1 ‘MARCH OF THE PENGUINS’ A hit documentary featuring lots of waddling — sans Michael Moore? Believe it. Earning $77 million, the nature film became the No. 3 doc ever, and spread warm fuzzies to none more than Warner Independent Pictures, which had made all of $16 mil the entire previous year.
2 ‘KONG’ VS. ‘NARNIA’ Universal’s King Kong remake had a $50 million first weekend and has made $499 mil worldwide. So, sure, it’s no flop. But needing to cover a $207 mil production budget and marketing costs of maybe half that, it’s certainly no Titanic, either, as some quietly predicted. Meanwhile, rival Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ($586 mil globally) is surprisingly pulling ahead.
3 ‘BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN’ Few doubted that Focus Features’ gay romance was worthy of attention and acclaim, but it was a bold box office bid all the same. The Academy Awards front-runner has drawn broad interest from coast to coast, earning $32 mil so far in a perfectly planned slow-rollout release.
4 ‘CRASHERS’ & ‘VIRGIN’ Who said R-rated comedies can’t earn big bucks? During the notoriously sluggish summer, Wedding Crashers broke out, basically doubling New Line’s high-end hopes by grossing $209 mil, and Universal’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin followed with $109 mil, signaling a refreshing return to grown-up guffaws.
5 ‘THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE’ The 20/20 hindsight champ of 2005, this seemingly obscure thriller premiered in the late-summer dumping ground with, as it turned out, the perfect formula: half horror flick, half religious drama. The payout? A head-spinning $75 mil — and something to smile about on the otherwise sullen Sony Pictures lot.
6 ‘THE ISLAND’ As with other expensive, overhyped fare like Stealth ($32 mil), Kingdom of Heaven ($47 mil), and Bewitched ($63 mil), DreamWorks’ effects-heavy sci-fi action flick…stank. Its $36 mil domestic take reveals an unpleasant reality for marketers: Fans may just have gotten wiser to Hollywood’s hyping of bloated summer crapola. Finally.
7 ‘DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN’ Jaws dropped when Tyler Perry’s stage-to-screen adaptation bowed at No. 1 with $22 mil in February. Even a slew of superharsh reviews couldn’t stop Lionsgate from racking up $50 mil.
8 ‘THE PACIFIER’ Disney’s family comedy exploded with $113 mil early in the year. Apparently Vin Diesel isn’t poison after all.
9 INDIE FILMS Many could net Oscars, and the penguins, Saw II ($87 mil), and Crash ($53 mil) managed to click with vast crowds. But overall, movies made outside of the Hollywood system had trouble catching heat. Thanks in part to the weakening of Miramax, this was the first year since 1995 that every $100 million hit came from a major studio.
10 DAKOTA FANNING All told, the 11-year-old’s four 2005 releases — Hide and Seek, War of the Worlds, Nine Lives, and Dreamer — grossed three-quarters of a billion dollars around the globe. So she can probably pay for those braces herself.