This British import coined an entirely new genre: the rom zom com (in non-Hollywood slanguage, that's a romantic zombie comedy). A bona fide horror movie, complete with hundreds of hollow-eyed, flesh-eating undead, the timing of its release was unfortunate. It followed Universal's hit remake of George Romero's classic "Dawn of the Dead." But it added a comic element and a sense of sweetness (the hero saved his mom and got the girl) that's entirely missing from most horror flicks.
2. `House of Flying Daggers'
As with "Hero," filmmaker Zhang Yimou creates a world in which both scenery and story are a feast for the senses. There's beauty, love, deceit, tension and tragedy, wrapped in an eye-popping, gravity-defying package. As the U.S. grows more diverse, directors like Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern") continue to gain ground. "Hero" was tops at the box office its opening weekend with $18 million. Sony Classics is releasing "Daggers" slowly, hoping word of mouth will carry it well into `05.
3. `Super Size Me'
Morgan Spurlock takes on fast-food behemoth McDonald's with this gut-churning documentary meant to show the dangers of too many burgers and fries. Spurlock ate three meals a day for a month at McD's and super-sized anytime he was asked. His health, not surprisingly, took a dive, from which it took him a year to recover. In some quarters, the fast-food industry may never bounce back. As for super-sizing, it's a bloated thing of the past.
Recommended viewing just to see Mandy Moore's carefully honed squeaky-clean image turned on its ear. Moore made a big-screen splash playing a character so hypocritical that she assaults a "fallen" schoolmate with The Good Book. How's that for Bible thumping? Lo, the many ways to go wrong with a satire of evangelical Christians. But "Saved!" is an insightful story with standout acting from some of the brightest young stars: Jenna Malone, Macaulay Culkin and Heather Matarazzo.
5. `Infernal Affairs'
You had to be quick, and live in a major market, to see this limited-release from Hong Kong that makes American cop movies look soulless by comparison. The Miramax-distributed film already was a multimillion-dollar success in Asia. So successful, in fact, that it spawned a prequel and a sequel. All three are available in the U.S. only on DVD. Here's hoping a planned American remake by Martin Scorsese with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't defile the original.
6. `Napoleon Dynamite'
This off-kilter art-house movie from Sundance drew in an entirely new crowd for independents: the 14-to-20-year-old megaplex-loving moviegoer. Fox Searchlight was aggressive in its grassroots marketing, screening the movie relentlessly and doling out swag to young audiences, building positive word of mouth and encouraging repeat viewing. The movie became one of the summer's sleeper hits: made for a minuscule $400,000, it pulled in $43.5 million.
7. `Mean Girls'
Made on a shoestring by the risk-averse Paramount Pictures, this flick ended up as one of the studio's biggest hits ($86 million domestically on a $17 million production budget). Starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, and with some biting "Heathers"-like humor, the wicked high school comedy (the evil popular girl really does get hit by a bus) appealed to plenty of non-teens, due in part to its creative force and costar, Tina Fey of "Saturday Night Live."
8. `Eternal Sunshine ...'
It's twisted and surreal, with a sci-fi-style premise about erasing painful memories. Not necessarily the stuff of box-office gold, but enough people turned out to make it a modest $34.3 million performer. The moviegoing intelligentsia showed up for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who's built a cult following with films like "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich." Others went to see Jim Carrey in a complex role that didn't revolve around sight gags and fart jokes.
9. `Garden State'
Zach Braff, star of NBC's lauded sitcom "Scrubs," wrote, directed and starred in this indie darling about a young, heavily medicated man who trudges home when his mother unexpectedly dies. Though it was screening in just over 800 theaters at its peak, the movie pulled in $26.6 million on a $2.5 million budget. Its moody soundtrack of songs handpicked by Braff became the No. 10 best-selling soundtrack of the year and was nominated for a Grammy.
10. `Riding Giants'
Stacy Peralta's follow-up to his much loved "Dogtown and Z-Boys" about `70s skate culture, this surfer documentary could pick up an Oscar nomination. Aside from its spectacular scenery and interviews with big surf pioneers, the film is notable because it was partially funded by Quiksilver, a brand that is so steeped in entertainment that it formed a special division to create content. Books, TV shows and movies successfully sell the lifestyle without shoving brand integration down viewers' throats.