Late Australian actor Heath Ledger earned a posthumous Golden Globe for his performance in Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" while British star Kate Winslet won two awards for best drama actress and supporting actress.
But, ironically, on a star-studded night in Beverly Hills, it was "Slumdog Millionaire" the rags-to-riches love story about an orphan who fights his way out of Mumbai slums on an Indian television game show.
The film - featuring a cast of virtual unknowns - won best drama and also picked up honors for British director Danny Boyle, as well as honors for best screenplay and best music.
After a disastrous event last year that was reduced to a celebrity-free zone by the entertainment industry's writers strike, this year's Globes red carpet read like a who's who of the movie industry's A-list.
Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio were just a handful of the A-listers in attendance at the Beverly Hilton.
Unlike the Oscars, the Golden Globes - which are chosen by around 80 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - have separate best picture awards for dramas and musicals.
In the past four years the Globes have failed to accurately predict the best picture winner at the Academy Awards but overall, some 67 per cent of Oscars best picture winners had first received a Golden Globe.
As such the Globes are seen as an important staging post ahead of the Academy Awards, offering clues to which films will be successful at the Oscars, which take place at Hollywood's Kodak Theater on February 22.
The acting awards on Sunday saw Australian heart-throb Ledger honored as expected for his portrayal of arch-villain the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
Director Christopher Nolan accepted Ledger's award, saying the actor's death at the age of 28 had "ripped a hole" in the future of cinema.
"All of us who worked with Heath on 'The Dark Knight' accept this with an awful mixture of sadness but incredible pride," Nolan said.
"For any of us lucky enough to work with him, I think for any of us lucky enough to enjoy his performances, he will be eternally missed, but he will never be forgotten," he added.
The victory cements Ledger's status as the odds-on favorite to win a best supporting actor Oscar at next month's Oscars.
The other big winner in the acting categories was Winslet, who scooped best actress in a drama for her performance in "Revolutionary Road" and best supporting actress for "The Reader."
Winslet, 33, who had been overlooked after five previous nominations, was overcome following her double win, apologising to her rival nominees and thanking "Revolutionary Road" co-star DiCaprio.
"I'm so sorry, Meryl (Streep), Anne (Hathaway), Kristin (Scott-Thomas), the other one... Angelina (Jolie)!," Winslet gasped.
"Thank you so much... thank you soooo much!," It was only the third time in Golden Globes history that an actor or actress had been honored with two awards on the same night.
It was a disappointing evening though for Brad Pitt and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" which had started the night with five nods alongside "Frost/Nixon" and "Doubt". All three films came away empty-handed.