Pitch Perfect was never the most obvious film to launch a successful franchise. In a world where superhero movies reign supreme, and women-led comedies are so rare that we are still namechecking 2011's Bridesmaids when we discuss them, a film about an all-female a capella group hardly screams smash-hit — or, at least, multi-film franchise. It's a true testament to the women of Pitch Perfect — the real-life Bellas — that it is one.
Five years and three films later, Pitch Perfect has created its own space within Hollywood — one where a large cast of women is celebrated for not just their killer vocals and choreography, but for being as unapologetically ridiculous as the boys have always been allowed to be.
The passion that the cast has for the franchise, and for the team behind it, is evident on the cast's social media pages and in their interviews, where they often wax poetic about their love for their co-stars. Still, that doesn't mean the cast expected the eventual fanfare when they signed up for their first film in the franchise.
"We did this movie thinking it was an intelligent, witty little comedy," Brittany Snow, who plays Chloe, told Refinery29 at the Pitch Perfect 3 press junket in Los Angeles. "We had no idea of the attention it would grab. We knew there was a special connection we all shared, but the lightning in a bottle of [the movie]... I don’t think that’s something you can predict."
For cast member Ester Dean, also the songwriter famous for tracks like Katy Perry's "Firework" and Rihanna's "Rude Boy," playing Cynthia Rose in the franchise is still surreal:
"To be here, now, and to see the billboards all over the world — wow. This is what people dream of. And three times! People dream of it happening once!"
It's easy to be shocked (or, at least, pleasantly surprised) by the success of Pitch Perfect. There is nothing quite like it out there. Glee, its most similar TV counterpart, ended in 2015. The Ryan Murphy-produced musical dramedy shared many attributes with the Pitch Perfect franchise — specifically, it's singing, dancing, and commitment to showcasing students from all walks of life — but where Glee leaned into social commentary, Pitch Perfect has all but avoided it.
While it would be easy to say that the Pitch Perfect franchise exists outside of the political, it both does and can't. A film about the power of women of all sizes, ethnicities, and vocal range sticking together feels more than just refreshing — it feels vital to the moment when so many women are standing together.
"I was thinking recently about how this group of women, how we’re the ones with the big franchise. You would think it would be some movie about models living in a house or something," Anna Kendrick, who portrays music producer Beca, muses during our interview. "Obviously, it’s a little crazy to me, because I’ve been doing interviews today where it’s like 'You guys aren’t the typical Hollywood types…' and I’m like, 'What are you talking about, we’re fucking gorgeous!' I think it’s interesting because Hollywood standards make it seem different, because honestly, everyone is such a mega babe, [but] I do think it’s nice that we’re playing a bunch of misfits."
The Bellas have long been the underdogs, which, in part, is what makes them so beloved. Even Anna Camp's character Aubrey, a bubbly, blonde queen bee, is hardly as flawless as she initially seems. When we see her perform for the first time in the first Pitch Perfect, she experiences such strong performance anxiety that she vomits — everywhere. It's bizarre, gross, and shatters the notion that we're going to see a bunch of perfectly polished ladies singing Ace of Base. Pitch Perfect refused to hold back from making its women as messy as possible.
Ethnic representation seems equally as important to the Pitch Perfect franchise. The notion wasn't lost on Chrissie Fit, who portrays deadpan exchange student Flo. Cultural differences are occasionally played for laughs, but the actress takes pride in the fact that her Latino fans have someone they can identify with on the big screen.
"For the younger generation to see a diverse group of women, and for people to see themselves represented on screen, that’s so important," Fit said in our interview. "For me, personally, to represent Latinos on screen, is [amazing.] It’s aca-awesome."
The franchise started with the Bellas studying at Barden University — a place where people from all different walks of life have the opportunity to come together. Despite having a cast that represents so many different ethnicities, body types, and even sexual orientations (Dean's character Cynthia Rose is a lesbian, and there are some subtle-but-there suggestions that Chloe might have a bit of a crush on Beca) Pitch Perfect never felt like it was merely checking all the boxes. A capella, after all, would never work if every Bella sounded exactly the same — and we would certainly miss Lilly's beatboxing.
"We never thought, ‘Oh, let’s make sure every type of person is covered,’ even if, maybe, the studio Universal thought that in some way," Snow said. "It just seems that all of our different qualities and comedy styles was so different. I think that people relate to how quirky and different we all are, and how unapologetic we are for those differences and quirks."
For Hana Mae Lee, who portrays Lilly, it was Pitch Perfect that gave her one of her first roles in comedy — something, she said, was rare for an Asian-American actress.
"When I first started out, no one wanted to take me on in an agency, because there were no Asian roles. I just started out doing print and commercials. You were seeing a lot of ‘hip Asians’ in commercials and print, so I made a living doing that, but it took me seven years to find a boutique agent. I wanted to be the next comedic star. I wanted to be the next Jack Black or Anna Faris. People were like, 'That’s great, but we’re going to go out for the samurai role. Make sure you wear your ninja clothes,'" said Lee. "As for the samurai stuff, Lilly does some dart stuff, but that’s just because she’s odd, and she does everything!"
Off-camera, the cast is as tight as ever — and just as supportive of one another as their characters are of their fellow Bellas.
"I wish [fans] could be behind the scenes to see how we check each other’s hair, how we celebrate each other’s birthday. How we are there if [someone goes through a] breakup. It’s important for anyone to see that bond, on set and off, because I don’t know where else is showing that without a guy in the middle," said Dean.
It could be the very end, but never say never. Even if the movies don’t continue on, I think these women would be friends forever.
Speaking of guys — Pitch Perfect 3 is mostly devoid of them. Yes, Snow's Chloe has a cute soldier she's eyeing named Chicago (Timeless star Matt Lanter), but, for the most part, this particular movie is all about the relationship between the Bellas.
In a movie crowded with characters, it's refreshing to see Pitch Perfect 3 not prioritise love interests for the main cast. Pitch Perfect 2 had multiple hookups, but in the third film, the girls don't seem particularly interested in romance. Even Snow, whose character has a small-but-significant romantic plotline, wanted to make it clear that Chloe's arc wasn't actually about a guy.
"[Director Trish Sie] and I, we talked about that at length, that we didn’t want Chloe to be okay just because she got this Prince Charming-type at the end," Snow reveals when asked about the end of Chloe's Pitch Perfect arc. "Who knows if she’ll be with this Chicago guy. I love that’s not the ending of her story. It really is about the girls."
The lack of love interests also means that Skyler Astin's Jesse, who portrayed Beca's boyfriend, was not included in any of the action. Ultimately, however, his absence served a greater arc for Beca, whose main focus is on balancing her music producing career with her desire to prioritise the friend group who has been there for her since freshman year of college.
Kendrick sees why people might miss the Jesse/Beca romance, but ultimately she's happy with how things worked out.
"I genuinely think there are two sides to this issue. There are movies where I’m really invested in the [romantic] relationships... [In this case, it's] not how life works," said Kendrick when asked if she misses the Jesse and Beca ship. "You don’t end up with your highschool sweetheart most of the time. There’s something honest about moving on, and having a life beyond that. [Jesse and Beca] didn’t have a big falling out, it just didn’t work. That felt grown-up to me."
Realistic as Jesse and Beca's breakup was, there's no question that Pitch Perfect exists in a heightened reality — which is particularly obvious in Pitch Perfect 3, which features far more action sequences than its predecessors. Newcomer John Lithgow and breakout star Rebel Wilson lead an espionage B-plot, with the rest of the stars along for the ride.
"Brittany and I were saying, while they’re rigging explosives behind us and working out fire things for different scenes, how different it was. [In the first film] we were wearing little blue suits and had these little scarves and hanging out at LSU campus… It was just a completely different film," Anna Camp said of working on the third film in the franchise. "We were like ‘How is this possible? Is this Pitch Perfect?' Ultimately I think it worked because it’s the same characters with the same goal, it’s just more crazy adventures. "
The "crazy adventures" could very well come to an end. Billed as the "farewell tour" and "last call" on posters, Pitch Perfect 3 could be the end of the line. Still, no one seems ready to let the franchise go completely.
"Why not keep [the franchise] going? It means something," mused Dean. "I don’t know if that means [keeping] the 10 girls who are here now, but in whatever way, I think the movie should keep going. [If that means] taking my nieces to the next one, if I’m [not in it], I’ll support the franchise no matter what."
If there's one thing that the women take away from their time with the Pitch Perfect franchise, it's that the Bellas would remain close.
"You know, I don’t know if we’ll continue. It could be the very end, but never say never. Even if the movies don’t continue on, I think these women would be friends forever," Camp said. "Why not, in a few years, do a reunion?"
Whether the Bellas as we know them continue their journey onscreen, Pitch Perfect's legacy as a successful women-led franchise should be one Hollywood looks to in order to greenlight the next one.