Election (1999 film)

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Election (1999 film).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlexander Payne
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onElection
by Tom Perrotta
Music byRolfe Kent
CinematographyJames Glennon
Edited byKevin Tent
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 23, 1999 (1999-04-23) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8.5–25 million[1][2]
Box office$17.2 million[1]

Election is a 1999 American black comedy film directed by Alexander Payne from a screenplay by Payne and Jim Taylor, based on Tom Perrotta's 1998 novel of the same name.

The plot revolves around a student body election and satirizes politics and high school life. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, an overachieving student whom he dislikes. When Tracy runs for student government president, Jim sabotages her candidacy by backing a rival candidate and tampering with the ballot count. Although not a commercial success at the box office, Election received critical acclaim. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon for Best Actress, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film in 1999.


Jim McAllister is a beloved civics teacher at a suburban Omaha, Nebraska, high school. One of his students, Tracy Flick, is an overachieving senior whom he resents. Dave Novotny, a fellow teacher and Jim's best friend, lost his job and his wife after Tracy's mother discovered that her daughter was having a sexual relationship with him. Jim is bitter that his best friend suffered grave consequences for the affair while Tracy emerged unscathed.

Tracy announces that she is running for student body president and informs Jim that they will be spending time together, since he oversees student government. Appalled by this and the fact that Tracy is running unopposed, Jim encourages Paul Metzler, a popular but rather dimwitted football player, to enter the race. Paul, sidelined with a broken leg, is initially reluctant but soon finds his candidacy gives him new purpose; it also infuriates Tracy, who resents Paul's effortless popularity and privileged upbringing.

Tammy Metzler, Paul's younger sister, is dumped by her girlfriend, Lisa Flanagan, who then becomes Paul's girlfriend and campaign manager. Deeply hurt, Tammy exacts revenge by running for president on a nihilistic platform that student government is a sham.

The three candidates make their campaign speeches to the student body at an assembly. Tracy draws polite applause while Paul receives a warm reception, despite giving a halting and lackluster speech. Tammy delivers a defiant address in which she denounces the election and vows to dissolve student government if she wins. Tammy's speech rallies the students to a rowdy standing ovation, but it also gets her suspended from school.

While working on a yearbook project during the weekend, Tracy sees that one of her campaign posters has come partially unstuck from the wall. She tries to secure it but accidentally rips the poster apart. In a fit of rage, she destroys the other candidates' campaign posters and discards them in a dumpster, unaware that Tammy sees this. When Jim confronts Tracy the next day with his suspicion that she removed the posters, Tracy feigns innocence and threatens to sue the school. In a ploy to get permanently expelled, Tammy falsely claims she vandalized the posters and produces them as proof, having retrieved them from the dumpster. Tammy is expelled, her name is struck from the ballot, and her parents enroll her in a private Catholic school for girls, much to her delight.

The day before the election, Jim visits Linda Novotny, Dave's ex-wife, who initiates sex by kissing him. Linda asks Jim to rent a motel room for an afterschool rendezvous, but she fails to show. When Jim drives to Linda's house to find her, he is stung by a bee, causing a severe allergic reaction on his right eyelid. He returns home to find Linda and his wife talking. Knowing his encounter with Linda has been exposed, he spends the night in his car.

During the next day's election, Jim oversees the tally of the ballots, despite being sleep-deprived and disfigured from the bee sting. After the ballots are counted, Tracy wins by a single vote—cast by Paul, who votes for her because he thinks it dishonorable to vote for himself. During the ballot-counting, Jim spots Tracy dancing gleefully in the hall after one of the student vote-counters surreptitiously signals that she won. Jim secretly disposes of two of Tracy's ballots and declares Paul the winner. When a janitor discovers the two discarded ballots in the trash and shows them to the principal, Tracy becomes president and Jim is forced to resign. Jim's wife, still angry at him for his tryst with Linda, throws him out of their house.

Divorced and humiliated, Jim leaves Nebraska and fulfills a longtime dream of moving to New York City, where he becomes a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History and begins dating a new woman. Tracy attends Georgetown University, while Paul enrolls at the University of Nebraska. Tammy finds a new girlfriend at her all-girls school.

Jim encounters Tracy one last time during a trip to Washington, D.C., when he sees her getting into a limousine with a Republican congressman implying that she may likely be having an affair with him. Disgusted that Tracy's success is the result of her cut-throat nature, Jim impulsively hurls a cup of soda at the limo as it drives away. Jim later speaks to a group of elementary school students at the museum, refusing to respond to the raised hand of an overeager girl who reminds him of Tracy.



Director Alexander Payne had become a fan of the novel by Tom Perrotta on which the film is based; the novel's rights were sold to Payne in January 1997. The novel was inspired by two key events. The first was the 1992 United States presidential election, in which Ross Perot entered as a third party candidate (a move echoed by Tammy Metzler). The second was a 1992 incident at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in which a pregnant student was elected homecoming queen, but staff announced a different winner and burned the ballots to cover it up.[3][4]

The film uses a number of stylized techniques in its storytelling, particularly through the use of freeze frames, flashbacks and voiceovers, which allow sections of the narrative to be delivered from the points of view of the four main characters.[5]

The film was primarily shot on location around the Omaha metro area in the fall of 1997,[6][7] most notably in Papillion, Bellevue and the Dundee neighborhood. Papillion-La Vista Senior High School portrayed the fictitious Carver High School with many of the background extras being actual enrolled students at the time. Minor scenes were filmed at Younkers in Westroads Mall, the Old Market and the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

Alternate ending[edit]

The film's original ending was not known until a rough workprint of it was found in a box of VHS tapes at a yard sale in 2011. The alternate ending is faithful to the book: Jim stays in Omaha and is hired as a used car salesman by one of his former students instead of moving to New York. Tracy encounters Jim while looking to buy a car and the two settle their differences before she has him sign her yearbook.[8][9]


Election was not a box office success as it grossed only $17.2 million against a budget of $8.5-$25 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

The film received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 92%, based on 114 reviews, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The critical consensus reads, "Election successfully combines dark humor and intelligent writing in this very witty and enjoyable film."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[11] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B-" on scale of A to F.[12] It later placed at #5 in the first annual Village Voice Film Poll.[13]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars, praising Witherspoon and Payne, and saying, "...here is a movie that is not simply about an obnoxious student, but also about an imperfect teacher, a lockstep administration, and a student body that is mostly just marking time until it can go out into the world and occupy valuable space".[14] Todd McCarthy of Variety magazine wrote: "Brandishes the sort of intelligent wit and bracing nastiness that will make it more appealing to discerning adults than to teens who just want to have fun."[5]

According to Payne, it is also President Barack Obama's favorite political film.[15]


Election is ranked #61 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" and #9 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies",[16] while Witherspoon's performance was ranked at #45 on the list of the "100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time" by Premiere.

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1999 Academy Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor Nominated [17]
1999 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Reese Witherspoon Nominated [18]
1999 Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Election Won [19]
Best Direction Alexander Payne Won
Best Screenplay Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor Won
Best Female Lead Reese Witherspoon Nominated
Best Debut Performance Jessica Campbell Nominated
1999 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress Reese Witherspoon Nominated [20]
Next Generation Award Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor Won
1999 New York Film Critics Circle Best Screenplay Won
1999 National Society of Film Critics Best Film Election Nominated
Best Screenplay Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor Nominated
Best Actress Reese Witherspoon Won
1999 National Board of Review Excellence in filmmaking Election Won
1999 Writers Guild of America Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor Won

Home media[edit]

Election was released on DVD on October 19, 1999 and Blu-ray on January 20, 2009. A special edition Blu-ray was released by The Criterion Collection on December 16, 2017, with a 4K restoration of the film.[21]


  1. ^ a b c "Election (1999) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  2. ^ Election at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Officials Deny Pregnant Girl School Crown". The New York Times. October 14, 1992. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  4. ^ Crace, John (February 21, 2009). "A life in writing: Tom Perrotta". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Todd McCarthy (April 19, 1999). "Election". Variety.
  6. ^ Ingalls, Chris. "Like Real Life 'Election' Is Dark, Hilarious, and Cringe-worthy, PopMatters".
  7. ^ "MTV's ELECTION". Aint It Cool News.
  8. ^ Grant, Drew (May 17, 2011). "The original ending to Alexander Payne's "Election"". Salon. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  9. ^ Garber, Megan (October 14, 2016). "Election's Alternate Ending". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  10. ^ Election at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ Election at Metacritic
  12. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  13. ^ "Film Poll: Top 10 Movies by Year, 1999-2016". Village Voice. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 30, 1999). "Election Movie Review (1999)". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  15. ^ Jacobs, Matthew (May 7, 2014). "Pick Flick: An Oral History Of 'Election,' 15 Years Later". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 26, 2015. Barack Obama has told me twice that it’s his favorite political film.
  16. ^ EW Staff (August 28, 2015). "50 Best High School Movies". Entertainment Weekly.
  17. ^ "THE 72ND ACADEMY AWARDS - 2000". Oscars.org. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  18. ^ "Winners & Nominees 2000". goldenglobes.com. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  19. ^ ""Election," "Limey" Up for Indie Oscars". E! News. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  20. ^ h"Election - Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  21. ^ Election Blu-ray. Blu-ray.com.

External links[edit]