A Cinderella Story

A Cinderella Story
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mark Rosman
Produced by
  • Clifford Werber
  • Ilyssa Goodman
  • Hunt Lowry
  • Dylan Sellers
Written by Leigh Dunlap
Music by Christophe Beck
Cinematography Anthony B. Richmond
Edited by Cara Silverman
  • Gaylord Films
  • Clifford Werber Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • July 10, 2004 (2004-07-10) (Hollywood)
  • July 16, 2004 (2004-07-16) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million[1]
Box office $70.1 million[1]

A Cinderella Story is a 2004 American teen romantic comedy film directed by Mark Rosman, written by Leigh Dunlap and stars Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge and Regina King. A modernization of the classic Cinderella folklore, the film's plot revolves around two Internet pen pals who plan to meet in person at their high school's Halloween dance.

The film was released on July 16, 2004. While it received negative reviews from critics, the film was a box office success, grossing $70 million against its $19 million budget, and spawned three straight-to-video sequels.


Sam Montgomery lives in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, with her widowed father Hal, who runs a popular sports-themed diner. Feeling Sam needs a mother, Hal marries a vain gold digger named Fiona, who has socially-awkward fraternal twin daughters, Brianna and Gabriella. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Hal is killed when he runs to save Fiona. Hal having supposedly left no will, Fiona receives all of his belongings, including the house, the diner, and to her dismay, Sam.

Eight years later, Sam is employed as a waitress at the diner to save money to attend Princeton University, but she is regularly tormented by her stepfamily, who constantly insult her and treat her as if they were popular, despite being regarded as obnoxious. Even worse, Fiona, in her vanity, uses the inheritance to live as if they were insanely rich, including spending on minor facial surgeries, and even refuses to save water during the ongoing drought. She has also transformed Hal's beloved diner into something befitting of her own image, demands that salmon be served and included in over half the dishes and takes Sam's earnings. Sam struggles to cope socially at North Valley High School, where queen bee cheerleader Shelby Cummings also torments her and calls her "Diner Girl", along with other members of the popular clique.

Sam confides in her online pen pal "Nomad" about her dream to attend Princeton, a dream which he also shares. However, Nomad's true identity is Austin Ames, the popular, yet unhappy, quarterback of the school's football team and Shelby's ex-boyfriend, although she refuses to accept that he has broken up with her. He is unhappy because Austin's father planned for him to go to the University of Southern California with a football scholarship rather than going to Princeton. Nomad proposes that they meet in person at the school's Halloween-themed homecoming dance. On the night of the dance, Fiona orders Sam to work the night shift at the diner, then leaves to drive Brianna and Gabriella to the dance. Initially reluctant, Sam is convinced by her best friend, Carter Ferrell, to go to the dance and meet her mysterious online friend.

Rhonda, the diner's head waitress who has looked after Sam, and the rest of the diner staff also convince her to disobey Fiona and go to the dance anyway. Sam, wearing a mask and Rhonda's old wedding dress, meets Nomad at the dance, and is surprised to learn that he is Austin, who had become smitten with her upon her entrance. The two decide to leave the party to walk alone and get to know each other a little better. While sharing a romantic dance, Sam and Austin begin to fall in love. But just as Austin is about to unmask her, Sam's cell phone alarm goes off, warning her to return to the diner before Fiona returns at midnight. She leaves without revealing her identity to Austin, and drops her phone on the way out.

Austin picks up her phone and begins a desperate search to figure out who his "Cinderella" really is, but every girl at school claims to be the mysterious owner of the phone. Sam is reluctant to reveal her identity to Austin, feeling that he will not accept her due to their different social circles. When Austin comes into the diner one day, Sam is forced to help him and, after a talk, she attempts to reveal her identity to him, but is cut off by Fiona. Sam's stepsisters end up discovering Sam and Austin's email relationship, and (after having failed to convince Austin that one of them is the owner of the phone) convince Shelby that Sam tried to steal Austin from her. During a pep rally, they and the other cheerleaders humiliate Sam in front of the entire school and expose her identity, as well as naming her an impostor, horrifying the school staff, Carter and Sam. Austin, hurt by Sam's secrecy, is unable to step up to defend her, and Sam leaves the pep rally in tears.

Like Austin, Sam had been accepted at Princeton, only to be duped by Fiona into believing she was rejected by having a fake rejection letter made to keep Sam working at the diner. Sam then decides to give up on her dreams and resigns herself to a lifetime of working at the diner, but Rhonda gives Sam a pep talk not to lose hope. When her stepsisters come into the diner, they slam the door, causing a guitar clock to fall off the wall, tearing the wallpaper down with it, and quickly blame it on Sam. However, the torn section reveals an inspirational quote Hal often said, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (in real life, this quote came from Babe Ruth) and fills Sam with hope. She stands up to Fiona and her stepsisters stating that she will no longer put up with their emotional abuse, quits her job at the diner, and moves in with Rhonda, who also quits along with the entire diner staff, all of whom had only put up with so many years of Fiona's abuse after Hal's death for Sam's sake. The customers, who witness the entire scene, promptly leave in disgust as well.

Before the school's homecoming football game, Sam confronts Austin about his cowardice and not defending her at the pep rally, as well as for his seeming reluctance to show his true self. Before the final play of the game, he sees Sam making her way out of the stands, and finally stands up to his father, saying he wants to attend Princeton rather than simply play football all his life. He chases after Sam and apologizes. She accepts his apology, and they share their first kiss as rain falls over the drought-plagued valley (at the same time, the North Valley High Fighting Frogs win the football game). Soon after, Sam finds Hal's will hidden in her childhood fairy-tale book, stating that all of his money and possessions actually belong to her. Since this leaves her as the rightful and legal owner, Sam sells her stepfamily's fancy cars so that she can pay for college, and Fiona, who claims to have never seen the will before despite that she clearly signed it as a witness, is arrested for financial fraud and violating California's child labor laws for all the times she made Sam work long hours at the diner in spite of her being a minor.

Sam finds that she was in fact accepted at Princeton; the acceptance letter is retrieved from the garbage by her stepsisters, who knew where Fiona hid it. Fiona, Brianna, and Gabriella are made by the District Attorney to work off the money they stole from Sam at the diner, which is restored to its former glory by its new owners, Sam and Rhonda. Also, Austin's father comes to accept his son's desire to attend Princeton. Things even work out in the end for Carter as he makes a commercial for a new acne medication. Shelby, having previously cheated off of Carter's school work and rejected him for being an outcast, even after he was a proper gentleman to her at the Halloween dance, aims to pursue him since he is now popular, but after finally seeing her true shallow and cruel nature at the pep rally, he turns her down for Astrid, the high school's goth DJ and announcer. The film ends with Sam and Austin, now officially a couple, driving off to Princeton together after Sam gets her phone back from Austin.



On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 11% based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 3.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An uninspired, generic updating of the classic fairy tale."[2] On Metacritic, the film has a score on 25 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[3] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[4]

Roger Ebert called A Cinderella Story "a lame, stupid movie".[5] The film was nominated for five Teen Choice Awards at the 2005 ceremony, winning the award for Choice Movie Blush Scene, the same year Duff won the Kids Choice Awards for Favorite Movie Actress. In 2005, Duff also received a nomination for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.

Box office

In its opening weekend, the film grossed $13,623,350 in 2,625 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #4 at the box office, behind I, Robot, Spider-Man 2 and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The next week, it dropped in #5, with newcomers The Bourne Supremacy and Catwoman. By the end of its run, A Cinderella Story grossed $51,438,175 domestically and $18,629,734 internationally, totaling $70,067,909 worldwide.[1]



The film was followed by three direct-to-video sequels, are featured the modern day versions of Cinderella: Another Cinderella Story (2008) with Selena Gomez, A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011) with Lucy Hale and A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (2016) with Sofia Carson. The sequels use the themes and situations but do not contain any characters from the first film. Unlike the first film, the sequels also include musical and dance themes.


  1. 1 2 3 "A Cinderella Story (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on November 2, 2011. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
  2. "A Cinderella Story". rottentomatoes.com. Archived from the original on September 3, 2010.
  3. "A Cinderella Story Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on November 1, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  4. "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  5. Valero, Gerardo (July 16, 2004). "A Cinderella Story Movie Review (2004)". Roger Ebert. Archived from the original on January 11, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2018.

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