Holiday films are an annual event. Each year, studios release films dedicated to capitalizing on events such as Christmas and Halloween. Christmas movies have proven time and again that audiences love a good, heart-warming story. Who doesn’t enjoy cozying up by the fire for your favorite holiday film with a mug of hot cocoa? The longing for this experience might be part of what draws crowds into the theatres this time of year, hoping they’ll discover the next holiday classic.
Listed below are the top 10 highest-grossing Christmas movies of all time. All of these films deal with Christmas in some capacity or another. Note: the amount of money listed is the domestic take for the United States, not worldwide.
10. Christmas with the Kranks — $73.7 million
Based on the novel by John Grisham, the comedy starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis opened on November 24th, 2004. Though it opened at #3 at the box office (behind the conspiracy-laden National Treasure and the Pixar smash The Incredibles), it was able to pull in $21.5 million opening weekend. As the holidays continued, the film was able to successfully rake in people for a total box office gross of $73.7 million. The money generated by the film doesn’t owe its thanks to critics, who widely panned the film as “a mirthless movie.” Currently, the film has earned a microscopic 5% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas — $75 million
The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t your average Christmas movie. Filled with ghouls, skeletons, and lots of music, Tim Burton‘s foray into Christmas proved to be a big bet that paid off. Originally, Disney didn’t take this bet. They released the film under Touchstone Pictures, stating that they thought the film would be “too scary for kids.” Later, in 2009, they would cash in on its massive success, releasing the film on Blu-Ray.
When Nightmare was released, it instantly gained critical acclaim. Many praised the visuals and imagination of the film, even more so when taking into consideration the film was entirely shot using stop-motion animation. Along with the visuals, the musical score has stood the test of time. In 2008, Disney released a soundtrack titled Nightmare Revisited that included new artists and songs.
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause — $84.5 million
Another holiday film starring Tim Allen, the third film in the Santa Clause series brings comedian Martin Short into the mix to give the series a boost. While not doing nearly as well as the first two films (listed below), The Escape Clause was able to pull in $84.5 million. However, this is the first film in the series to be beaten on its opening weekend (Borat would take those honors). With the first two films earning modest reviews, the third entry in the series failed to establish itself with critics. It has a 15% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Still, audiences seemed to be attracted to the lovable guy, even with the franchise growing weary.
7. Four Christmases — $120.1 million
With Vince Vaughn riding his wave of popularity after a string of hits, it seemed like a smart idea to cast him in a holiday movie. Pair him with the gorgeous Reese Witherspoon and you have a recipe for a successful movie. However, I don’t think producers predicted it would amass the success that it did. Breaking the $100 million mark is a milestone not many movies achieve. Four Christmases garnered roughly a fourth of its revenues from its opening weekend. Once again, the critics hated this movie and didn’t give it a shot. Lucky for studios that many people don’t listen to critics.
6. A Christmas Carol (2009) — $137.8 million
One of the first movies to spout 3D during the resurgence of the fad, the CGI-animated film wowed audiences with its stunning visual effects and top-notch voice acting performances from stars Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman. While some might scoff at the thought of another movie about mean, old Scrooge, audiences came out in droves to see the movie. The 3D is exceptional in the film, proving that 3D can actually compliment a film when used properly. With Robert Zemeckis helming the project, the film was a massive success.
5. The Santa Clause 2 — $139.2 million
With the first instalment of the franchise proving a massive success, production company Buena Vista struck gold a second time with a sequel to 1994’s The Santa Clause. The sequel, sporting a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, proved that a comedy franchise surrounding Christmas is almost guaranteed to make a large chunk of money. Most of the original cast returned for the film, adding an authentic touch of continuity to the series. With a shade over $139 million in revenue, the film’s success gave producers a hunch that the franchise should continue. It did, but the third film failed to enjoy the same success as the first two films.
4. The Santa Clause — $144.8 million
As the first two films in the franchise are listed above, the old adage that “the original is the best” proves correct in terms of money. Releasing in 1994, the original Santa Clause looked to make waves at the box office. With the concept of an average Joe taking on the role of Santa Clause, Buena Vista thought they had a strong enough plot to draw in audiences looking for family-friendly fare. Add in Tim Allen, who at the time was starring in TV’s Home Improvement, and they had all the ingredients to charm audiences. It captured both their hearts and their minds, and garnered over $144 million.
3. Elf — $173.3 million
Will Ferrell anchors this family comedy as the wide-eyed, optimistic Buddy the Elf. Ferrell’s portrayal of Buddy instantly dazzled audiences, both with his charm and kind-heartedness. The name of the movie explains it all, as the character of Buddy was just too lovable not to like. With an outstanding execution of the role, Will Ferrell helped bring New Line Pictures a hefty payday. When it was all said and done, Elf earned an astounding $173.3 million in theaters. That’s a vast amount of money, especially for a family comedy. Like many of the other movies on this list, Elf was released at the beginning of the holiday season in early November.
2. The Polar Express — $183.3 million
One year after the success of the film listed above, audiences were again wowed and blown away by a family film. However, the stage shifted from live-action to the ever-growing world of CGI. On November 10, 2004, The Polar Express was released for audiences everywhere to experience. That’s what many described it as, an “experience.” From the outstanding CGI and motion capture technology to the exceptional voice acting of Tom Hanks, the film was an all-around success. Audiences couldn’t get enough of the heart-warming story, involving a magical train called The Polar Express. Domestically, the film collected $183.3 million. The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment and this was their first shot at an animated film.
1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000) — $260 million
A live-action retelling of a classic cartoon, only Jim Carrey could carry the weight of this film and all the hype surrounding it. Opening to a massive $55 million weekend, the film captured the audience’s imaginations and their hearts. While critics have had their concerns about the film, Carrey’s performance as “The Grinch” was widely praised. Not only was the film a family comedy, it was also a musical. With many musical numbers, the movie continued to rake in the money, as well as awards. The Grinch was nominated for three Academy Awards. The first two, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction, went to films other then The Grinch. However, the third nomination for Best Makeup was won by the Grinch team. All in all, the film carried away $260 million domestically.