"Argo" won the top prize, best dramatic movie, and Ben Affleck was named best director for the film, three days after he failed to get an Oscar nomination in the same category.
Daniel Day-Lewis won the award for best actor in a drama for his performance in "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's film about President Abraham Lincoln's battle to end slavery. It was the only win for the movie, which received seven Golden Globe nominations.
"Les Miserables," the big screen version of the hit stage show about French revolutionaries, won three Golden Globes - best comedy or musical, and acting honours for Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.
Jessica Chastain won for her role as a young female CIA agent who tracks down Osama bin Laden in thriller "Zero Dark Thirty.
In the best comedy or musical category, Jennifer Lawrence won best actress for "Silver Linings Playbook."
Former US president Bill Clinton caused jaws to drop and got a standing ovation from the A-list Hollywood stars when he appeared to introduce clips from "Lincoln."
The Golden Globes, handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), has become the entertainment industry's second-biggest awards show after February's Oscars, or Academy Awards.
The HFPA showed off its maverick side when it gave its screenplay award to Tarantino, rather than the screenwriters of "Lincoln" or Osama bin Laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty."
"Wow! ... This is a damn surprise, and I am happy to be surprised," Tarantino said, accepting his award.
Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who plays a dentist-turned-bounty hunter in "Django," took home the best supporting actor trophy.
Comedians Poehler and Tina Fey, hosting the Globes for the first time, scattered jokes about some of the top Hollywood stars in the audience, with impersonations of Johnny Depp and Julianne Moore.
Jodie Foster, 50, who won Oscars for "Silence of the Lambs" and "The Accused", was given a lifetime achievement award, and publicly acknowledged that she is gay.
Foster said she had been upfront about her sexual orientation for years to friends and co-workers, but had never felt the need to bare her soul in public.
Unlike the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes also honour television dramas and comedies.
On Sunday they chose Showtime terrorism thriller "Homeland" as best drama series, and the show's Damian Lewis and Claire Danes as best actor and actress.
"Girls" won best comedy series and Lena Dunham, its star and creator, won best comedy actress. Don Cheadle was named best actor in a comedy series for playing a devious management consultant in "House of Lies."
HBO's drama "Game Change" about Sarah Palin's 2008 run for US vice president won best TV film, while Moore won for her portrayal of the polarizing former Alaska governor, and Ed Harris won for his portrayal of Republican presidential contender John McCain.