In 1982, a very young Gracie Hart steps into a playground fight to beat up a bully who is threatening a boy she likes. However, the boy feels humiliated at being rescued "by a girl", and rejects her rudely, whereupon she punches him in the nose and leaves to sulk alone. Years later, Gracie is now a tough Special Agent for the FBI. During a sting operation against Russian mobsters, she disobeys her superior's orders in order to save a mob boss who appears to be choking, which causes one of the other agents to be shot. She is demoted to a desk job as punishment.
Some time later, the agency is alerted, via a letter from the notorious domestic terrorist known only as "The Citizen", to a bomb threat at the upcoming 75th annual Miss United States beauty pageant in San Antonio, Texas. Gracie's partner Eric Matthews is put in charge, but he relies entirely on Gracie's suggestions and yet takes credit for them himself. One of Gracie's ideas is to plant an agent undercover at the event. Eric then suggests that Gracie take on that role, replacing Miss New Jersey who was just disqualified. Beauty pageant coach Victor Melling teaches Gracie how to dress, walk, and behave like a contestant. Though initially appalled, she comes to appreciate Victor's thoroughness. Gracie enters the contest as "Gracie Lou Freebush", representing New Jersey, and becomes friends with Cheryl Frasier, who is Miss Rhode Island. As the competition begins, Gracie impresses the judges with her glass harp skills and self-defense techniques during the talent competition.
Several suspects are identified, including the current competition director and former pageant winner Kathy Morningside, her assistant Frank Tobin, the veteran MC Stan Fields, and Cheryl, who has a history of being a radical animal rights activist. Gracie accompanies Cheryl and other contestants as they spend a night partying, where Gracie tries to dig into Cheryl's past, but inadvertently learns from the others that Kathy's past as a pageant contestant is suspect, including the fact that she won after the leading contestant suddenly came down with food poisoning. Gracie comes to believe Kathy is "The Citizen". However, when she reports this to Eric the next day, she learns that "The Citizen" has been arrested on an unrelated charge, and because there is no further threat, their supervisor has pulled the mission. Gracie convinces Eric that she nonetheless suspects something is wrong, and he returns to help her continue the investigation against orders.
In the final round, Gracie is stunned when she is awarded the 1st Runner-up prize. Cheryl is named Miss United States, but as she goes to accept the tiara, Gracie recognizes that Frank, who is actually Kathy's son, impersonated "The Citizen" in making the original bomb threat. Suspecting foul play, she stops the crowning ceremony in time, as the tiara contained an explosive. As Kathy and Frank are arrested, Gracie determines that the two wanted to kill the pageant winner on stage as revenge for Kathy's termination from the competition. As the event closes down and Gracie and Eric prepare to return to headquarters with a newfound interest in each other, the other contestants name Gracie as "Miss Congeniality".Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart
Michael Caine as Victor Melling
Benjamin Bratt as Eric Matthews
William Shatner as Stan Fields
Ernie Hudson as Harry McDonald
John DiResta as Agent Clonsky
Candice Bergen as Kathy Morningside
Heather Burns as Cheryl Frasier "Rhode Island"
Melissa De Sousa as Karen Krantz "New York"
Steve Monroe as Frank Tobin/Frank Morningside
Deirdre Quinn as Mary Jo Wright "Texas"
Wendy Raquel Robinson as Leslie Davis "California"
Camille Chen as Miss New Hampshire
The story is set in New York City and San Antonio. Scenes showing the exterior of the St. Regis Hotel, and a few street scenes, were shot on location in New York, and the Alamo and River Walk scenes were shot on location in San Antonio. However, most of the movie was actually shot in Austin, Texas: scenes depicting the interior of the St. Regis were shot in Austin's Driskill Hotel; the pageant scenes were shot at the Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas at Austin; and scenes depicting the pageant contestants in their hotel rooms were shot in the Omni Austin at South Park.
The film was the fifth highest-grossing film in North America on its opening weekend, making $13,853,686 USD; it had a 5% increase in earnings the following week—enough to make the film reach #3; and overall it was a box office hit, grossing more than $106 million in the United States, and more than $212.7 million worldwide. It was nominated for several awards, including two Golden Globes: Sandra Bullock earned a nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, and Bosson's "One in a Million" was nominated for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. The film has a 42% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a metascore of 43 at Metacritic, mixed to poor reviews. The New York Times described it as "a standard-issue fish-out-of-water comedy" which "seems happily, deliberately second-rate, as if its ideal audience consisted of weary airline passengers".
The film's first DVD edition, released in 2001, included two audio commentaries, some deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and two documentaries about the making of the film.A deluxe-edition DVD, released in 2005, featured different cover art for the DVD and menu. It contained the same features as the other DVD version plus a quiz hosted by William Shatner and a sneak peek at the upcoming sequel. In 2009, a double DVD edition was released that included the sequel, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.
A sequel, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, was released on March 24, 2005. The film starred Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Enrique Murciano, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns, Diedrich Bader, and Treat Williams. The sequel was less successful, critically and commercially, earning only $101,393,569.
- "One in a Million" - Bosson (3:30)
- "If Everybody Looked the Same" - Groove Armada (3:40)
- "She's a Lady (The BT Remix)" - Tom Jones (4:21)
- "Anywhere USA" - P.Y.T. (4:06)
- "Dancing Queen" - A-Teens (3:50)
- "Let's Get It On" - Red Venom (3:26)
- "Get Ya Party On" - Baha Men (3:20)
- "None of Your Business" - Salt 'N' Pepa (3:34)
- "Mustang Sally" - Los Lobos (4:59)
- "Bullets" - Bob Schneider (4:25)
- "Liquored Up and Lacquered Down" - Southern Culture on the Skids (2:26)
- "Miss United States (Berman Brothers Mix)" - William Shatner (3:38)
- "One in a Million (Bostrom Mix)" - Bosson (3:33)