)

Teenage-oriented tale of college students on a mass holiday. A bikini pageant and some raunchier beauty contests figure in the plot.

"Miss . . . or Myth" (1985)

Documentary about a pageant and an "anti-pageant" in California.

 

Movie lines

"Pumping Iron II: The Women" (1985)

Documentary about a female bodybuilding competition. It's a sort of sequel to "Pumping Iron" (1977), which helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger toward Hollywood success and foreshadowed a blurring of the line between pageantry and athletics.

"Stripper" (1986) "Semi-documentary"

Revolves around a Las Vegas contest to find the world's best striptease artist. For adults only, but it won some critical praise.

"Mr. Universe" (1988)

Hungarian documentary touches partly on the life of Mickey Hargitay, a native of Hungary who became Mr. Universe.

Hargitay is best-known as the longtime husband of the late actress Jayne Mansfield, who was herself a veteran of many pageants.

"Dangerous Curves" (1988)

Teen comedy focuses on a stolen sports car and a beauty contest held on a beach.

"Everybody's All-American" (1988)

Colorful, well-acted film follows a football star and a beauty queen through 25 tumultuous years of marriage. Based on a novel by sportswriter Frank Deford, who also wrote an acclaimed book about the Miss America Pageant. Deford has a cameo role.

"Swimsuit" (1989)

A California swimwear company launches a "talent search" to find the best-looking men and women on the beach. Made for TV. 

Star Catherine Oxenberg is not pageant royalty but genuine European royalty, related to several monarchs.

"Miss Moscow" (1989)

Made-for-TV documentary about the arrival of pageants in Russia as communism was collapsing. Treats its subject with sympathy and intelligence.

"Miss Firecracker" (1989)

A charming story about a Mississippi contest. Holly Hunter is excellent in the lead role. One complaint: this movie perpetuates the stereotype that pageants are only taken seriously in eccentric corners of the Southeastern United States. 

"Roger and Me" (1989)

Michael Moore's famous satirical documentary includes a poke at a Miss America contestant.

 1990

"The Freshman" (1991)

Satire on gangster movies contains a few offbeat digs at the Miss America Pageant.

"Last Dance" (1991)

Murder movie set around a strippers' competition called Miss DTV (Dance TV). For adults, or at least not for children.

"Paris Is Burning" (1991)

Critically acclaimed documentary follows the lives of Harlem drag queens who organize their own pageants. Not to be confused with the war picture "Is Paris Burning?"

"Nightmare in Columbia County" (1991)

Made-for-TV movie about a deranged killer in South Carolina who targets the family of a pageant winner. This film was based on a real, genuinely horrifying crime, and though it is dramatically well done, it is not for children.

"The Naked Truth" (1992)

Comedy about two men who flee mobsters and disguise themselves as female makeup artists in the pageant business. Critics found it a poor imitation of "Some Like It Hot," but many familiar Hollywood faces make minor appearances in the film.

"Miss America: Behind the Crown" (1992)

Carolyn Sapp, who was Miss America at the time, plays herself. It's the story of her relationship with an abusive boyfriend.

"Miracle Beach" (1992)  
Alternate title: "I Dream of Genie"

A beach bum meets a woman with magical powers, and part of the "fun" is a completely unbelievable international pageant. "Miss Iraq" and "Miss Kuwait" are bickering blondes. But it does feature cameo appearances by Hawaiian Tropic founder Ron Rice and some Hawaiian Tropic winners.

"Round Trip to Heaven" (1992)

A teen-oriented sex comedy about girl-crazy young men and inept gangsters who are drawn to an international pageant. There's a fair amount of nudity and bad taste, but ultimately it's a simple boy-meets-girl tale.

"The Raffle" (1994)

Three friends stage a model search to find the "most beautiful woman in the world." Then they hold a raffle for men who want to date the winner. Sentimental comedy focuses on the uncertainties of life as a show business promoter.

"Bare Exposure" (1994)

Young people stage a wet T-shirt contest to make money. Low-budget "exploitation" film.

"Wild Malibu Weekend!" (1994)

Sexually oriented comedy about a televised bikini pageant that is staged in the form of a TV game show. This one is funnier than most such films of its kind.

"Beauty's Revenge" (1995)

Grim story of a pageant winner who killed another woman in a dispute over a man. Loosely based on a true story, which of course was anything but typical. Made for TV. Also known as "Midwest Obsession."

"No Contest" (1995)

Gory thriller about a pageant hostess who battles terrorists. Surprisingly for a movie of this type, there is no nudity and little sexual innuendo.

"To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (1995)

Drag queens on their way to compete in an offbeat pageant find themselves stranded in a remote town. Big-budget comedy that would once have been considered provocative caused little stir upon release.

"Miss India Georgia" (1997)

Well-done documentary about an ethnic pageant examines the modern immigrant experience in America. The focus on Georgia is particularly interesting, because the South for a long time had many pageants and very few immigrants. It's hard to say which seems more jarring: Southern beauty queens wearing saris or Indian beauty queens with Southern accents.

"Bikini Summer 3: South Beach Heat" (1997)

Contestants scheme to win the "Miss Mermaid" bikini contest. Thinly plotted exploitation film with considerable nudity.

"Crowned and Dangerous" (1997)

Tongue-in-cheek tale of mayhem in the pageant business, with some slyly realistic touches. Debuted on ABC-TV, which made a point of advertising it during the Miss America Pageant.

"Swimsuit: The Movie" (1997)

A chemical company decides to publish a swimsuit catalog, and various models audition to be on the cover. Weak attempt at Hollywood satire.

"Behind the Scenes at Miss USA" (1998)

Documentary follows Miss California USA through the national pageant. Made by the E! Entertainment Network.

"Behind the Scenes at Miss Universe" (1998)

Documentary follows Miss USA through the Miss Universe Pageant. Made by the E! Entertainment Network.

"The Secret World of Beauty Pageants" (1998)

Documentary is extremely favorable to the pageant industry, especially the Miss Universe system, which cooperated extensively with it. There is more historical context than in most such films.

"Behind the Scenes at Miss World" (1998)

Documentary, in the style of two earlier films made by E! Entertainment Television, following Miss World USA as she competes in the Miss World Pageant.

"The Murder of Miss Hollywood" (1999)

"The Murder of Miss Hollywood" (1999) Documentary about a model who was a claimant to a "Miss Hollywood" title (not the Miss America preliminary), then descended into drug abuse and street prostitution and eventually was murdered. An episode of the "E! True Hollywood Story."

"Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999)

Violent, cartoonish spoof of teenage pageants. Critic Pamela Lamont called it "pre-feminist" in its attitude toward women. The script was written by a former runner-up at America's Junior Miss.

"Happy, Texas" (1999)

Escaped convicts flee to a small town, where they are mistaken for pageant directors and have to live the part. Low-key comedy was popular with critics.

"Behind the Scenes at Miss Teen USA" (1999)

Part of the E! series of soft documentaries on major televised pageants.

 2000 and more

"Beautiful" (2000)

A satire about a young pageant contender and her mother. This was the first theatrical film directed by Oscar-winning actress Sally Field.

"Miss Congeniality" (2000)

Comic thriller about a government agent on assignment as a beauty contestant. Sandra Bullock stars.

"The Stalking of Laurie Show" (2000)

Made-for-TV movie, based on an actual case, about the murder of a prom queen.

"Main Hoon Beauty Queen" (2001)

A Hindi-language Bollywood production.

"Miss America: A Documentary Film" (2002)

A PBS presentation directed and co-produced by the critically acclaimed Lisa Ades. For a review, click here.

"Secrets of Miss USA" (2003)

Not as provocative as its title. Light, officially approved documentary about the 2003 Miss USA Pageant. The show focuses on three contestants, including Susie Castillo of Massachusetts, the eventual winner.

"E! True Hollywood Story: Beauty Pageants" (2005)

Surprisingly punchless and phony documentary, told mostly by members of the pageant establishment. A few former queens speak honestly, but coaches and members of the industry-approved pageant media are laughably shallow in their comments. The whole thing has the look of a bad trade film.

"Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" (2005)

Apparently the first sequel ever to a pageant feature movie. Continues the adventures of Gracie Hart, the sexy FBI agent and reluctant beauty queen.

"Muskrat Lovely" (2005)

Amy Nicholson's gentle, colorful documentary about rural Maryland's "Miss Outdoors" contest, which is a companion  event to a muskrat-skinning competition. Full of heart and highly recommended.

"The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania" (2005)

Actress Sara Rush returns to her hometown of Carmichaels, Pa., and introduces the contestants of the 50th anniversary Coal Queen Pageant in August 2003. Thoughtful
documentary.

"Little Miss Sunshine" (2006)

Critically praised dark comedy about a child beauty contestant's family members, who travel to competitions with her. Focuses more on family dysfunction than pageants as
such.

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