Oscars glory now beckons for sci-fi thriller Avatar after it scooped the best drama award and top director honour for James Cameron.
It was a repeat of Cameron's Globes night 12 years ago, when Titanic won best drama and the directing prize on its way to dominating the Oscars.
This time, though, instead of being "king of the world", as Cameron declared at the Oscars, he has become king of an alien landscape, elevating space fantasy to critical acclaim.
"If you have to go four and a half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that's the wonder of cinema right there, that's the magic," Cameron said.
But the show's audience was left shocked by cutting quips by host Ricky Gervais, who poked fun at a host of celebs -- including Colin Farrell.
"The great thing about the Golden Globes is that it crushes prejudice and stereotypes," he told the audience.
"A particular stereotype is that Irishmen are drunk, hairy hellraisers. Now please welcome Colin Farrell."
The Dubliner took the quips in his stride, as did Mel Gibson. Before the actor took to the stage, Gervais, pint in hand, said: "It's not my fault. I like a drink as much as the next man," Gervais said. "Unless the next man is Mel Gibson."
Elsewhere, Sandra Bullock was named best actress for the football tale The Blind Side and Jeff Bridges for the country-music story Crazy Heart.
The crowd gave a standing ovation to Bridges, a beloved veteran generally overlooked for key Hollywood honours.
"You're really screwing up my underappreciated status here," Bridges said. The son of late actor Lloyd Bridges, Bridges thanked his father for encouraging him to go into showbusiness. "So glad I listened to you, dad," he said.
The acting prize for musical and comedy actress went to Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia. Streep's competition for best actress included herself. She also was nominated for the romance It's Complicated.
"I just want to say that in my long career, I've played so many extraordinary woman that I'm getting mistaken for one," Streep said. "I'm very clear that I'm the vessel for other people's stories and other people's lives."
Robert Downey Jr won for the male equivalent for crime romp Sherlock Holmes.
Downey thanked his frequent producing collaborator Joel Silver, the "guy that's only restarted my career 12 times since I began 25 years ago".
The supporting-performance Globes were won by Mo'Nique as an abusive welfare mother in Precious and Christoph Waltz as a gleefully bloodthirsty Nazi in Inglourious Basterds.
The Vegas bachelor bash The Hangover won for best musical or comedy, bringing uncharacteristic awards attention for broad comedy. "I just want to thank my mom, who supported my decision to become a director when she realised I wasn't as smart as my two sisters," said Hangover director Todd Phillips.
And, as he accepted the directing Globe, James Cameron had kind words for ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, nominated as best director for The Hurt Locker.
"Frankly, I thought Kathryn was going to get this. She richly deserves it," said Cameron, whose Avatar has taken in $1.6bn (€1.1bn) worldwide, second only to "Titanic" with $1.8bn (€1.25bn).
The Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 90 reporters covering show business for overseas outlets.
Musical or Comedy: The Hangover.
Actor, Drama: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart.
Actress, Drama: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side.
Director: James Cameron, Avatar.
Actor, Musical or Comedy: Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes.
Actress, Musical or Comedy: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia.
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Animated Film: Up.
Series, Drama: Mad Men Actor, Drama: Michael C Hall, Dexter.
Actress, Drama: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife.
Series, Musical or Comedy: Glee.
Actor, Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock.
Actress, Musical or Comedy: Toni Collette, United States of Tara.
Mini series or Movie: Grey Gardens.
Actor, Mini series or movie: Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance.
Actress, Mini series: Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens.
Supporting Actor, Series, Mini series or Movie: John Lithgow, Dexter.
Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Chloe Sevigny, Big Love.