A Cinderella Story is a 2004 American romantic comedy film directed by Mark Rosman, written by Leigh Dunlap and stars Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge and Regina King. A modernization of the classic Cinderella folklore, the film's plot revolves around two Internet pen pals who plan to meet in person at their high school's Halloween dance.
The film was released on July 16, 2004. While it received negative reviews from critics, the film was a box office success, grossing $70 million against its $19 million budget, and inspired four straight-to-video sequels. Over the years, it has developed into a cult classic.
Once upon a time, Samantha "Sam" Montgomery lives in the modern day San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, with her widowed father Hal, who runs a popular sports-themed diner. The father and daughter were best families and play baseball. Feeling Sam needs a mother, Hal soon marries a woman named Fiona, who has socially-awkward fraternal twin daughters, Brianna and Gabriella. However, Hal was oblivious that Fiona is a vain gold digger. Hal's dream is to have Sam go to Princeton University when she is older if she wants to. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Hal is killed when he runs to save Fiona. Having supposedly left no will, Fiona receives all of his belongings, including the house, the diner, and to her dismay, Sam.
Eight years later, Sam is employed as a waitress at the diner to save money to attend Princeton, but she is regularly tormented by her step-family, who frequently treats her as if they were noble, despite being regarded as obnoxious. Even worse, Fiona, in her vanity, uses the inheritance to live as if they were insanely rich, including spending on minor facial surgeries, and refuses to conserve water during the ongoing drought. She has also converted Hal's diner into something befitting of her own image, demanding that salmon be served in every menu. Sam struggles to cope at North Valley High School with her best friend Carter Farrell, where queen bee cheerleader Shelby Cummings bullies Sam and calls her "Diner Girl," along with other members of a popular clique.
Sam confides anonymously in her online pen pal Nomad about her dream to attend Princeton, a dream which he also shares. Nomad's true identity is Austin Ames, the popular, yet unhappy, quarterback of the school's football team and Shelby's ex-boyfriend; although she refuses to accept that he has broken up with her. He is disappointed because his father planned for him to go to the University of Southern California with a football scholarship rather than going to Princeton. Nomad proposes that they meet in person at the school's Halloween-themed homecoming dance. On the night of the dance, Fiona orders Sam to work the night shift at the diner, then leaves to drive Brianna and Gabriella to the dance. Initially reluctant, Carter tries to convince Sam go to the dance and meet her mysterious online friend.
Rhonda, the diner's head waitress and the rest of the diner staff who has looked after Sam, also convince her to disobey Fiona and go to the dance anyway. Sam, wearing a mask and Rhonda's old wedding dress, meets Nomad at the dance, and is surprised to learn that he is Austin, who had become smitten with her upon her entrance. The two decide to leave the party to walk alone and get to know each other a little better. Carter attempts to grab Shelby's affections as he always does. While sharing a romantic dance, Sam and Austin begin to fall in love. But just as Austin is about to unmask her, Sam's cell phone alarm goes off, warning her to return to the diner before Fiona at midnight. She leaves without revealing her identity to Austin, and drops her phone on the way out.
Austin picks up her phone and begins a desperate search to figure out who his "Cinderella" really is. Sam is hesitant to reveal her identity to Austin, feeling that he will not accept her due to their different social circles. Sam's stepsisters end up discovering Sam and Austin's email relationship, and, after failing to convince Austin that one of them is the owner of the phone, influence Shelby that Sam tried to steal Austin from her. During a pep rally, they and the other cheerleaders humiliate Sam in front of the entire school and expose her identity. Austin hurt by Sam's secrecy is unable to step up to defend her, and Sam leaves the pep rally in tears.
Like Austin, Sam is revealed to have been accepted to Princeton, only to be duped by Fiona into believing that she was disapprove by having a fake rejection letter made in order to keep Sam working at the diner and as her slave. Sam resigns herself to a lifetime of working at the diner, but Rhonda gives Sam a pep talk on not losing hope. When the stepsisters come into the diner, they slam the door, causing a guitar clock to fall off the wall, tearing the wallpaper down with it, and quickly blame it on Sam. However, the torn section unveils an inspirational quote Hal often said, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (in real life this quote came from Babe Ruth) and fills Sam with hope. Fed up with Fiona's emotional abuse, Sam quits her job at the diner and moves in with Rhonda, who also quits along with the entire diner staff, having put up with Fiona for so many years after Hal's death only for Sam's sake. The customers, who witness the entire scene, promptly leave in disgust as well.
At the school's homecoming football game, Sam opposes Austin about his cowardice as well as for his seeming hesitance to show his true self. Before the final play of the game, he sees Sam making her way out of the stands, and finally stands up to his father, saying he wants to attend Princeton rather than simply play football all his life. He chases after Sam and makes amends. She accepts his apology, and they share their first kiss as rain falls over the drought-plagued valley; at the same time, the North Valley High Fighting Frogs win the football game. Soon after while finishing packing when moving in with Rhonda, Sam finds Hal's will hidden in her childhood fairy-tale book, stating that all of his money and possessions actually belong to her. Since this leaves her as the rightful and legal owner, Sam sells her step-family's fancy cars so that she can pay for college, while Fiona, who claims to have never seen the will before despite the fact she clearly signed it as a witness, is under arrest by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and LAPD for financial fraud and violating California's child labor laws for all the times she made Sam work long hours at the diner.
Sam also finds that she was in fact accepted to Princeton; the acceptance letter is retrieved from the garbage by her stepsisters, who knew where Fiona had "filed" it. The stepfamily are made by the District Attorney to work off the money they stole from Sam at the diner, which is restored to its former glory by its new owners, Sam, and Rhonda who is made the new general manager. Also, Austin's father comes to accept his son's decision to attend Princeton. Things even work out in the end for Carter as he makes a commercial for a new acne medication. Shelby, who previously rejected Carter for being an outcast even after he was a proper gentleman to her at the Halloween dance, aims to pursue him now that he is popular, but after finally seeing her true colors at the pep rally he turns her down for Astrid, the high school's goth DJ and announcer. The film ends with Sam and Austin, now officially a couple, driving off to Princeton together after Sam gets her phone back from Austin. They live happily ever after… at least for now since they're just starting freshman year.
- Hilary Duff as Samantha "Sam" Montgomery
- Hannah Robinson as young Sam
- Chad Michael Murray as Austin "Nomad" Ames
- Jennifer Coolidge as Fiona
- Regina King as Rhonda
- Madeline Zima as Brianna
- Carlie Wasserman as young Brianna
- Andrea Avery as Gabriella
- Lilli Babb as young Gabriella
- Dan Byrd as Carter Farrell
- Julie Gonzalo as Shelby Cummings
- Lin Shaye as Mrs. Wells
- Mary Pat Gleason as Eleanor
- Paul Rodriguez as Bobby
- Kevin Kilner as Andy Ames
- Whip Hubley as Harold "Hal" Montgomery
- Brad Bufanda as David
- Simon Helberg as Terry
- J.D. Pardo as Ryan
- Erica Hubbard as Madison
- Kady Cole as Caitlyn
- Aimee Lynn Chadwick as Astrid
- James Eckhouse as Mr. Farrell
- Jonathan Slavin as Vernon
- John Billingsley as Mr. Rothman
- Art LaFleur as Football Coach
A Cinderella Story received generally negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 11%, based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 3.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An uninspired, generic updating of the classic fairy tale." On Metacritic, the film has a score on 25 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Roger Ebert called A Cinderella Story "a lame, stupid movie".
The film was nominated for five Teen Choice Awards at the 2005 ceremony, winning the award for Choice Movie Blush Scene, the same year Duff won the Kids Choice Awards for Favorite Movie Actress. In 2005, Duff also received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress nomination.
In its opening weekend, the film grossed $13,623,350 in 2,625 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #4 at the box office, behind I, Robot, Spider-Man 2 and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. By the end of its run, A Cinderella Story grossed $51,438,175 domestically and $18,629,734 internationally, totaling $70,067,909 worldwide.
A Cinderella Story: Original Soundtrack
The film was followed by four direct-to-video sequels, Another Cinderella Story (2008), A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011), A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (2016) and A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (2019). The sequels using the themes and situations but not containing any characters from the first film. Unlike the first film, the sequels also include a musical and dance themes.