Instead of super-skinny models and ultra-buff men, it was nerds and legends of history and fiction that dominated the box office this year.
Among the nerds was the title character of the surprise indie hit Napoleon Dynamite, starring newcomer Jon Heder. Heder played an alienated teen living with his grandmother and older brother in the sleepy town of Preston, Idaho. When the most popular girl at school decides to run for student body president, it’s up to Napoleon to help his best friend Pedro run and win the election. The crazy adventures of Napoleon and his friends translated into big box office earnings for new director Jared Hess, who is already rumored to be writing a sequel to Napoleon Dynamite.
Then there was Spider-Man 2, the highly anticipated and well-received sequel to the 2002 Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire reprised his role as Peter Parker, an intelligent college student with super-human abilities and spider reflexes that tries to protect the innocent people of New York City.
This time around, Parker isn’t so sure of himself or his abilities, and opts to retire the famous red and blue web suit. It’s only when the diabolical Doctor Octavius “Doc Ock” threatens both the city and Mary Jane Watson that the young superhero reconsiders his decision and is forced to choose between what he is and what he wants to be.
Like Spider-Man 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also vied for summer box office bucks. In the third film of the famous franchise, Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, are on the lookout for a wizard that has escaped from Azkaban Prison.
While they gather clues and battle villainous wizards, the three growing wizards struggle to keep their skills, and their hormones, in check. To see what happens next, die-hard fans will have to wait until next year, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire hits theaters.
Of course, it was a victory for nerds everywhere when Michael Moore, the ultra-liberal director of the Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, unleashed the anti-Bush epic Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore proved yet again that documentaries are a force to be reckoned with when Fahrenheit managed to take more than $100 million during its theatrical run. Using archived footage and his typical, off-the-wall sarcastic humor, Moore put together a compelling argument to explain how the American people were deceived and why George W. Bush’s presidency was in desperate need of a policy change.
Nerds aside, there were plenty of legendary characterizations to be seen in theaters. From emerging superstar Jamie Foxx came the much-talked-about film Ray, which documented the life and music of the recently departed Ray Charles. Foxx possesses an uncanny resemblance to the late music master, and, according the countless reviews from respected critics, his performance wasn’t so bad, either. Look for an Oscar nomination for Ray when the Academy Award nominations are released in January 2005.
Another Oscar contender, and perhaps the most talked-about film of the year, was The Passion of the Christ, from veteran Academy Award-winner Mel Gibson. Gibson spent $30 million of his own private fortune to bring the epic retelling of the last hours of Christ’s life to the screen, and it would seem that his investment paid off. To date, The Passion of the Christ has earned more than $350 million in the United States alone, and a sweeping victory at the 2005 Academy Awards is almost certain. Awards and nominations aside, Passion has gone beyond 1995’s Braveheart and firmly solidified Mel Gibson’s position as a legend in the director’s chair.
On the flipside of The Passion of the Christ, there was Team America: World Police, a highly-anticipated yet immensely underrated film from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Team America had everything – action, elaborate dance numbers, cheesy, yet memorable one-liners and graphic puppet sex scenes.
It also provided another heated exchange between the creators and the Motion Picture Association of America. Like their other films, Team America lingered in the land of an NC-17 rating for months before Parker and Stone made enough creative decisions to bring it down to an R-rating.
While it may not have been as successful as the dynamic duo’s last effort, Team America: World Police definitely added some much-needed relief from a world gone mad in 2004.
Marta Rusek can be reached at email@example.com.