It was released to North American theatres on August 3, 2001 and peaked at number three in the box office. The Princess Diaries was a commercial success, grossing $165,335,153 worldwide. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, the film's sequel, was released in August 2004.
Mia Thermopolis (Hathaway) is a fifteen-year-old tenth grade private school student who lives with her mother Helen Thermopolis (Caroline Goodall) and her cat, Fat Louie, in a renovated San Francisco firehouse. Mia is an average, plain-looking student, but extremely unpopular. She is seemingly invisible to her crush, Josh Bryant (Erik von Detten) and his cheerleader girlfriend Lana Thomas (Mandy Moore). Mia, however, has one best friend: Lilly Moscovitz (Matarazzo) as well as Lilly's brother Michael (Schwartzman).
A few weeks before Mia's sixteenth birthday, Mia learns her paternal grandmother is visiting from Genovia, a small European kingdom. Mia meets her grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Andrews), at the Genovian consulate for the first time in her life. Queen Clarisse explains that the reason she wanted to see her was because of a "life-changing" problem. Mia learns that her father was Crown Prince of Genovia and, due to his recent death, she is now next and sole heir to the Genovian throne. She is shocked to learn that she is in fact a princess and runs away, rejecting the notion.
Queen Clarisse visits Mia and Helen and explains that if Mia refuses the throne, Genovia will be without a ruler. She also explains that Mia needs to be presented as their princess at the upcoming Genovian State Dinner. Helen convinces Mia to attend "princess lessons" with the Queen, who tells Mia need not have to make her decision on accepting the throne until the annual Genovian Independence Day ball. The Queen gives Mia a limousine to use as well as her own bodyguard, Joseph "Joe" (Elizondo), the Queen's head of security.
Mia begins seeing her grandmother everyday after school for her lessons, which include table manners, dancing, and personal presentation. Mia's frequent absence begins to put Lilly on-edge, and after Mia receives a makeover from Italian hairdresser Paulo (Larry Miller), Lilly confronts her and accuses her of trying to be like the popular girls. Mia breaks down and tells Lilly everything, changing her friends' attitude completely. Mia makes Lilly promise not to tell anyone (including Michael) that she is a princess, because the Queen wants to keep everything a secret until the ball as to avoid a frenzy with the press.
The San Francisco Chronicle however learns that Mia is the Genovian Crown Princess after Paulo violates his confidentiality agreement. Although thoroughly annoyed, Queen Clarisse presses onward and prepares for the State Dinner. Mia attends, but publicly humiliates herself and her grandmother with her clumsiness.
The following day, Mia agrees to appear on Lilly's public-access television programme Shut Up and Listen, and to watch Michael's band perform at a venue that Saturday night. Mia is almost sixteen, so she is almost able to drive a car (her "baby", a vintage Ford Mustang). She takes a test drive with her grandmother and they go to an arcade. Mia asks her grandmother if her father wanted to be prince; she replies he did but that he thought of abdicating only once—when he fell in love with Helen. However, he realised his love for his country was greater.
While driving back to the Genovian consulate, Mia's car fails on a hill and rams into one of San Francisco's famous cable cars loaded with people. No one is injured, but two nuns call the police. To save Mia a trip to the police station (she was driving without a license), Queen Clarisse appoints the police man and trolley master to the "Genovian Order of the Rose" (a fictitious Chivalric order she devised on the spot). The men are so flattered that they drop any charges and give Queen Clarisse and Mia a ride back to the consulate in a police car.
Josh Bryant, the cute boy Mia has a crush on, asks her to go with him to the school's annual beach party. She excitedly agrees, but Michael and Lilly are both hurt that she blew them off for the popular kids. Mia's mother wisely points out Josh never liked her before all this princess business, but Mia ignores this observation.
The beach party goes well at first, but spirals out of control when the media discovers Mia's presence. Josh uses her to get his fifteen minutes of fame by publicly kissing Mia, after which Lana and two popular girls trick Mia into undressing in a tent. They remove the tent as she is semi-nude and humiliate her by calling the paparazzi, who snap photos of her covered in a towel. Mia's gym coach shoos off the paparazzi and takes Mia home. Later that night, Mia cries in her mother's arms.
The unflattering photos wind up on tabloid covers the following day and this displeases Queen Clarisse. She chides her granddaughter, then tells her that she may still attend the ball and invite friends, except Josh. Joe later reminds Queen Clarisse that although Mia is a princess, she is still a teenager and Clarisse's granddaughter. To rescue her friendships with Lilly and Michael, Mia apologizes and invites them to the Genovian Independence Day Ball, where she must reveal her decision on accepting the duties of a princess. Around the same time, Mia publicly humiliates Lana by smearing ice cream on her cheerleader dress at school in front of students and calling her a jerk, much to the distress of Lana and the amusement of the other students (including Lilly, who is very impressed).
Upon learning she must personally and publicly announce her decision, the terrified Mia plans to run away. She is stopped when she finds a sixteenth birthday gift (the titular diary) and a letter from her father written before his death. Touched by his words, she changes her mind and makes her way to the ball. Her car breaks down on the way, but she is saved by Joe, who arrives with a limousine (having suspected her plans to run away).
When they arrive, Mia makes a speech, voicing her acceptance of the Genovian throne. She shares her first dance with Michael, who then takes her outside to the consulate's garden where they kiss. Clarisse and Joe are seen holding hands, signifying the start of a relationship. The last scene shows Mia on the plane with Joe and her cat, whose name is Fat Louie. Mia is writing in her diary, explaining that she is moving with her mother to Genovia, and that Lilly and Michael will visit her during summer holiday. When Mia looks out of the plane's window, Joe welcomes her to Genovia as she sees the beautiful royal palace and landscape below.
- Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopolis
- Julie Andrews as Queen Clarisse Renaldi
- Héctor Elizondo as Joe
- Heather Matarazzo as Lilly Moscovitz
- Mandy Moore as Lana Thomas
- Caroline Goodall as Helen Thermopolis
- Larry Miller as Paolo
- Robert Schwartzman as Michael Moscovitz
- Erik von Detten as Josh Bryant
- Sean O'Bryan as Patrick O'Connell
- Sandra Oh as Vice Principal Gupta
- Kathleen Marshall as Charlotte
The film was produced by the late Whitney Houston and Debra Martin Chase and directed by Garry Marshall. Anne Hathaway was hired for the role of Mia because Garry Marshall's granddaughters saw her audition tape and said she had the best "princess hair."
Héctor Elizondo, who appears in all the films which Garry Marshall directs, plays Joseph "Joe," the head of Genovian security. Garry Marshall's daughter, Kathleen Marshall, plays Clarisse's secretary Charlotte Kutaway. Charlotte's surname is mentioned only in the credits, and Garry Marshall says it is a reference to how she is often used in cutaway shots. In one scene, Robert Schwartzman's real-life group Rooney makes a cameo playing a garage band named Flypaper, whose lead singer is Michael, played by Schwartzman.
The book was set in New York City, but the film's location was changed to San Francisco. West coast radio personalities Mark & Brian appear as themselves.
The cable car tourist was portrayed by Kathy Garver.
According to Hathaway, the first choice for the role of Mia Thermopolis was Liv Tyler, but the studio preferred to cast unfamiliar faces.
Differences between the film and the book
- Mia is fourteen in the book and in the ninth grade. She doesn't turn fifteen until book five, Princess in Pink, and doesn't begin tenth grade until book six, Princess in Training. Neither book was written at the time of the movie's release.
- The books take place in New York City, not San Francisco as seen in the movie.
- In the books, Mia's father is alive, but not living with her or her mother (Mia was born out of wedlock in the books). Mia is heir to the throne in the books because her dad had testicular cancer and couldn't have any more children.
- Fat Louie is orange in the book. In the movie, he's black and white.
- Tina Hakim Baba, Boris Pelkowski, Frank Gianini, Shameeka Taylor, and Ling Su Wong do not appear in the movie.
- Mia's bodyguard in the books is named Lars van der Hooten, not Joe.
- Lilly's public access program is named Lilly Tells It Like It Is in the books, not Shut Up and Listen like in the movie.
- Lana's last name in the books is Weinberger instead of Thomas. Josh's last name in the books is Ritcher instead of Bryant.
- Josh and Mia go to a beach party in the movie. In the book, they go to the school's cultural diversity dance.
- Michael is not in a band in the first book. He eventually starts a band in book four, Princess in Waiting (Which wasn't written at the time of the movie's release), named Skinner Box.
- There are no hints of romance between Clarisse and Mia's bodyguard in the books.
- Mia does not move to Genovia at the end of the book.
The film opened in 2,537 theaters in North America and grossed $22,862,269 in its opening weekend. It grossed $165,335,153 worldwide—$108,248,956 in North America and $57,086,197 in other territories.
Reviews for the film were mixed. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 46% of 110 sampled critics gave the film positive reviews and that it got a rating average of 5.1 out of 10.
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