It's a product-driven industry, and the product wasn't there, leading ticket sales to drop to their lowest point in nine years. It was as if Hollywood sat 2005 out—from the outset, the slate was weaker than 2004, lacking potential blockbusters in the top tier and middle ranges. What's more, the year was bereft of cultural phenomena in the magnitude of The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11.
All told, 2005's box office tallied $8.84 billion, down six percent from 2004. It was the first time since 1991 that there was a year-to-year dip in dollars generated. Still, there were a few highlights.
With most 2005 releases having had ample time to show their stuff, the ten best pictures at the box office can be determined, and they are not simply the highest grossing ones. These are the movies that impressed the most based on contextual factors, including genre, industry expectations, longevity and cultural impact.
For instance, movies like King Kong, War of the Worlds and Madagascar had high grosses, but they weren't exceptional when factoring in their pedigrees.
It is important to note that, as is always the case, this list does not necessarily reflect the quality of the movies themselves. Bad movies can be blockbusters, good movies can bomb, and vice versa.
The Ten Most Impressive Box Office Performances of 2005:
1. Brokeback Mountain - $73 million (and counting)
The gay cowboy gimmick brought Ang Lee's repressed romance to the dance, but Focus Features' marketing and distribution savvy made it an irrepressible success. More than just a movie of the moment, this picture resonated after posting the biggest per theater average for a live action movie on record, and it played well outside of the big cities, making more than most Westerns and gay movies ever do. What at first looked like a picture that needed Academy Award nominations to find an audience turned into a cultural phenomenon, generating far more talk than its gross would imply.
2. March of the Penguins - $77.4 million
Animals in the wild have always been staples of documentaries, particularly on television, but this picture took it to an unprecedented level, becoming the second-highest grossing documentary ever and making nearly seven times as much as the next biggest nature documentary. Cutting arguably the best trailer of the year, distributor Warner Independent Pictures timed its release pattern perfectly, taking advantage of a hole in the late summer schedule.
3. Wedding Crashers - $209.3 million
This was the pre-ordained sleeper hit of the summer in many quarters, but it blew away expectations and then some. Building on the past successes of Dodgeball and Old School as well as the perennially popular wedding theme, this Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy delivered the most popular R-rated laughs since There's Something About Mary in 1998. After debuting in second place to the mega-budget Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it held strongly and claimed the top spot in its third weekend of release.
4. Hitch - $179.5 million
This was the rare star vehicle to fire on all cylinders, from concept to marketing campaign. Will Smith's first romantic comedy turned out to arguably be his greatest success yet, because it didn't feature another big name or special effects. It also notched the biggest opening ever for a romantic comedy, and its box office was just as potent overseas.
5. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - $380.3 million
The final Star Wars movie broke nearly every opening record in its first week of release and was handily the No. 1 movie of the year domestically. More importantly, though, Revenge of the Sith out-gunned its predecessor, Attack of the Clones, by a wide margin, when it had seemed the tandem of Clones and The Phantom Menace had soured people on the franchise.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - $288.2 million
For a blockbuster franchise to be this buoyant in its fourth outing is truly remarkable. Domestically, it out-grossed the two movies that preceded it, and, worldwide, it was the No. 1 movie of the year.
7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - $287.5 million
Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings aside, fantasy can be a tough sell, although it helps to be based on a popular series of books like this C.S. Lewis adaptation. Narnia, which was widely predicted to play second fiddle to King Kong in December, became the main event for the end of the year, thanks to its broadly appealing family adventure and its epic marketing campaign that recalled The Passion of the Christ's appeal to Christians. This would rank higher if Potter and Rings hadn't paved the way already.
8. Batman Begins - $205.3 million
Until this reinvention, Batman was a moribund movie franchise after the 1997 debacle of Batman and Robin. Batman Begins climbed out of that cave and, after a softer-than-expected opening that would have spelled a $150 million final gross for most other movies, displayed longevity throughout the summer and brought quality and respect back to the franchise.
9. Diary of a Mad Black Woman - $50.6 million
Tyler Perry's $6 million comedy-drama plowed past the wildest of expectations when it opened to $21.9 million at 1,483 theaters on February's final weekend, which is traditionally a dead period for new movies. It was 2005's best case of niche marketing and positioning.
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith - $186.3 million
A media frenzy surrounding an on-screen couple's off-screen relationship can often help kill a movie (see Gigli), but in the case of this romantic action comedy it enhanced it, in part, because it played into the personas of stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Neither Pitt nor Jolie displayed this kind of box office muscle in the past.
• 2004 Top 10 - 'Passion of the Christ,' 'Fahrenehit 9/11' Tops in 2004
• 1/9/06 - Utah Theater Snub Can't Bridle 'Brokeback Mountain'
• 12/12/05 - 'Narnian' Delight: Passion of the 'Lions' Pays Off
• 11/21/05 - Harry Potter's 'Goblet' Runneth Over with Cash
• 7/25/05 - 'Penguins' Gain Warm Reception
• 7/18/05 - 'Charlie,' 'Crashers' Draw Golden Ticket
• 6/20/05 - 'Batman Begins' in the Shadows
• 6/13/05 - 'Mr & Mrs. Smith' Honeymoons at the Top
• 5/23/05 - Final 'Star Wars' is Box Office Revenge
• 2/28/05 - 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' Comes out Swinging at No. 1
• 2/14/05 - 'Hitch' Scores Romantic Comedy Record
• 2005 Domestic Grosses
• 2005 Worldwide Grosses
• Gay & Lesbian Movies
• R-rated Comedies