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The 10 Best Original Blockbusters of the Millennium

Elysium Columbia Pictures

If it feels like every big live-action movie these days is a reboot, a sequel, based on a book or just a good old-fashioned rip-off of another movie, you, sir or madame, are not mistaken. If ever there was a rarity in the movie biz, it's big-time films where the characters make their debuts on screen.

This week, the folks behind the sci-fi thriller "Elysium" will try to join a highly exclusive club of movies that have made big money off an original concept this century. There have been painfully few original blockbusters lately, but we've done our darndest to track down the best of them for you.

10. 'Avatar' (2009)

Avatar Fox

From exploring the great darkness of our oceans to getting $237 million for a movie about blue aliens and the people that impersonate them, James Cameron pretty much does what James Cameron wants after cashing in huge on the likes of "Aliens," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "Titanic." It's probably safe to say few other filmmakers alive would have been trusted with such a huge budget on an original concept, but Cameron made it count, taking in close to $3 billion (with a "b") around the globe, making "Avatar" the highest-grossing movie ever. The plot and characters may have been copied and pasted from a book of movie cliches, but as a visual spectacle, "Avatar" is in its own class.

9. 'The Hangover' (2009)

The Hangover Warner Bros.

The series may have been of diminishing returns, but the first "Hangover" was a rare Hollywood comedy that kept up the funny from beginning 'til end — and, at the time, made it happen all without a single bankable star. The movie was made for just $35 million but raked in $112 million in the U.S. alone, which, on Wall Street, they call a very nice return on investment.

8. 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Sony Pictures Classics

If there's one thing American movie audiences hate, it's subtitles, which makes the $128 million U.S. box office take of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" even more impressive. (Just look at how any actual dialogue is noticeably missing from the domestic trailer.) Still, it's pretty hard to argue with flying people, sword fights, gorgeous scenery and the beauty of Zhang Ziyi.

7. 'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' (2006)

Borat Fox

Anyone who'd ever caught an episode of HBO's short-lived "Da Ali G Show" knew Sacha Baron Cohen to be a wily comic genius, but most of America had no idea what to expect from Cohen's Jew-fearing, feces-bagging, Pamela Anderson-coveting character until he reached American theaters. Despite the film's hard-earned R rating, America lapped the lovable Kazakh's antics up to the tune of $128 million. His follow up, 2009's not-quite-as-funny "Bruno," failed to achieve blockbuster status.

6. 'Gladiator' (2000)

Gladiator DreamWorks

Were you not entertained by "Gladiator" and its $100 million budget? If not, you're pretty much alone, considering the blockbuster not only banked over $450 million worldwide but also took home Best Picture Oscar honors. As a historical epic, there was a precedent for the movie's success, but "Gladiator" still surpassed expectations on every front. It also gave Russell Crowe a chance to let out some of that pent-up aggression without ruining a perfectly good telephone. (We're still doing Russell Crowe jokes, right?)

5. 'Bridesmaids' (2011)

Bridesmaids Universal

Starring SNL standouts Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, co-starring veteran funnyladies Melissa McCarthy ("Mike and Molly") Elle Kemper ("The Office") and Wendi McLendon-Covey ("Reno 911") and with behind-the-camera help from Paul Feig ("Freaks and Geeks") and Judd Apatow (every comedy thing of the last ten years), "Bridesmaids" had about as much comedic firepower as you can jam-pack into one movie. Still, no one ever could've ever guessed it would take in nearly $170 million in the U.S. alone, making it the highest-grossing Apatow production ever. Score one for the ladies.

4. 'Django Unchained' (2012)

Django Unchained The Weinstein Company

Of course, it could be argued that "Django Unchained," which borrows its name from the 1966 Sergio Corbucci western "Django," isn't exactly original, but the two movies don't share much besides a genre and a whole bunch of violence. Tarantino's "Django," which picked at some of our country's uncomfortable racial wounds, certainly wasn't a sure thing at the box office when it was released last winter, but huge buzz and great reviews made it Tarantino's highest grosser ever.

3. 'District 9' (2009)

District 9 Sony

Considering the huge money Neill Blomkamp took in on his low-budget directorial debut "District 9," it comes as no surprise he was trusted with $90 million, an original concept and a chiseled Matt Damon for "Elysium." "District 9" was a sensation, not just because of its refreshing take on the tired humans vs. aliens trope but also due to its brilliant viral marketing campaign, which saw "For Humans Only" signs sprawled all over these fair Internets.

2. 'Inglourious Basterds' (2009)

Inglourious Basterds The Weinstein Company

Just when some of us thought Tarantino might have been cooling off following the not-bad-but-not-quite-Tarantino-quality "Death Proof," he took a baseball bat to the head of his naysayers in the form of "Inglourious Basterds," a masterful war-genre remix and alternate history of World War II. Driven by career-making performances by Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent and featuring oddball cameos from comedy-types like Mike Myers, B.J. Novak and Samm Levine, Tarantino struck another controversial chord with Americans to the tune of $120 million ... and delivered a film that just might be his masterpiece.

1. 'Inception' (2010)

Inception Warner Bros.

After hitting it huge with the critical and box-office smash "The Dark Knight," Warner Bros. gave Christopher Nolan free reign with his next movie, forking over an incredible $160 million to make a movie that I'm sure made just about as much sense on paper as it did on screen. The mind-bending dream world of "Inception" took in huge bucks at the box office, thanks partially to a viral marketing campaign that kept the movie's plot and premise largely under wraps. Nolan will once again get a chance to craft a big-budget movie from scratch with next year's "Interstellar."

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