The film premiered on 15 December 1997 and was released in British cinemas on the British holiday Boxing Day (26 December). In North America, the film was distributed by Columbia Pictures, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, and Icon Entertainment International and premiered on 23 January 1998. In the United States, Spice World became a box office hit and broke the record for the highest-ever weekend debut for Super Bowl Weekend with box office sales of $10,527,222. The film grossed $77 million at the box office worldwide and over $100 million including DVD sales. Despite being a box office success, the film received primarily negative reviews.
The film begins with the Spice Girls performing "Too Much" on Top of the Pops, but they become dissatisfied with the burdens of fame and fortune. Meanwhile, sinister newspaper owner Kevin McMaxford (Barry Humphries) is attempting to ruin the girls' reputation for his newspaper's ratings. McMaxford dispatches photographer Damien (Richard O'Brien) to take pictures and tape recordings of the girls. Less threatening but more annoying is Piers Cuthbertson-Smyth (Alan Cumming), who stalks the girls along with his camera crew, hoping to use them as subjects for his next project. At the same time, the girls' uptight manager, Clifford (Richard E. Grant) and his sympathetic assistant Deborah (Claire Rushbrook), are fending off two over-eager Hollywood writers, Martin Barnfield and Graydon (George Wendt and Mark McKinney), who relentlessly pitch absurd plot ideas for a feature film for the Spice Girls.
Amid this, the girls must prepare for their live concert at the Royal Albert Hall in three days, the biggest performance of their career. At the heart of it, the constant practices, traveling, publicity appearances, and other burdens of celebrity affect the girls on a personal level, preventing them from spending much time with their pregnant best friend, Nicola (Naoko Mori), who is due to give birth soon. Throughout the busy schedule, the girls attempt to ask Clifford for time off to spend with Nicola and relax, but Clifford refuses after talking with the head of the girls' record label, the cryptic and eccentric "Chief" (Roger Moore). The stress and overwork compound, which culminate in a huge argument between Clifford and the girls. The girls suddenly storm out on the evening before their gig at the Albert Hall.
The girls separately think back on their humble beginnings and their struggle to the top. They reunite by chance outside the now-abandoned café where they practiced during their childhood years, they reconcile, and decide to take Nicola out dancing. However, Nicola goes into labor at the nightclub and is rushed to the hospital in the girls' bus, giving birth to a healthy baby girl. When Emma notices that the delivery "doctor" has a camera, the girls realize that he is Damien, who runs off with the girls in hot pursuit, only to hit his head after accidentally colliding with an empty stretcher. When Damien sees the girls standing over him, he tells them that they have made him see the error of his ways, and he goes after McMaxford, who is subsequently fired in a "Jacuzzi scandal".
After noticing the girls' bus driver, Dennis (Meat Loaf) is missing, Victoria decides to take the wheel. It becomes a race against time as Victoria drives like a maniac through London. While approaching Tower Bridge, the bridge begins to raise to let a boat through the River Thames. Victoria drives up the bridge and over the gap. The bus finally lands safely on the other side, but when Emma opens a trapdoor in the floor, she discovers a bomb, and the girls scream before Emma slams the trapdoor shut again.
The girls finally arrive at the Royal Albert Hall for their performance and run up the steps. However, the girls have one more obstacle to overcome: a London policeman (Kevin McNally) charged the girls with: "dangerous driving, criminal damage, flying a bus without a license, and frightening the pigeons". Emma pushes forward and tells the policeman that she and the other girls were late for their performance at the Albert Hall. Emma smiles at the policeman, and he lets the girls off for their performance. The film ends when the girls perform their song "Spice Up Your Life" at the start of their Royal Albert Hall concert broadcast live on television around the world.
The supporting cast later talk about the girls' film during the closing credits. Mel C breaks the fourth wall and tells the other girls that the outgoing audience is watching them. The girls talk to the audience, commenting on "those two in the back row snogging" and on one's dress, and discuss their film, just minutes before the bomb in their bus explodes.
An official motion picture soundtrack has not been released, since their second studio album Spiceworld was released at the time, heavily promoted and served as the film's soundtrack. The only song from Spiceworld not to appear in the film is "Move Over". The songs appearing in the film are in order of appearance.
Spiers had been working in America on the Disney film That Darn Cat at the peak of the Spice Girls' popularity. He was unaware of the group when first offered the job until his friend Jennifer Saunders advised that he take it. He arrived at a meeting with them in a New York hotel unaware of what they looked like.
Frank Bruno was originally cast as the tour bus driver, but withdrew from the film after a security guard prevented his son Franklin from having an on-set photo taken with the girls.
Two real-world deaths after filming prompted edits to the film. Mentions of Princess Diana and scenes including the designer Gianni Versace had to be edited out in post-production following their deaths before the release of the film.
The film reunited Meat Loaf and Richard O'Brien, who costarred in the 1975 classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film also reunited O'Brien and Barry Humphries, who costarred in the Rocky Horror follow-up, Shock Treatment.
Gary Glitter filmed a four-minute cameo appearance as himself, but shortly before the film was to be released he was arrested on child pornography offences. The Spice Girls and the production team agreed that his cameo should be deleted from the final print. The performance of Glitter's "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" was retained.
Official toy versions of the Spice Bus were produced upon the release of the movie. On 18 July 2014, the actual Spice Bus used in the film was put on permanent display at Island Harbour Marina, on the Isle of Wight, England.
In the United Kingdom, Spice World was granted a PG certificate by the British Board of Film Classification for "mild bad language, mild sex references". In the United States, it received a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for "some vulgarity, brief nudity and language".
The film was a hit at the box office, breaking the record at that time for the highest-ever weekend debut for Super Bowl Weekend (25 January 1998) in the US, with box office sales of $10,527,222. The film took in total $100 million at the box office worldwide.
The film was released on VHS in May 1998 in many regions including the UK, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan and Australia. In June 1998, it came out on VHS in the US and Canada. Despite concerns that the high-profile departure of Halliwell from the Spice Girls would affect sales, global demand for the VHS was high. In the UK, the film was number one on the video charts for six consecutive weeks, was certified 11x Platinum, and became the ninth best-selling video of 1998. In the US, the film peaked at number one on the video charts for five consecutive weeks and was the fifth best-selling video of 1998.
The film will be screened at selected cinemas in the UK and Australia to mark its 20th anniversary. In the UK, Odeon and Vue cinema chains will screen the film on 29 September 2017. In Australia, Event Cinemas and the Hayden Orpheum theatre will host sing-along screenings of the film in September and October 2017. Plans to re-release the movie in other worldwide territories are currently underway.
The film received generally negative reviews from critics. Film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave Spice World a rating of 36% based on reviews from 59 critics, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 10. On Metacritic, the film has a 32 out of 100 rating, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". AllMovie gave it 2/5 stars.
Noted American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film one-half of a star and listed Spice World as one of his most hated films, saying: "The Spice Girls are easier to tell apart than the Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that is small consolation: What can you say about five women whose principal distinguishing characteristic is that they have different names? They occupy "Spice World" as if they were watching it: They're so detached they can't even successfully lip-synch their own songs." And when he reviewed the film on his and Gene Siskel's film critique programme Siskel & Ebert, only three weeks into 1998, he declared that he had already seen the worst film of that year, and called it "an entertainment-free dead zone". Ebert would include this film on the Worst of 1998 special; but he chose Armageddon as the worst film of 1998.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times stated that the film "is pleasant and painless enough to amuse ardent fans, who figure in the film quite often." She also noted that while it got a PG rating in the United States, "nothing about it should disturb its target audience of media-wise, fun-loving 8-year-old girls." Writing for Sight and Sound, in a positive review, Mark Sinker placed it alongside The Monkees' 1968 cult film Head. He went on to say that it "sends up the amiable idiocy of pop packaging - and the slow witted mass-media response to it" and it was "tirelessly generous in its energy".
Derek Elley, resident film critic for Variety, gave the film mixed reviews, calling the film "bright and breezy" and "as timely but evanescent as the Cool Britannia culture it celebrates". He stated that the film would "delight the Fab Five's pre-pubescent fans" but that it would "be forgotten within six months".
The film has been listed in Golden Raspberry Awards founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of "The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made".
Spice World – The 10th Anniversary Edition was released on DVD on 19 November 2007 in the United Kingdom and Australia and 27 November 2007 in the United States.