The holiday season brings with it festive lights, family traditions, and gifts of every shape and size. It also brings with it a fresh selection of holiday inspired movies, ranging from heartfelt to hysterical. They dazzle us with flawless animation or entertain us with superior acting. They resonate within us and touch us with their message of holiday cheer and remind us of the magic of the holiday season.
Or at least, that’s the idea. The great holiday movies capture the spirit of the season and in doing so capture the hearts and money of audiences. A good holiday movie is one we watch again and again, year on year. And of course, a great movie will rake in tons of cash and make a serious splash in the December box office rankings.
When the holiday season finally comes to a close and the movies leave theaters, some will stick around in our hearts and mind. They’ll make millions in DVD sales and downloads and earn their place on this list of the fifteen most popular, highest-grossing Christmas movies of all time.
15. Scrooged – $60,328,558
In a surreal, modern comedic version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray plays a miserable TV executive that needs a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future and a whole lot of Christmas cheer.
While Scrooged was able to pull viewers into theaters during Thanksgiving week of 1988, it wasn’t able to continue its momentum much further. Scrooged grossed over $18 million in its first week but its earnings fell by almost half the following week.
Box office takings continued to decline and the movie left theaters January 15, 1989. Despite its quick decline, Scrooge was able to gross $60,328,558 and was nominated for one Oscar. It’s since become a Christmas classic.
14. Jingle All the Way – $60,592,389
Most parents spend a large part of the holiday season searching for that one toy their child wants. Usually, that toy is the same toy that nearly every other child in town wants. And so, parents become each other’s competition as they fight to find that special toy that will bring light to their child’s eyes on Christmas morning.
Some parents, like Arnold Schwarzenneger‘s character in Jingle All The Way, take the search for the perfect toy to an extreme. In this festive romp, Arnie competes against the tricky mailman Myron, played by Sinbad. It was a pretty original set-up for a festive movie, but it’s likely that Arnie’s box office power made this one a success.
In its first weekend at the box office, Jingle All the Way grossed over $12 million. It did even better the following weekend (November 29), making a little over $500,000 more. When Jingle All the Way completed its theater run on February 2, 1997 it had grossed over $60 million in the United States and $69 million in foreign theaters, bringing its worldwide total gross to $129,832,389.
13. The Best Man Holiday – $70,525,195
In the holiday sequel to the the 1999 movie The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday reunited the entire cast and brought fans of the original movie to theaters over the 2013 holiday season. With the same all-star cast, hilarious friendships, and very tense moments, The Best Man Holiday lived up to its predecessor.
Grossing over $30 million its first weekend in theaters, The Best Man Holiday made nearly twice as much as its $17 million production budget. The movie remained in theaters worldwide until January 9, 2014. While the movie made a touch over $1 million in foreign earnings, it earned a total gross of $70,525,195 in the United States, bringing its total gross to $71,625,195.
12. Christmas Vacation – $71,319,526
Christmas with family can be trying, but probably not as interesting as the Griswold family Christmas. The 1989 movie that stars Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark’s wife Ellen will probably make you thankful for the crazy relatives at your family’s holiday party.
From hick cousin Eddie to crazy Uncle Lewis and a slew of christmas light catastrophes, the Griswold family Christmas was hilarious enough to bring in a large following of movie goers and fans that have made Christmas Vacation a holiday classic. In its first weekend in theaters, Christmas Vacation grossed $11,750,203 and took the number two rank at the box office.
Three weeks later, it claimed the number one spot and continued turning close to $10 million in earnings. The Warner Brothers comedy closed in theaters on January 21, 1990 but continued to remain a hit with viewers through video sales and television replays.
11. Fred Clause – $72,006,777
Imagine being the brother of Santa Clause. No matter how great your life may be, you would never be as cool as Santa. That’s the predicament in which Vince Vaughn‘s character, Fred Claus finds himself, in Fred Claus.
The 2007 Warner Brothers comedy contrasted Vince Vaughn’s classic sarcasm with the warm and fuzzy holiday spirit to make a hit at the box office. During its 14 weeks in theaters, Fred Claus was able to bring in $97,838,349 worldwide. The movie grossed over $18 million during its November 9th premiere weekend. Its earnings fell by 22% within its first week in theaters and by 35% the following week.
10. Christmas with the Kranks – $73,780,539
In 2004, Christmas with the Kranks opened in theaters on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving. The humorous movie about a couple, Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, who want to skip the Christmas festivities and go on a cruise, didn’t rank very well with reviewers. But it did do very well during its opening weekend. On Thanksgiving day, the movie grossed over five million dollars.
That weekend, Christmas with the Kranks brought in over $21 million. Though the movie did well in its first weekend, its popularity didn’t continue much longer and its sales declined rapidly in the following weeks. While its time in theaters didn’t last long, Christmas with the Kranks did earn $96,572,480 worldwide; more than enough revenue to cover the movie’s $60 million budget.
9. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – $75,082,668
In the part-Halloween, part-Christmas film The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town. Though he plots to ruin Christmas by kidnapping Santa Claus, his plans don’t quite pan out as he expected.
One of the first mainstream releases featuring this distinctive Burton-esque animation, this classic raked in a large profit at the box office. With a worldwide gross of $75,082,668, the stop motion film made its way into theaters on October 15, 1993. During its second weekend in theaters, the film made over $6 million. The movie continued to do well, bringing in over $8 million on the Halloween weekend.
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – $84,500,112
As the third installment of the very popular The Santa Clause movies, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause grossed over $19 million its opening weekend. With an all-star cast that included Tim Allen as Santa Claus and Martin Short as Jack Frost, the Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause stayed in theaters from November 3 to February 4 – a total of 14 weeks. During that time, the film grossed a total of $110,768,122 worldwide and made it one of the highest grossing Christmas movies of all time.
7. Four Christmases – $120,146,040
Vince Vaughn is hilarious and Reese Witherspoon is adorable in the 2008 Christmas movie Four Christmases. With Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Favreau, and several other well-known actors and actresses, Four Christmases tells the story of a couple who is forced to attend several relatives’ Christmas parties.
The 2008 film saw the majority of its profits in its opening weekend, grossing over $31 million between November 28th and 30th. Its popularity fell by nearly 50% the following weekend, bringing in just $16,755,478, though it remained number 1 at the box office. By Christmas weekend the movie’s profits fell to just over $4 million. Despite the continuing plummet in the movie’s viewer attendance, Four Christmases remained in theaters until February of 2009, bringing its lifetime worldwide gross to $120,146,040.
6. A Christmas Carol – $137,855,863
The 2009 remake of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, made its theater debut on November 6. During its first weekend in theaters, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which starred Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, grossed over $30 million. The animated classic continued to do well through November, keeping its spot in the top five box office movies until mid-December.
After Christmas, the movie’s popularity dropped and it fell to the number 13 spot at the box office. By the time its run at theaters came to an end, A Christmas Carol had grossed $137,855,863 worldwide.
5. The Santa Clause 2 – $139,236,327
The second installment of The Santa Clause movies made its theater debut on November 1, 2002, bringing back Tim Allen as Santa Claus. In the Christmas comedy’s first weekend in theaters The Santa Clause 2 brought in just a little over $29 million. The movie maintained a high level of popularity for the next month, remaining in the top five box office slots and grossing over $113 million. By the time the film left theaters in February of 2003, it had grossed $172,855,065 worldwide.
4. The Santa Clause – $144,833,357
The original The Santa Clause, in which Tim Allen unwillingly takes over the role of Santa, was the highest grossing of the three The Santa Clause movies. The Santa Clause grossed a total of $189,833,357 during its nine weeks in theaters.
During its debut weekend of November 11, 1994 The Santa Clause grossed $19,321,992. The film continued to bring in viewers and cash, especially during Thanksgiving weekend when it grossed over $20 million, nearly enough to break even with the $22 million production budget.
3. Elf – $173,398,518
Most Will Ferrell movies draw in an audience. But Elf combines Ferrell’s star power with Christmas magic to make a legendary holiday movie.
It’s the often-hilarious story of a man raised as an elf at the North Pole, sent to the United States to discover his true destiny as an adult. It did especially well when it was released in theaters on November 7, 2003. In its first weekend, Elf came in just $2 million short of the $33 million production budget. The comedy continued to do so well that it remained in theaters for 17 weeks. After its closing on March 4, 2004, Elf had grossed $220,443,451 worldwide.
2. The Polar Express – $183,373,735
With a production budget of a whopping $165 million, The Polar Express had to do well at the box office if Warner Brothers had any hope of making a profit from the animated film. Thanks to the superior vocal talents of Tom Hanks and a wide array of beautifully crafted music, The Polar Express brought in plenty of festive moviegoers.
In its first weekend, The Polar Express grossed just over $23 million. It continued to do well during its 17 weeks in theaters, especially overseas, where it brought in nearly half of its $307,514,317 total gross.
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – $260,044,825
The first The Grinch movie aired in 1957 as a short film based upon Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The animated film has continued to capture the hearts of children everywhere. However, Universal Studios created a much more popular and dazzling, multi-million dollar, full-length film based on the story. It would become the most iconic Christmas movie of modern times.
Directed by Ron Howard and featuring the hilarious comedic talents of Jim Carrey, The Grinch hit theaters on November 17, 2000. It was an immediate success, bringing in over $55 million in its weekend debut. It hit number one in box office rankings and remained there for a month. It stayed in theaters until March of 2001 and continued with its high popularity and high earnings. After its 15 weeks in theaters The Grinch had grossed over $260 million domestically and over $345 million worldwide.