The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with many praising Garner's performance and its nostalgic environment. It was also praised for its humorous plot and self-empowering message. The film was also a commercial success, earning $22 million in its first week and grossing over $96 million, becoming one of the year's biggest-selling DVD rental titles. Its soundtrack features songs spanning from the 1980s to the 2000s, with a range of hits from famous recording artists such as Billy Joel, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Pat Benatar and Whitney Houston. Additionally, the soundtrack charted inside the top 50 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Jennifer Garner's acting earned her nominations from both the MTV Movie Awards and the Teen Choice Awards, and the film was also re-released in DVD in 2006 as "Fun and Flirty Edition", and on Blu-Ray in 2009.
On May 26, 1987, Jenna Rink, a gawky girl, yearns to be popular, but the only way she can get the ruling clique - the "Six Chicks," led by the arrogant Lucy "Tom-Tom" Wyman - to attend her upcoming 13th birthday party is by doing their homework. Jenna's best friend, the geeky boy Matty Flamhaff, (with the nickname of Beaver because he looks like the star of Leave It To Beaver) arrives early to the party to give her a bright pink, dream dollhouse that he built for her. He sprinkles his second gift, a packet of glittery "magic wishing dust." on its roof.
The Six Chicks soon show up with the cutest boys in class and make Jenna play "Seven Minutes in Heaven" While Jenna waits, blindfolded, in a dark closet, thinking a popular boy she has a crush on is about to enter, the Six Chicks vanish with all the boys, half the food and Jenna's completed homework. It's Matt who walks into the closet, to Jenna's horror. She locks herself in the closet and cries, wishing to be 30; above her, the glittering wishing dust from the dollhouse gently rains down.
The next morning, Jenna awakens in a gleaming Fifth Avenue apartment. Jenna's dream has come true: It is now 2004, and Jenna, at first utterly baffled, particularly by the handsome hunk in her shower, realises she's magically turned thirty overnight, with no idea of what happened in the intervening seventeen years.
Jenna discovers that she works for Poise, her favourite fashion magazine. Tough-as-nails Lucy is her co-editor and best friend, but the magazine itself is in serious trouble, having been scooped by a rival magazine named Sparkle so often that the editor-in-chief believes someone inside Poise is tipping them off. Jenna, freaking out like the frightened teen she still is, wants only to find Matty. She gets his address and races down to the Village where the now-grown Matt (Mark Ruffalo) is a struggling photographer. To her confusion, he's distant and cold, and can't even fill Jenna on much of her missing past, because she became head of the "Six Chicks," and never spoke to Matt again. She even became Prom Queen - and Lucy, her only friend, is actually the original "Tom-Tom" after plastic surgery.
While delighting in her freedom and great clothes, Jenna stumbles through a grown-up world, learning enough of life to advise other 13-year-olds whom she actually prefers to hang with. But her slowly-emerging past reveals she was nothing like the sweet, shy girl she'd been the day before: this grown-up Jenna stole ideas, refuses to speak to her parents, and has office sex with the husband of a co-worker. After Jenna overhears her supposed best friend Lucy badmouthing her, in a plan to save the magazine behind her back, she resolves to fix the sins of the past she can't remember.
She returns to her hometown in New Jersey and weeps in the same basement closet. Her parents find her there, and they hug. She gets back in touch with Matt, gingerly apologises and hires him to do the photography on her own new plans for Poise, which is a huge break for him. Even though Matt has a fiancée in Chicago who's eager for him to move there, Jenna and Matt begin to fall for each other.
Everyone loves Matt's photos and Jenna's new plans to save the magazine, but when Sparkle shows up yet again with this exact material, including Matt's own photographs, and with Lucy as their new head, Poise folds. Outraged, Jenna confronts Lucy for stealing, but Lucy scornfully tells her that Jenna was the one sabotaging her own magazine all along; Lucy merely found out about it and did the same thing.
Matt, wounded by what he thought was Jenna's betrayal of him, is getting married the next day. Jenna rushes out to the leafy suburb on his wedding day, hoping to convince Matt that she wasn't the person she'd seemed to be, that he'd marry her if he could see who she really was, but Matt, already in his tux, says the past can't come back and hands Jenna her pink homemade dollhouse, which he'd kept all these years. While the wedding begins in the background, Jenna leaves in tears, closing her eyes and clinging to the dollhouse—on which a few bits of wishing dust still remain.
When Jenna opens her eyes, she's back in 1987, on that same 13th birthday night with a second chance. This time, when Matt finds her huddled alone in the closet, she kisses him. They run upstairs together, bumping into Tom-Tom on the way, Jenna rips up the homework in Tom-Tom's hands and Jenna and Matt run out of the house, emerging as a wedding couple on the other side of the door, and, as credits roll, they're moving into a bright pink house just like the dollhouse that started it all.
In October 2002, American director Gary Winick was in negotiations to direct 13 Going on 30. It was also announced that Susan Arnold and Donna Arkoff Roth were producing the project with the writers' manager, Gina Matthews. In May 13, 2003, it was reported that filming for the movie was underway in Los Angeles on Revolution Studios. It was filmed in Los Angeles, New York City, and South Pasadena, California. Interiors shots were filmed in Los Angeles. The crew moved to New York City where they shot exteriors for 17 days. Principal photography took place from May to November 2003. Written by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, the script was "polished" by Niels Mueller (who lost an initial writing credit in a subsequent dispute arbitrated by the Writers Guild of America).
American actress Jennifer Garner was cast for the movie's lead role. In order to film the picture, Garner shot it while on break from filming her TV series Alias. Gwyneth Paltrow, Hilary Swank, and Renée Zellweger were all considered for the part played by Garner. Judy Greer was cast to play Lucy, Garner's best friend; Kathy Baker and Phil Reeves were invited to be Garner's mother and father, respectively. Later, Andy Serkis was selected to play Garner's boss; while Samuel Ball was announced as Garner's boyfriend. Christa B. Allen, who portrays 13-year-old Jenna, would later "reprise" her role as a younger version of Jennifer Garner by portraying the teenaged version of Jenny Perotti in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. In October 2016 it was announced 13 Going on 30 is going to Broadway in late 2017.
The 13 Going on 30 soundtrack was released on April 20, 2004 from Hollywood Records. The album mostly contains music from the 1980s, but there is a handful of songs performed by contemporary artists, such as Lillix and Liz Phair. It was released on April 20, 2004 by Hollywood Records.
"Once in a Lifetime" – Talking Heads
"Thriller" – Michael Jackson
"Everybody Have Fun Tonight" – Wang Chung
"Keep It Simple (Stupid)" – Daniel Lenz
"Good Day" – Luce
"Chick a Boom Boom Boom" – Mowo!
- "Head Over Heels" – The Go-Go's
- "Jessie's Girl" – Rick Springfield
- "Burning Down The House" – Talking Heads
- "Mad About You" – Belinda Carlisle
- "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" – Whitney Houston
- "What I Like About You" – Lillix
- "Ice Ice Baby" – Vanilla Ice
- "Crazy for You" – Madonna
- "Vienna" – Billy Joel
- "Why Can't I?" – Liz Phair
- "Tainted Love" – Soft Cell
- "Love Is a Battlefield" – Pat Benatar
- "Will I Ever Make It Home" – Ingram Hill
The songs "Breathe" by Michelle Branch and "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls were featured in promotional trailers, but were not featured in the movie or on the soundtrack.
- "Prologue" (4:19)
- "Jenna Dream House" (1:13)
- "Transformation" (0:31)
- "Wake Up" (2:03)
- "Naked Guy" (0:36)
- "Off to Work" (0:29)
- "Poise" (0:43)
- "Paper Throw" (0:28)
- "Can I Go?" (1:05)
- "Matt's Apt" (0:46)
- "Fluffy Pillow" (0:49)
- "Au Revoir" (0:44)
- "Good Luck With Fractions" (0:35)
- "Mean Messages" (0:25)
- "Eavesdropping" (0:46)
- "Yearbook Idea" (1:14)
- "Elevator" (0:25)
- "Swings" (01:49)
- "Assemble the Proposal" (0:39)
- "Hang in There" (0:38)
- "Angry Lucy" (0:15)
- "Presentation" (2:30)
- "Sneaking" (0:59)
- "Rain Montage" (1:08)
- "Getting Married Tomorrow" (0:29)
- "Sparkle Bus Overlay" (0:39)
- "Dream House Revisited" (1:28)
- "30 to 13" (0:38)
- "Crazy for You Overlay" (1:09)
The film opened on April 23, 2004, with an initial box office take of US$22 million in its first weekend, debuting at number 2, almost tied with Denzel Washington's thriller Man on Fire. In its second week, it dropped to number 3, earning US$10 million. In its third week, it fell to number 5, earning US$5.5 million. In its fourth week, it took sixth place with an estimated $4.2 million. In its fifth week, it only fell to number 7, with an estimated $2.5 million. In its sixth week, the film fell to number 9, earning $1 million. It ended with nearly $60 million at the domestic box office. The same picture became one of the five biggest DVD rentals of the year, with over $57 million in rentals alone according to the Internet Movie Database. The film's success on DVD granted it a re-release (The Fun and Flirty Edition) in 2006 with special packaging. The picture grossed $96,455,697, going on to become one of the year's biggest DVD rentals and sellers. The Blu-ray version of 13 Going on 30 was released on January 20, 2009.
The film received an approval rating of 65% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 158 reviews. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a very positive review with a grade of "A-", writing "13 Going on 30 is the rare commercial comedy that leaves you entranced by what can happen only in the movies." Gleiberman also praised Jennifer Garner's performance, writing: "She cuts out all traces of adult consciousness, of irony and flirtation and manipulation, reducing herself to a keen, goggle-eyed earnestness that's utterly beguiling." Joe Leydon of Variety also praised her performance, writing "Garner throws herself so fully and effectively into the role that in a few key scenes, she vividly conveys Jenna's high spirits and giddy pleasure through the graceful curling of her toes." Leydon praised the director Gary Winick for " bringing a fresh spin to most of the script's cliches and emphasizing nuggets of emotional truth provided by Goldsmith and Yuspa." Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe wrote that "The movie is tailor-made for women who openly lust for dream houses, dream jobs, and dream hubbies." He also wrote that "the best stuff involves the childhood preamble. (The young actors playing Jenna, Matt, and Lucy are terrific.) Those moments feel painfully, comically true." Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, commenting, "This romantic comedy is intended as a cautionary fairy tale. The silly humor works with the movie's gentle message of self-empowerment and avoids sappiness in a tender interlude where the adult Jenna returns to her childhood home. Amusing, charming and pleasantly nostalgic, 13 Going on 30 should fall easily onto moviegoers' wish lists." It is written: "This shameless rip-off of the Tom Hanks Classic Big is weak, but predictable and is sparked by the excellent performance of Jennifer Garner".
Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times wrote: "The performances give the movie more flavor and life than the situation does; it often feels like prechewed Bubble Yum. The message of the plot is that a lack of sophistication is the key to success, even at a fashion magazine that attracts readers through sexy exhibitionism. The movie would have shown some daring savvy if it had played more with the role-playing aspect of fashion spreads. Instead it is content to eat its retro snack cake and have it, too." Andrea Gronvall of the Chicago Reader wrote that "The formula works, thanks in large part to star Jennifer Garner, who's so radiant theaters should be stocking sunblock. Underlying the shenanigans and the pop-psychology moral—self-love is a prerequisite for true love—there's a touching wistfulness about roads not taken." Jorge Morales of The Village Voice commented: "The thirtysomething in me was all, gag me with a spoon, but the kid in me was like, this movie's rad to the max."
Garner was nominated for MTV movie and Teen Choice awards for her role as Jenna Rink.