The film was released on July 13, 2001, and received positive reviews from critics. The critics' consensus states that "though the material is predictable and formulaic, Reese Witherspoon's funny, nuanced performance makes this movie better than it would have been otherwise". It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy and ranked 29th on Bravo's 2007 list of "100 Funniest Movies". Witherspoon received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and the 2002 MTV Movie Award for Best Female Performance.
Fashion merchandising student 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, reasoning that she is not serious enough for his political aspirations. Her sorority sisters encourage her to pursue him. After much effort, Elle scores a 179 on the Law School Admission Test. This score, combined with her 4.0 GPA, gain her admission to Harvard, where Warner has enrolled.
Upon arriving at Harvard, Elle's SoCal personality is in complete contrast to her East Coast classmates' personalities, who refuse to take her seriously. She soon encounters Warner, but discovers he is engaged to marry another classmate, Vivian Kensington. Elle struggles to keep up with the reading and is unprepared for a lecture, which causes strict Professor Stromwell to berate her and force her out of the class. Elle meets Emmett, who gives her advice for handling each of her professors. Vivian invites Elle to a "costume party" and Elle arrives in a Playboy bunny suit, but the party is not actually a costume party. Elle tells Warner that she intends to apply for Professor Callahan's prestigious internship, but Warner tells her that she is wasting her time. Elle realizes that Warner will never take her back and finds motivation to prove herself.
After several months of dramatic improvement, Elle, along with Warner and Vivian, is given a surprise internship at Callahan's law office. Callahan is defending a prominent fitness instructor named Brooke Windham, who is one of Elle's role models and a former member of her sorority. Accused of murdering her husband, Brooke is unwilling to produce an alibi (she later reveals to Elle that she was having liposuction). Enrique Salvatore, a pool cleaner and the prosecution's main witness, says that he was having an affair with Brooke and that they were planning to run off with her husband's money.
Elle deduces that Enrique is gay, and Emmett (revealed to be Callahan's junior partner) believes her and during cross examination gets Enrique into confessing his homosexuality by tricking him into admitting he has a boyfriend named Chuck (after denying this Chuck himself stands up and says "You Bitch!" to Enrique in an effeminate voice). In spite of her victory, Elle quits the firm after Callahan attempts to seduce her.
When Emmett explains how Callahan's behavior caused Elle to quit her internship, Brooke fires Callahan and replaces him with Elle as her defense. Elle cross-examines Brooke's step-daughter Chutney, forcing her to reveal that she had killed Brooke's husband, though she had actually planned to kill Brooke because she hated that her father married someone her age.
Chutney is taken into custody and Warner unsuccessfully attempts to convince Elle to take him back. Two years later, Elle gives the graduation speech at Harvard. Vivian is now her best friend, while Warner has graduated with no honors, no girlfriend and no job offers. Emmett has started his own firm. He and Elle have been dating since the trial, and he plans to propose to her later that night.Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods
Luke Wilson as Emmett Richmond
Matthew Davis as Warner Huntington III
Selma Blair as Vivian Kensington
Victor Garber as Prof. Callahan
Jennifer Coolidge as Paulette Bonafonté
Holland Taylor as Prof. Stromwell
Ali Larter as Brooke Taylor-Windham
Jessica Cauffiel and Alanna Ubach as Margot and Serena, close friends of Elle.
Oz Perkins as David Kidney
Linda Cardellini as Chutney Windham, Brooke's stepdaughter.
Raquel Welch as Mrs. Windham-Vandermark, Chutney's mother and Mr. Windham's ex-wife.
Although the film is set at Harvard University, it was filmed at the University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, and Rose City High School in Pasadena, California. The graduation scene was filmed at Dulwich College, in London, England, since Reese Witherspoon was in that city filming The Importance of Being Earnest. Harvard University appears in the film briefly in certain aerial shots.
In the novel and original script, Warner and Elle attend Stanford Law School. Stanford, however, disapproved of the script.
The producers intentionally gave Elle a different hairstyle for every scene.
The opening song and main theme, "Perfect Day", was performed by Hoku.
Legally Blonde was released on July 13, 2001 in North America. Its opening weekend gross of $20 million 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. The film was released in the United Kingdom on October 26, 2001, and opened on #2, behind American Pie 2.
The film was a critical success. Based on 130 reviews, collected by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 68% of the critics gave Legally Blonde positive ratings, ranking the film as "fresh". Most reviews praised Reese Witherspoon's lead performance, although some denigrated the overall film. Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 59, based on 31 reviews. 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.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Courtroom Drama Film
A soundtrack album was released in 2001 on A&M Records, including the songs:"Watch Me Shine" by Joanna Pacitti
"Sound of Milwaukee" by Fatboy Slim
"Can't Get Me Down" by Lo-Ball
"We Could Still Belong Together" by Lisa Loeb
"Don't Need You To (Tell Me I'm Pretty)" by Samantha Mumba
"One Girl Revolution" by Superchick
"Magic" by The Black Eyed Peas featuring Terry Dexter
"Sex Machine" by Mýa
"That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band
"You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate
"Get Down on It" by Kool & the Gang
"Love Is a Beautiful Thing" by Krystal
"A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton
"Baby, Come on Over" by Samantha Mumba
"Perfect Day" by Hoku
"Ooh La La" by Valeria
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.