Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is a 2001 American comedy film based on Amanda Brown's novel of the same name. It was directed by Robert Luketic, scripted by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, and stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, and Jennifer Coolidge. The film tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a Juris Doctor degree. The title is a pun on the term "legally blind".

Legally Blonde
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Luketic
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onLegally Blonde
by Amanda Brown
Music byRolfe Kent
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Edited byAnita Brandt-Burgoyne
Distributed byMGM Distribution Co.
Release date
  • July 13, 2001 (2001-07-13)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$141.8 million[2]

The film was released on July 13, 2001, and received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics' consensus states "though the material is predictable and formulaic, Reese Witherspoon's funny, nuanced performance makes this movie better than it would have been otherwise".[3] It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy[4] and ranked 29th on Bravo's 2007 list of "100 Funniest Movies".[5] Witherspoon received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and the 2002 MTV Movie Award for Best Female Performance.

The box office success led to a 2003 sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, and a 2009 direct-to-DVD spin-off, Legally Blondes. Additionally, Legally Blonde: The Musical premiered on January 23, 2007, in San Francisco and opened in New York City at the Palace Theatre on Broadway on April 29, 2007, starring Laura Bell Bundy.

As of June 2018, Witherspoon has been in discussions with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to produce a third installment in the Legally Blonde film series. In addition to reprising her role as Elle Woods, Witherspoon is bringing back both Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith to pen the film's script.[6] MGM later confirmed in a Twitter post that Legally Blonde 3 is set to be released on May 8, 2020.


Fashion merchandising student and sorority girl Elle Woods is taken to an expensive restaurant by her boyfriend, the governor's son, Warner Huntington III. She expects Warner to propose, but he breaks up with her instead. He intends to go to Harvard Law School and become a successful politician, and believes that Elle is not "serious" enough for that kind of life. Elle believes she can win Warner back if she shows herself capable of achieving the same things. After months of studying, Elle scores a 179 on the Law School Admission Test and, combined with her 4.0 GPA, is accepted to Harvard Law.

Upon arriving at Harvard, Elle's SoCal personality is a complete contrast to her East Coast classmates, who refuse to take her seriously. Elle soon encounters Warner, but discovers he is engaged to another classmate, his old girlfriend Vivian Kensington. The snobby Vivian sees Elle as a fool and constantly treats her as such. Later, Elle tells Warner that she intends to apply for one of her professor's internships, but Warner tells her that she is wasting her time because she simply isn't smart enough. It is here when Elle realizes that Warner will never take her back or take her seriously, and finds motivation to prove herself by working hard and demonstrating her understanding of the subject.

The following semester, professor Callahan, the school's most respected teacher, decides to take on some first-year interns to help with a high-profile case. Among those chosen are Elle, Warner, and Vivian. Callahan is defending a prominent fitness instructor named Brooke Windham, who is one of Elle's role models. Accused of murdering her husband, Brooke is unwilling to produce an alibi (she later reveals to Elle that she was having liposuction, which Elle promises not to disclose). Vivian earns a new respect for Elle, and even reveals that Warner couldn't get into Harvard without his father's help. Emmett Richmond, Callahan's junior partner, has also taken notice of Elle's potential. One night, Callahan attempts to seduce Elle, who now believes that is the reason why she got the internship. Devastated, she quits and nearly returns home to California, telling Emmett what happened. When Emmett explains how Callahan's behavior caused Elle to quit her internship, Brooke fires Callahan and replaces him with Elle (under the guidance of Emmett, as she is only a law student). Elle begins to cross-examine Brooke's step-daughter Chutney, and notices important inconsistencies in her story. Chutney, who testifies that she was home during her father's murder, but did not hear the gunshot because she was in the shower after getting her hair permed that morning. Elle says that washing permed hair within the first 24 hours would deactivate the ammonium thioglycolate, and Chutney's curls are still intact. With her story falling apart, Chutney confesses that she had killed her father by accident, but she actually intended to kill Brooke, because she hated the fact that her father married someone who was the same age as her.

After the trial, Warner approaches Elle and asks her to take him back, since she has proven herself. Elle rejects him, realizing that he is shallow and a "complete bonehead". She and Vivian, however, become good friends – especially after she dumps Warner. Two years later, Elle gives the graduation speech. Emmett has started his own law firm and has been dating Elle for two years, with plans to propose to her later that night.



The film is based upon the book of the same name by Amanda Brown, who built the story upon her real life experiences as a blonde attending Stanford Law School, while being obsessed with fashion and beauty, reading Elle magazine, and frequently clashing with the personalities of her fellow peers.[7]

Brown said that when she first arrived to Stanford Law, she discovered she had made a big mistake. "I was in my first week of law school, in 1993, and I saw this flyer for "The Women of Stanford Law," so I was like, "I'll go and meet some nice girls. Whatever."[7]

I went to the meeting, and these were not women. These were really angry people. The woman who was leading it spent three years at Stanford trying to change the name "semester" to "ovester." I started laughing and I realized everyone in the room took it very seriously. So I didn't make any friends there.

Brown wrote letters to her parents about these experiences, which she adapted into a manuscript and sent to an agent, who was initially drawn to it because it was the only manuscript written on pink paper.[7]

Producer Marc Platt was intrigued by the character of Elle Woods when an unpublished novel manuscript was delivered to him.[8] "What I loved about this story is that it's hilarious, it's sexy and, at the same time, it's empowering," says Platt. "The world looks at Elle and sees someone who is blonde and beautiful but nothing more. Elle, on the other hand, doesn't judge herself or anybody else. She thinks the world's great, she's great, everyone's great and nothing can change that. She's truly an irrepressible modern heroine."[8]

Screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith spent two days on Stanford's campus in the spring of 2000 doing research for their screenplay based on Brown's novel.[9]

Both the University of Southern California and Stanford refused to allow the producers to use their college names in the film.[10] "[The producers of the film] asked if they could set the film at USC, but the images of her as an undergraduate and being in a sorority ... we felt there was too much stereotyping going on," says Elijah May, campus filming coordinator at USC. The production settled on having Elle go to a fictional college called CULA.[10]

Although the film is primarily set at Harvard University, campus scenes were filmed at USC,[11] University of California, Los Angeles,[12] California Institute of Technology, and Rose City High School in Pasadena, California. The graduation scene was filmed at Dulwich College in London, England, since Witherspoon was in that city filming The Importance of Being Earnest. Harvard University appears in the film briefly in certain aerial shots.

Witherspoon researched the character by studying sorority girls on their campuses and associated hot spots. She went to dinner with them and joked she was conducting an "anthropological study."[13]

"I could have gone into this and been really ditsy and played what I would have thought this character was, and I would have missed a whole other side of her," Witherspoon added.[14] "But by going down to Beverly Hills, hanging out in Neiman Marcus, eating in their cafe and seeing how these women walk and speak, I got into the reality of the character. I saw how polite these women are, and I saw how much they value their female friendships and how important it is to support each other."[14]

You see so many beautiful people in this world, especially in the world that I live in and a lot of your first instincts is to discount women who put a lot of effort into their looks as maybe not serious about their job or maybe not serious about their relationships ... I think everyone naturally jumps to those conclusions ... I was interested in exploring the difference between [the way] someone looks and how people perceive them and how they really are.

I'm not necessarily perky and bubbly all the time, so it's been a lot of effort to stay up and the amount of care and energy she puts into a lot things has really been a challenge for me and trying to convey that lightness all the time is hard work.[15]

The film's costume designer Sophie De Rakoff bonded with Witherspoon over Dolly Parton.[16] De Rakoff said that Elle's iconic pink suit in the film "was all organic and intuitive. I designed costumes for Elle Woods that moved the story forward and fitted the moment. Reese and I actually went to visit a sorority house in the early prep, and it was just obvious that pink should be her signature color."[16]

The "bend and snap" scene

The "bend and snap" scene — where Elle explains to Paulette how to get her crush's attention — almost didn't make it into the movie.[17] "[Producer] Marc [Platt] wanted a B plot for Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge)," co-writer Karen McCullah told Entertainment Weekly. "At first we were like, 'Should the store be robbed?'" Co-writer Kirsten Smith observed, "I think we spent a week or two trying to figure out what the B plot and this big set piece should be. There were crime plots. We were pitching scene after scene and it all felt very tonally weird."[17]

Later, while brainstorming at a bar in Los Angeles, McCullah came up with a solution: "What if Elle shows [Paulette] a move so she can get the UPS guy?" In the spur of the moment, Smith invented a move, standing up and demonstrating what would become the bend and snap. Smith explains, "It was a spontaneous invention. It was a completely drunken moment in a bar." Director Robert Luketic later adapted the "bend and snap" move into a dance number for the film.

"... It was a fully choreographed number by Toni Basil, and she was awesome," Witherspoon recalls. "She did the whole dance."[18]

"I remember just reading it and thinking it was the most hysterical thing ever," she added. "That is still the most asked request I get from people. Even this past year, when I have been giving speeches or talking about whatever, they always ask me, 'Will you do the bend and snap?' I have a feeling I will be doing the bend and snap until I am 95."


Legally Blonde was released on July 13, 2001 in North America. Its opening weekend gross of $20 million[2] made it a sleeper hit for the struggling MGM studio, and it went on to gross $96.5 million in North America and $45.2 million elsewhere, for a worldwide total of $141.7 million.[2] The film was released in the United Kingdom on October 26, 2001, and opened on #2, behind American Pie 2.[19]

The film was a critical success. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives Legally Blonde a 69% approval rating based on 143 reviews, with an average rating of 6.23/10. The consensus reads, "Though the material is predictable and formulaic, Reese Witherspoon's funny, nuanced performance makes this movie better than it would have been otherwise."[20] Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 59, based on 31 reviews.[21] Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, saying "Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit."[22]

At the 2001 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, the film was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy. The same year, Witherspoon was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy.[23]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


A soundtrack album was released in 2001 on A&M Records, including the songs:


In February 2007, a musical adaptation premiered on Broadway to mixed reviews, starring Laura Bell Bundy as Elle, Christian Borle as Emmett, Orfeh as Paulette, Nikki Snelson as Brooke, Richard H. Blake as Warner, Kate Shindle as Vivienne, and Michael Rupert as Callahan. Other cast members included Andy Karl, Leslie Kritzer, Annaleigh Ashford, DeQuina Moore, and Natalie Joy Johnson. The show, Bundy, Borle, and Orfeh were all nominated for Tony Awards. Later, the Broadway show was the focus of an MTV reality-TV series called Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods, in which the winner would take over the role of Elle on Broadway. Bailey Hanks from Anderson, South Carolina, won the competition.

Legally Blonde had a successful run at the Savoy Theatre in London's West End, starring Sheridan Smith, Susan McFadden, and Carley Stenson as Elle, and Duncan James, Richard Fleeshman, Simon Thomas, and Ben Freeman as Warner. During the three-year run, the cast also included Alex Gaumond, Denise Van Outen, and Lee Mead.

See also


  1. "Legally Blonde (12)". British Board of Film Classification. August 6, 2001. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  2. "Legally Blonde (2001)". Box Office Mojo. November 18, 2001. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  3. "Legally Blonde". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  4. Jamie Allen / CNN (2001). " - Globes: 'Beautiful,' 'Moulin' golden - December 20, 2001". Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  5. "BRAVO 100 Funniest Movies". The Film Spectrum. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  6. McNary, Dave (June 4, 2018). "Reese Witherspoon in Talks to Return for 'Legally Blonde 3'". Variety. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  7. "Blonde Ambition / Author Amanda Brown marvels at the industry surrounding 'Legally Blonde'". San Francisco Chronicle. July 13, 2003. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  8. "Film Review: Legally Blonde". The Westmorland Gazette. November 8, 2001. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  9. "Blonde Ambition". Stanford Alumni. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  10. Matsumoto, Jon (July 22, 2001). "You'll Need a Permission Slip for That". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  11. "USC Campus Filming: USC in Film". Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved November 24, 2007.
  12. "Search - UCLA Undergraduate Admission". Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  13. "Reese Witherspoon chats about Legally Blonde". Entertainment Weekly. July 26, 2001. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  14. "Reese Witherspoon is the opposite of the ditsy blond". Chicago Tribune. July 10, 2001. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  15. Legally Blonde: Reese Witherspoon Interview. ScreenSlam. 2015. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  16. "Costume Designer Sophie de Rakoff on Reese Witherspoon". Elle. February 14, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  17. "Legally Blonde writers explain how the bend and snap was created". Entertainment Weekly. April 2, 2018. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  18. Macke, Johnni (July 13, 2016). "Reese Witherspoon Does the Bend and Snap in Honor of". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  19. "Weekend box office 26th October 2001 - 28th October 2001". Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  20. "Legally Blonde (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 3, 2019.
  21. "Legally Blonde Reviews". Metacritic. July 13, 2001. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  22. "Legally Blonde Movie Review & Film Summary (2001)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  23. "15 Years of Reese Witherspoon | Fox News Magazine". Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  24. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
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