Top grossing films of 2000-09

UPDATED: 'Knight' tops U.S. boxoffice; 'Avatar' in No. 10 spot

Take note, James Cameron. If "Avatar" is aiming for the record books, you should know just who are the reigning boxoffice champs of 2000-09.

1. "The Dark Knight"
Release date: July 18, 2008
Domestic boxoffice: $533.3 million
Opening weekend: $158.4 million

Holy boxoffice, Batman! Warner Bros.' sixth entry in its comics-inspired film franchise, "The Dark Knight" is second only to 1997 opener "Titanic" on the all-time list of top grossers. Because "Titanic" opened before the current craze for megawide releasing, "Dark Knight" set numerous boxoffice record during its theatrical campaign. International grosses were also strong for the Christian Bale/Heath Ledger starrer, and by February the Christopher Nolan-helmed actioner reached $1 billion in worldwide boxoffice. Imax screens produced particularly robust grosses, with moviegoers jazzed by Nolan's use of Imax-format cameras to lens extensive portions of the latest installment in the Caped Crusader's (really) big-screen adventures.

2. "Shrek 2"
Release date: May 19, 2004
Domestic boxoffice: $436.7 million
Opening weekend: $108 million

The big green guy delivered the green stuff again. DreamWorks Animation's self-distributed first follow-up to 2001's $267.7 million grosser "Shrek" performed like the protagonist ogre on steroids. Family business will always be the core support for broadly playing animated features such as the "Shrek" films, but DWA always sprinkles its pics with enough pop culture references to bait teens and young adults as well. The "Shrek" franchise's fourth installment is set to unspool May 21.

3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
Release date: July 7, 2006
Domestic boxoffice: $423.3 million
Opening weekend: $135.6 million

Ho ho ho and a barrel of grosses. The Disney threequel plundered more boxoffice booty than any other film released in summer 2006. The Johnny Depp starrer also ranks as the top grosser of any pic inspired by a ride at Disneyland. A fourth "Pirates" installment -- "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" -- is tagged for release in summer 2011. Rival distributors are already crying "aaaarrrggh" at the thought of unspooling their own summer tentpoles in the wake of "Stranger Tides."

4. Spider-Man"
Release date: May 3, 2002
Domestic boxoffice: $403.7 million
Opening weekend: $114.8 million

To say that Sony's comics-based webslinger hit the theatrical marketplace with a bang seven years ago would be greatly understate its impact. "Spider-Man" transformed even the public perception of what a big opening weekend looks like, and its ultimate domestic cume has held up pretty nicely as well, and the studio continues to crank out sequels. "Spider-Man 4" is set to bow on May 4, 2010.

5. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
Release date: June 24, 2009
Domestic boxoffice: $402.1 million
Opening weekend: $109 million

Paramount debuted this DreamWorks-produced sequel amid broad expectations it would prove to be last summer's top grosser and the Michael Bay-helmed actioner did not disappoint. OK, the film critics hated it, but the studio accountants are still counting the coin. And, yes, of course there will be a live action three-quel in the Hasbro toy-inspired franchise. "Transformers 3" is set to open on July 1, 2011. Is anybody seeing a distinct trend among this decade's top grossers?

6. "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith"
Release date: May 19, 2005
Domestic boxoffice: $380.3 million
Opening weekend: $108.4 million

Lucasfilm's Fox-distributed third prequel to the storied scifi franchise ranks as this list's top scifi entry. "Sith" was the best-reviewed of the three "Star Wars" prequels, and fans liked it, too. No Jar Jar Binks! As for the prospect of any additional franchise installments, fans just may have to settle for lobbying for sequels to the animated spinoff "Clone Wars."

7. "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"
Release date: Dec. 17, 2003
Domestic boxoffice: $377 million
Opening weekend: $72.6 million

New Line was still distributing its own movies throughout the "Rings" trilogy, and for a while that was plenty to ensure the operations place in the Warner Bros. film family. But shifting priorities and changing theatrical fortunes since then prompted the collapse of New Line into a production-only entity. Even the prospect of big studio profit quickly became a nightmare as "Rings" director sued for a sweeter participation that the studio was offering. But back in 2003-04, there were still only smiles to be found on execs and creatives alike, from Burbank to Wellington. Meantime, no more "Rings" installments. (Hello! It was based on a literary trilogy.) But Warners is among co-producers of a film epic based on "Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."

8. "Spider-Man 2"
Release date: June 30, 2004
Domestic boxoffice: $373.4 million
Opening weekend: $115.8 million

Sony's first sequel to the watershed Marvel Comics-based actioner opened even a bit bigger than the franchise original but ultimately wrapped up its theatrical run $30 million shy of its predecessor's domestic tally. No one was complaining though, as it was the No. 2 grosser in a summer 2004 so lucrative the industry marked its first ticket sales high in eight years with 642 movie admissions. That summer record for ticket sales remains in place, despite summer 2009's setting a new boxoffice high.

9. "The Passion of the Christ"
Release date: Feb. 25, 2004
Domestic boxoffice: $370.3 million
Opening weekend: $83.8 million

Mel Gibson's Icon Prods. turned to now-defunct Newmark Releasing to distribute its graphic depiction of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. An indie distrib more accustomed to orchestrating platform campaigns for lower-profile art films, public clamor over the pic and exec ingenuity resulted in Newmarket's opening "Passion" with a saturation-level 3,006 and then expanding distribution to 3,408 theaters a month into the leggy pic's theatrical run, a remarkable feat for a religious film.

10. "Avatar"
Release date: Dec. 18, 2009
Domestic boxoffice: $352.1 million (and counting)
Opening weekend: $77 million

And they were worried it wouldn't make enough money. James Cameron once again has defied the naysayers, and Fox -- which co-distributed his pricey 1997 blockbuster "Titanic" -- once again is rewarded for its distribution relationship with the painstaking filmmaker. The film managed to overtake "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" for the No. 10 spot in the final weekend of the boxoffice year and its third weekend in release. Ringing up even bigger sums overseas, "Avatar" also hit $1 billion in worldwide boxoffice in just its third weekend in release, with the good prospects of climbing higher than any other film release in history other than "Titanic" by the end of its theatrical run.

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