Booty call

With pirates leading the charge in 2006, Hollywood's top films boosted boxoffice.

Hollywood returned to its buccaneering ways last year as Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," with another flamboyant turn by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, easily unburied lots of boxoffice treasure.

With $423.3 million in its domestic coffers, the action-packed sequel proved even more popular than the first film in the trilogy, 2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," which pulled in $305.4 million domestically. "Dead Man's Chest" also outgrossed 2005's top film, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," which collected $380.3 million.

Even before the latest "Pirates" set sail on the weekend of July 7, last year's boxoffice tally had begun to improve on the downbeat returns of 2005 when alarmists were predicting that moviegoers were abandoning theaters en masse. With megaplexes working overtime to accommodate the crowds that thronged to "Dead Man's Chest" -- which established new one-day, opening-day and opening-weekend records -- a boxoffice revival was ensured.

As the final numbers are tallied, last year's total national boxoffice appears headed to an estimated $9.46 billion, up nearly 5% compared with 2005's $8.99 billion. The total number of admissions for the year is expected to total about 1.44 billion, an increase of nearly 3% compared with 2005's 1.4 billion.

Buena Vista Pictures, the distribution arm of the Walt Disney Co., grabbed the top two spots with its summer doubleheader of "Dead Man's Chest" and Pixar Animation Studios' "Cars," the top animated film in a year crowded with animated offerings, which steered its way to $244.1 million.

Sony Pictures, the market-share leader for 2006, dominated the top 25 with seven titles, lead by the theological thriller "The Da Vinci Code," with $217.5 million. 20th Century Fox followed close behind with five entries, including the third-best-grossing domestic film of the year, "X-Men: The Last Stand," the comic book adaptation that grabbed $234.4 million.

Ratings-wise, PG-13 films proliferated, with 12 of the top 25 bearing that rating. PG-rated movies were close behind with seven. While only two G-rated movies cracked the top 25, there were four R-rated films, led by the rude and rowdy "Borat," in 14th place with a gross-to-date of $125.8 million.

Familiarity bred success in 2006. Six of the top 25 movies were sequels, and three more movies -- "Superman Returns" ($200.1 million), "Casino Royale" ($154.9 million) and "The Pink Panther" ($82.2 million) -- relaunched long-running series.

But there still was room for originality and surprise. With "Borat," high-wire performance artist Sacha Baron Cohen moved from cable TV cult status to movie star virtually overnight. Meryl Streep's commandingly sly performance in "The Devil Wears Prada" helped that comedy break out of the women's film ghetto and connect with a broad-based audience to the tune of $124.7 million. And trading in the wiseguys of New York for the Southies of Boston, Martin Scorsese enjoyed the biggest hit of his career with "The Departed," which has taken in more than $120 million to date.

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