How the Spice Girls Defied Their Critics: Celebrating Spice World's Empowering Message 20 Years Later

Co-star Naoko Mori knew they didn't have a "triple Oscar winner" on their hands, but it was a "fun celebration of the girls and girl power, and friendship"

By Rebecca Macatee Jan 23, 2018 2:00 PMTags

It's easier to make two become one than it is to believe that Spice World came out 20 years ago today.

After its U.K. release, the United States had to wait almost a month for the Spice Girls' movie to zigazig its way into theaters on this side of the pond, but it was so worth it. Because while critics might not have loved Spice World, the fans did—and the girls had a blast making the trippy comedy. 

"It was a really great, happy experience," Spice World producer Barnaby Thompson tells E! News exclusively. "They were very close—they were a real gang," he says of Victoria Beckham, Melanie "Mel C" Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Melanie "Mel B" Brown

"They were a force of nature, too," adds Thompson. "And when they were in the room, they were always the boss."

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That's not to say, though, that Posh, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Scary wouldn't take direction on set. "I never once saw any of them do anything that was remotely diva-like," says Thompson. "They were the hardest working, most professional people I think I've ever worked with. They were always on time—always charming, always had learned their lines, and they were always good sports."

Spice World was filmed over the course of just seven extremely busy weeks. When the ladies weren't shooting, they were in a mobile studio recording their sophomore album Spiceworld. And of course, the Spice Girls also made time to help create the quintessentially '90s fashions they rocked onscreen.

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Kate Carin, the costume director for Spice World, had a "very full-on" introduction to the group when she first met them at the Gore Hotel in London. "[We] went through ideas and inspirations and looked at mood boards," Carin tells E! News exclusively. "Their basic individual style had already been set in place as each girl had an established character and palette, [and] I discussed with them that I would expand upon that and worked closely with each one of them to bring new ideas to the show."

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Victoria, who has since become a respected fashion designer herself, "had a very distinct style" even then, says Carin. "She was always very involved with what looks we were working on and had a big input."

Victoria Beckham's Best Looks

Posh "was an absolute pleasure" to work with, Carin adds. "More than anything, though, she has an absolutely superb sense of humor and would make us all roar with her one-liners."

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All of the Spice Girls were willing to have a bit of a laugh at their own expense, and audiences loved it. Thompson, the film's producer, says he thinks "that people were surprised that the girls were so ready to make fun of themselves."

"You know, the film is almost a satire on their lives," he adds. "We never set out to make a serious film..."

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But Spice World did get some seriously bad reviews. The late Roger Ebert gave it just a half-star, writing that the Spice Girls "have no personalities" and "could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts." 

He didn't know it yet, but America would eventually run on Dunkin'.

Reviewer Claudia Puig, meanwhile, called it "a mindless hyperactive romp about a quintet of British songbirds with flippy hair, flirty costumes, monster shoes and minute talent."

Spice World has a score of just 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but as Thompson tells E! News, it actually "got much better reviews than we were expecting." 

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"Because, you know, when you expect the worst, then you can be delighted when people [do like it]," he says with a laugh. Spice World was a hit at the box office, though: It took in $10.5 million its opening weekend in the U.S. and ended up grossing over $100 million at the box office worldwide. In late 2017, Spice World returned to select theaters in the U.K. to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its premiere.

"I think the response was so overwhelming to the film, that even if the critics didn't like it, they had to acknowledge the fact that the fans really did," Thompson says.

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Spice World was meant to be for the fans, anyway. Actress Naoko Mori, who plays the Spice Girls' pregnant best friend in the movie, had no issue with this. "I mean, we always knew—and I say this with all my love—[that] it was never going to be like a triple Oscar winner," she tells E! News exclusively. "It was going to be a fun celebration of the girls and girl power and friendship."

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"We knew it was going to be a parody and an homage to certain genres and other movies," adds Mori. "It was supposed to be kind of fun and over the top!"

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Silliness aside, though, Spice World did stand for something. "You know, a lot of people sort of pan the movie, of course," Mori says. "[But] it's got a great message...I love the 'girl power' theme, and it was empowering, I think, for so many girls at the time."

Thompson says the Spice Girls "were really about friendship and the strength of those friendships, and boys were secondary to all that...[The Spice Girls] were the raw essence of girl power."

But audiences weren't the only ones who appreciated what the group was trying to do. Half of Britain wanted to be in it.

Snapped on Set: Movies

"At the time, basically, the phone never stopped ringing with people offering to be in [the movie] in the smallest cameos," says Thompson. "In almost every scene there's some cameo by someone who either they were desperate or their children were desperate for them to be in the Spice Girls movie."

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Meat Loaf plays the girls' bus driver, Richard E. Grant plays their manager and Alan Cumming plays a filmmaker who's obsessed with the group.

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Claire Rushbrook, Barry Humphries, George Wendt, Roger Moore (James Bond!) and Mark McKinney have supporting roles, while Richard O'Brien, Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Stephen Fry and Elvis Costello have bit parts. Bob Geldof, Jonathon Ross, Bob Hoskins and even Elton John have brief cameos as well, making for a world-class ensemble of pop culture heavyweights. 

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Spice World also could double as promotion for London's tourism board. As the Spice Girls whiz past Buckingham Palace aboard the Spice Bus, they shout hello to Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Charles—or "Charlie." There's some additional British humor that Americans might not necessarily pick up on, but this didn't deter audiences outside the U.K.

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"For us, making such a British film—for it to be so well received in America was amazing," says Thompson. "I'd made a film before in America called Wayne's World...and it was [also] a big hit in England, but it was very clear there were lots of references in the film...that English audiences didn't get, but I think they felt like they should, so they went along with it. I think in reverse, Spice World was similar—there were lots of very English things which the American audience just went along with...and I think in a way, that played to our advantage."

It also helps that the Spice Girls were an international phenomenon, and "girl power" sounds great with any accent. So, since the Spice Girls know that their fans would always welcome a musical reunion, let it also be known that they wouldn't mind a sequel, either.