The outrageous title character sprang from the mind of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Fox took the 82-minute satire and catapulted it to unforeseen heights. Its best tactic: releasing the movie on 837 screens to let word of mouth percolate before launching it to the masses. The movie, made for $18 million, is headed north of $200 million worldwide.
2 "The Devil Wears Prada"
It would have been easy to dismiss this project as a chick flick, but deft positioning and a killer performance by Meryl Streep made it one of the most profitable films of the year. Of course, it didn't hurt that it dealt with one of the gossip media's favorite topics: Anna Wintour. Produced for a paltry $35 million, the film has grossed $306.3 million worldwide and promises to be a major hit on DVD.
3 "Happy Feet"
There's a new catchphrase about animated feature films, and it involves the words "audience fatigue." Kids and their weary parents shunned a number of animated films because of a glut in the marketplace. Then the singing, dancing penguins came along. Up against stiff fourth-quarter competition, the movie pulled in $121.5 million domestically in its first three weeks.
4 "Miami Vice"
Huge stars, massive explosions, a respected director. It should've added up to mega-success, but this dark and gritty version of the '80s TV series fell flat. It made $63.4 million in the U.S. on a marketing and production budget that hit $235 million. It's brought in $100 million internationally, but Universal Pictures is still stuck with the deal to pay director Michael Mann $6 million in salary.
5 "An Inconvenient Truth"
It's a slideshow hosted by one of the least charismatic guys on Earth. But the marketers at Paramount Classics sold the documentary about climate change like a big-event film, launched massive online outreach and tapped into Al Gore's willingness to stump anywhere for his pet project. The result: $38 million worldwide and a healthy afterlife.
6 "Little Miss Sunshine"
The independent project set tongues wagging when Fox Searchlight acquired it at the Sundance Film Festival. It also set a record: $10 million. But the boutique studio made a good call. The film about a dysfunctional family's road trip quickly became a critical darling. It has Oscar contender written all over it and has grossed $82.6 million on an $8 million production budget.
7 "Rocky Balboa"
There have been five "Rocky" movies, which some people say is at least three too many. Why, then, is MGM reviving this franchise with the 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone? In the art-mirroring-life department, it may not be a good idea to count this fighter out just yet. MGM is going after boomers, the faith and family market, eBay shoppers, gym rats, and the masses.
8 "Casino Royale"
After 20 movies, the producers of the James Bond films were able to do the unthinkable and breathe new life into the franchise with an at-first controversial but in the end inspired choice in Daniel Craig, a darker tone and no gadgets. The film's on target to become the series' biggest moneymaker, expected to top "Die Another Day's" $432 million worldwide haul.
9 "Mission: Impossible III"
Tom Cruise's Scientology-driven rants are believed to have generated bad buzz around the star and hurt the third installment of the spy series, which generated disappointing box-office numbers this summer for Paramount Pictures. The $150 million-budgeted film collected only $133 million in the U.S.; it earned $263 million oversees, but much of that coin went right into Mr. Cruise's pocket.
10 "Lady in the Water"
After "The Sixth Sense," "Signs," "Unbreakable" and "The Village," M. Night Shyamalan fumbled for the first time with a fairy tale he took from Disney over to Warner Bros. after executives expressed creative differences over the material. The Mouse was right in the end: The movie wound up a nightmare at the box office for WB, drowning with $72 million in ticket sales worldwide.