Much of the doom and gloom that hung over the domestic box office at the start of 2006 evaporated following a resurgent year at the box office.

According to estimates the total box office in 2006 climbed 3% against 2005 to $9.132bn compared to $8.833m. It wasn't enough to beat the all-time 2004 mark, but it served timely notice that cinema going is alive and well in North America.

Sony ended the year as champion on $1.697bn, an extraordinary performance that set a new industry record and featured 13 number one launches.

Key drivers for the studio were The Da Vinci Code, which finished the year as the fourth biggest release on $217.5m, Talladega Nights on $148.2m, Click on $137.3m, Casino Royale on $155.4m, and The Pursuit Of Happyness on $103.7*. Sony's superb international results should also be mentioned and this figure combined with domestic gave Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) its first $3bn year at the global box office.

It seems almost churlish to point out disappointments after such a good year, but executives clearly expected more from Freedomland ($12.5m), Basic Instinct 2 ($5.9m), and All The King's Men ($7.2m).

Buena Vista finished second in the studio roll-call on $1.478bn, powered by $423.3m from Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

That film was the world-beater in 2006 ($1.065bn) and became only the third release to cross $1bn after Titanic and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.

Buena Vista of course scored a one-two punch at home last year, as Cars finished second in class on $244.1m. No other Disney release crossed $100m and the next best performer was Eight Below on $81.6m.

Once again credit should also go to efforts overseas, where Buena Vista International's overall tally meant that The Walt Disney Company, like SPE, crossed $3bn worldwide.

Annapolis didn't help James Franco in his goal of becoming a leading man and finished on $17.1m, while Buena Vista top brass would have expected more from Touchstone releases The Guardian ($54.6m) and Deja Vu ($61.9m and counting). The Prestige was a Touchstone success, however, and emerged from left-field to earn appreciative reviews and finish on a solid $51.6m.

Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D took $8.5m and showed how reformatting a 13-year-old release can revive life in an old favourite.

Finishing third was Fox on $1.395bn. The studio's biggest gun was X-Men: The Last Stand, which ended up on $$234,4m and temporarily held the all-time opening weekend record of $122.9m until Pirates 2 came along eight weeks later and opened on $135.6m.

It was an impressive year for the studio, which delivered three other $100m-plus releases: Ice Age: The Meltdown on $195.3m, and two surprise packages in the form of The Devil Wears Prada ($124.7m) and Borat ($126.1m*). Tristan & Isolde flopped on $14.7m. Poor old James Franco - who also starred in the under-achieving Flyboys and the much-maligned remake of The Wicker Man - must be awaiting the release of Spider-Man 3 with particular relish. A Good Year also disappointed on $7.3m.

Warner Bros finished fourth on $1.053bn thanks in large part to Superman Returns' decent $200.1m gross. The Departed took $118m and set a new mark for a Martin Scorsese film, while Happy Feet keeps on marching and stands at $178m with a decent shot at $200m.

Paramount finished the year in fifth place and its best result was Over The Hedge's $155.1m. Mission: Impossible III came in as the weakest in the franchise on $133.5m, although for all non-Viacom personnel Tom Cruise's off-screen antics were endlessly diverting. However he may well have the last laugh with his new role at United Artists.

Forecasting is a risky business, but it doesn't seem too far-fetched to predict that 2007 will become the biggest year ever in terms of theatrical revenues.

May in particular looks likely to become the biggest single month in modern cinema-going history with Spider-Man 3 (May 4), Shrek The Third (May 18), and Pirates of The Caribbean: At World's End (May 25) already lined up.

Other likely and potential blockbusters include Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, The Simpsons Movie, Ocean's Thirteen, Evan Almighty, Ratatouille, The Fantastic Four 2, Ghost Rider, Hairspray, The Golden Compass, Rush Hour 3, Stardust, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, and Music & Lyrics.

Top opening weekends of 2006
Title/Distributor/Release date/Opening weekend/Final gross

1 Pirates Of Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest / Buena Vista / Jul 7 / $135.6m / $423.3m
2 X-Men: The Last Stand / Fox / May 26 / $122.9m / $234.4m
3 The Da Vinci Code / Sony / May 19 / $77.1m / $217.5m
4 Ice Age: The Meltdown / Fox / Mar 31 / $68m / $195.3m
5 Cars / Buena Vista / Pixar / Jun 9 / $60.1m / $244.1m
6 Superman Returns / Warner Bros Jun 28 / $52.5m / $200.1m
7 Mission: Impossible 3 / Paramount / May 5 / $47.7m / $133.5m
8 Talladega Nights / Sony / Aug 4 / $47m / $148.2m
9 Night At The Museum / Fox / Dec 22 / $42.2m / $125.8m*
10 Happy Feet / Warner Bros / Nov 17 / $41.5m / $178m*

* Still in active release