Amid all the excitement about last weekend's best-ever box office returns, Deadline Hollywood posted a small item that's nearly as jaw-dropping-- Warner Bros. set the record for the second year in a row for the most domestic grosses for a single studio, making $2 billion in 2009 alone. That's significantly above the $1.789 billion they made in 2008, largely off a little movie called The Dark Knight.

Warner Bros. hasn't had a nonstop string of hits this year-- in fact, in the first half, they were saddled with underperformers like Watchmen, Terminator: Salvation and Observe & Report. But things started picking up substantially over the summer, when The Hangover emerged as a gigantic hit ($277 million domestic off a $30 million budget), the latest Harry Potter became the second-highest grosser of the year ($301 million domestic) and even Where the Wild Things Are managed pretty well at the box office ($75 million total, which is a heck of a lot for a Spike Jonze art film).

The bonanza isn't over, of course. The Blind Side recently sneaked into the Top Ten grossers for the year, at $184 million and counting (!!), and Sherlock Holmes opened strong against Avatar over the weekend with $65 million to its name so far (that's more than The Princess and the Frog).

What's especially cool about this record, and what's got geek bloggers like me actually excited about a studio making a ton of money, is that Warner Bros. has somewhat established itself as the studio that will let directors make the movie they want to make, whether its Zack Snyder's slavish adaptation of Watchmen, Spike Jonze's experiential Where the Wild Things Are, or Jody Hill's completely bizarre and misunderstood Observe & Report. Sure, those films generally aren't the moneymakers, but WB manages to take their profit from the more mainstream stuff and apply it to some of the most fascinating studio movies made all year. Even The Hangover represents a director's vision over studio demands-- director Todd Phillips famously had to sacrifice part of his salary in order to cast Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms in the lead roles.

Warner Bros. hasn't made all of the most exciting movies of the year, and isn't suddenly turning into some new haven for indie directors who want to go big. But when compared to other studios that are pumping out movies based on toys and video games and comic book characters as if it's the only hope left, the WB crew positively looks like renegades. For once, the box office is rewarding originality, and that's something we can all celebrate.

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