Tuesday marks the 20-year anniversary of “Bend it Like Beckham,” one of the most iconic soccer films of all time.
A film with a budget of $6 million, it grossed $104.6 million at the box office in 2002, becoming a cultural phenomenon. It ranked No. 1 in the UK for 13 weeks, and also reached No. 1 in India, Australia and South Africa. In the United States, it reached No. 7.
“It was a big struggle and a lot of people passed on it,” director Gurinder Chadha told Gal-Dem. But with the help of John Woodward and the UK Film Council, the movie got made.
Arsenal and England national team forward Nikita Parris has said the film had a huge influence on her growing up.
When the film came out in 2002, women’s soccer wasn’t a professional sport – the FA Women’s Super League was established in 2010 – and could rarely be found on television. Since then, the landscape has changed drastically. The final for the Women’s European Championships at Wembley this summer sold out within an hour.
According to the Football Association, 3.4 million women and girls now play soccer in the UK, a 54 percent increase since 2017. It’s now the most popular sport among women and girls in the country.
“This was a breakthrough film. It was a film with themes that resonated with millions of people who were all different in many ways. Yet, how many mainstream films since have had this sort of representation? This is, for me, is the worrying thing at the moment,” Shaheen Khan, who played Mrs. Bhamra, told Goal.
“Bend it Like Beckham” also dealt with cultural differences, which was a big deal at the time and continues to be as cultural representation continues to lag in the film and television industry.
“It was probably one of the only few scripts that I’d read that I was really excited about, just because of what it represented,” said Preeya Kalidas, who played Monica, one of the main character’s cousins. “And the fact that you had the lead female as the protagonist who had a dream and had to deal with her adversities to get there.”
For Ameet Chana, who played Tony, the film continues to transcend even as time goes on.
“The script is actually more clever than a lot of people give credit for,” Chana said, “because it addresses so many things that are still relevant today.”