The inclusive production cross sections for W+,W‑ and Z0-bosons form important benchmarks for the physics at hadron colliders. We perform a detailed comparison of the predictions for these standard candles based on recent next-to-next-to-leading order (NNLO) parton parameterizations and new analyses including the combined HERA data, compare to all available experimental results, and discuss the predictions for present and upcoming RHIC, SPS, Tevatron and LHC energies. The rates for gauge boson production at the LHC can be rather confidently predicted with an accuracy of better than about 10% at NNLO. We also present detailed NNLO predictions for the Higgs boson production cross sections for Tevatron and LHC energies (1.96, 7, 8, 14 TeV), and propose a possible method to monitor the gluon distribution experimentally in the kinematic region close to the mass range expected for the Higgs boson. The production cross sections of the Higgs boson at the LHC are presently predicted with an accuracy of about 10–17%. The inclusion of the NNLO contributions is mandatory for achieving such accuracies since the total uncertainties are substantially larger at NLO.