The Highest-Grossing Holiday Films of All Time
The trees are going leafless, the wind carries a chill and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has begun its inevitable, dreadful climb to the top of Google search trends. The holidays are here. And even if you’re not one for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, snowy streets and bundled jackets, you have to admit — the holiday season has produced some very popular movies.
This list includes the 25 highest-grossing holiday films ever made. You might be surprised that a few staples didn’t make the list, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which lost $525,000 in 1946. “A Christmas Story,” which faithfully replays on cable for 24 hours from Christmas Eve through Christmas day every year, only made $20.6 million at the box office in 1983.
To even the playing field, we adjusted each movie’s gross for inflation and are only using domestic grosses (meaning the U.S. and Canada). Not all of these films are great or must-sees, and some of them even lost money, but the majority are big-budget films that deserve your attention — and those that don’t will function just fine as background fodder while you wrap gifts.
Note: Most box office stats are fromBox Office Mojo.
25. ‘Bad Santa’
Budget: $23 million
Domestic gross: $60 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $83.8 million
It’s not the most wholesome movie to start our list, but it’s the funniest. There are some heartwarming holiday moments at the end, even if the majority of the film centers on Billy Bob Thornton’s Santa partaking in debauchery, drunkenness and criminal behavior.
The “Bad Santa” idea was created by the Coen brothers, who hired John Requa and Glenn Ficarra to write the script. The main character, the world’s worst Father Christmas, was originally written for James Gandolfini, but that didn’t work out. Other contenders for the drunken Santa character included Robert De Niro, Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray, who just sort of stopped returning their calls.
During an early scene where Thornton stumbles through the mall toward a group of kids expecting Santa, he was actually drunk. He drank “three glasses of red wine for breakfast” along with vodka and cranberry juice and some Bud Lights, he told Entertainment Weekly. Method acting!
24. ‘Fred Claus’
Budget: $100 million
Domestic gross: $72 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $89.16 million
What should have been a PG-13 movie (according to the director), “Fred Claus” was stuffed into the family-friendly PG category of feel-good movies and suffered for it. The Christmas movie about Santa’s bratty brother who would rather steal than give tanked at the box office. According to Bomb Report, the film cost over $90 million to market globally but failed to raise enough interest. An inflated $100 million budget — $20 million of which went to Vince Vaughn for his starring role — meant “Fred Claus” would be less valuable than a lump of coal in Warner Bros’ stocking.
While “Fred Claus” was far from profitable, it still made a decent amount at the box office for a holiday film. It might have been a success had the film had half the budget. It was also the last movie Vaughn made before firing his agency and manager.
23. ‘Jingle All the Way’
Budget: $60 million
Domestic gross: $60.59 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $99.15 million
What would a father do to get his son’s most-wished-for toy in time for Christmas? What if that father was Arnold Schwarzenegger? What if a rival gift-seeker, a postman played by Sinbad, foiled him at every turn? What if a movie about this wasn’t very good?
That’s the sum of “Jingle All the Way,” a Christmas movie that received bad reviews and was questionably successful — according to a 2003 lawsuit alleging that the movie’s script was a rip-off, “Jingle All the Way” had earned $183 million but had also “not yet earned any profits for Fox,” although the film was projected to earn $15 million in the future. That lawsuit ultimately led to nothing, as an earlier ruling against Fox was overturned in 2004.
22. ‘Christmas With the Kranks’
Budget: $60 million
Domestic gross: $73.78 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $100.28 million
Sick of spending too much money for Christmas — and just sick of Christmas in general, especially with their daughter not being home this year — Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to ditch the lights and trees for a cruise instead. This outrages the neighborhood Christmas zealots and so begins a slapstick comedy of mediocre proportions. Most critics would tell you to skip this one for the holidays.
21. ‘The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause’
Domestic gross: $84.5 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $107.6 million
With a stripped-down budget (some sources claim $12 million), Tim Allen returned for the third and final time as jolly old Saint Nick in this critically maligned film. The film was nominated for five Razzies, including “Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment.”
However, the movie was a financial success, pulling in over $110 million worldwide in 2006.
20. ‘Daddy’s Home 2’
Budget: $70 million
Domestic gross: $104 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $108 million
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg teamed up once again for this buddy (father?) sequel to the 2015 hit film. While the first movie featured Christmas, the sequel is set entirely during the holidays. It received rather poor reviews but made over $104 million domestically with a strategic theatrical run that opened before Thanksgiving 2017 and ran until early 2018.
19. ‘Groundhog Day’
Budget: $14.6 million
Domestic gross: $70.9 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $126 million
“Groundhog Day” might not be a traditional holiday movie, but we argue that it deserves a spot on the list. Technically it is a holiday film — the entire movie takes place on February 2, on Groundhog Day.
We follow the protagonist, weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), on “A Christmas Carol”-esque redemption arc from a narcissistic blowhard who can’t fathom true love to a warm and caring individual. It’s a deeply spiritual movie with philosophical and religious undertones that’s perfect viewing for the holidays.
18. ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’
Budget: $30 million
Domestic gross: $49.5 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $111.94 million
One of the few movies centered on Thanksgiving, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is a John Hughes movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy as two men trying to make their way from New York City to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. During that one famous scene which netted “Planes” its R rating, Martin dropped the F-bomb 18 times.
17. 'Grumpy Old Men'
Budget: $25 million
Domestic gross: $70.17 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $124.68 million
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau star in this movie about two neighbors and rivals (but not really) vying for the attention of a new woman (played by Ann Margret) who just moved into their snowy neighborhood. It’s a light-hearted movie with a time frame that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
And there is a “Grumpy Old Men” reboot in the works, this time with Eddie Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson as the stars.
Budget: $32 million
Domestic gross: $60.32 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $130.93 million
“Groundhog Day” may have been influenced by “A Christmas Carol,” but “Scrooged” is a black comedy reimagining of the classic work. Also starring Bill Murray, “Scrooged” is a cult favorite about a network television president hell-bent on profits over people — especially when it comes to winning the Christmas television wars for viewership. Ghosts from Christmas past come to haunt him in a variety of oddball ways until he learns the error of his ways.
When it was released, Roger Ebert gave the film a one-star review. Two years later, Murray confronted Ebert about it during an interview.
“It wasn't that bad,” said the actor. He added that he had “only a few” arguments with the director “every single minute of the day. That could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good. There's maybe one take in the final cut movie that is mine. We made it so fast, it was like doing a movie live. He kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf.”
15. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
Budget: $18 million
Domestic gross: $75 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $133.4 million
What’s this? What’s this? A Halloween and Christmas film all wrapped into one? “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is the quintessential cult classic holiday movie and a beautiful looking stop-motion animation film with some catchy tunes. We’re reasonably sure Hot Topic would have gone out of business without off of that sweet, sweet merch.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” earned $50 million during its first box office run. When it attained cult-favorite status, it was re-issued several more times in theaters, most notably in 2007, when it made $14.5 million during a 3D re-issue.
14. 'Four Christmases'
Budget: $80 million
Domestic gross: $120 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $143.27 million
A zany slapstick comedy about dysfunctional families starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn, “Four Christmases” was panned by critics and did OK at the box office, taking in $120 million at home and $163.7 million worldwide.
13. ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’
Budget: $27 million
Domestic gross: $71.32 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $147.67 million
“Can I refill your eggnog? Get you something to eat, drive you into the middle of nowhere, and leave you for dead?” So says Clark Griswold, patriarch of the Griswold family and patron saint of Christmas light decorators everywhere. “Christmas Vacation” is a staple holiday comedy film that’s all but guaranteed to make you the hap, hap, happiest viewer since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye.
“Christmas Vacation” was based on John Hughes’ 1979 short story “Christmas ’59.” He wrote and produced the film 10 years later.
12. ‘A Christmas Carol’ (2009)
Budget: $200 million
Domestic gross: $137.85 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $165 million
Disney’s attempt at another version of Dickens’ classic tale starring Jim Carrey was a decent effort but the Mouse’s ledgers would be haunted by red ink. “A Christmas Carol” cost an astounding $200 million to film — about $240 million today — and failed to recoup its costs.
According to Bomb Report, an expensive but ineffective marketing spree — which included a six-month train tour to 40 U.S. cities with four specially-designed Amtrak cars and fake snow with costumed carolers at the London premiere — led to the resignation of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group’s president, who had overseen global marketing.
11. ‘Die Hard’
Budget: $28 million
Domestic gross: $83.52 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $181.27 million
Look, “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. Forget that the film came out in July and that Bruce Willis himself said, “‘Die Hard’” is not a Christmas movie. It’s a g** d*** Bruce Willis movie.” (But that statement was at his 2018 Comedy Central roast, casting serious doubts on the truthfulness of his declaration. Everyone knows celebrities have someone else write their jokes at those things).
Also ignore this survey, which claims the majority of adults do not believe “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. Less than 200 years ago, doctors didn’t believe in washing their hands before delivering a baby after they poked around in a cadaver.
Ok, so the state of “Die Hard”’s Christmastime classification isn’t quite as important. But still.
Google searches for “Die Hard” increase during the holidays and spike around Christmas before plummeting by early January. John McClane is jolly enough to spread Christmas cheer by writing a very merry “Ho Ho Ho” on a terrorist’s shirt. Even the original trailer begins with Christmas music. It’s a Christmas movie!
10. ‘The Santa Clause 2’
Budget: $65 million
Domestic gross: $139.23 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $198.72 million
A kookier, bigger-budget sequel to “The Santa Clause,” this installment focuses on Santa trying to find a Mrs. Claus, else Christmas be ruined forever. “The Santa Clause 2” was a jolly success, easily doubling its budget domestically and earning nearly $173 million worldwide. Tim Allen was paid $12 million for his role.
While it wasn’t as critically praised as the original, the sequel is miles better than the third film.
9. ‘Trading Places’
Budget: $15 million
Domestic gross: $90.4 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $233 million
Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is taken off the streets of Philadelphia and into the absurdly wealthy world of Randolph and Mortimer Duke and their commodities brokerage. Why? Because the brothers thought it would be a fun social experiment to replace one of their own with a homeless man and see how the man fares.
The victim of this trading of places is Winthrope (Dan Aykroyd), whom the brothers frame for drugs and cast out onto the streets.
“Trading Places” isn’t your traditional holiday film, but it has the best portrayal of a drunk, down-on-his-luck Santa outside of “Bad Santa.” In Italy, the film is replayed every Christmas Eve.
Film residuals for a producer’s share of “Trading Places” went up for auction in 2019 and closed with a winning bid of $140,300. The film paid out $7,988 in royalties the year before.
Budget: $33 million
Domestic gross: $173.4 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $241.96 million
“Good news! I saw a dog today!” If only we could be as entertained by the mundane world as Buddy, a human raised by Santa’s elves. Made during the height of Will Ferrell’s career, “Elf” was an instant classic and raked in $220.4 million worldwide.
While Ferrell didn’t have any experience playing an elf for the holidays, he did have some part-time Santa work to draw from.
“(When) we were in (sketch comedy troupe) The Groundlings together, Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes,” Ferrell told Spliced Wire. “It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.’”
7. ‘The Santa Clause’
Budget: $22 million
Domestic gross: $144.83 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $250.92 million
In this surprise holiday classic, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), accidentally kills Santa by causing him to fall off his roof. The original script was a bit darker and had Calvin shooting Santa after he mistook him for a burglar. Allen was all-in for that script, but the head of Disney at the time told him that scene wouldn’t be suitable.
As Allen reiterated the story to Jimmy Fallon, remembering from when he first read the script:
“I’m laughing so hard, but the head of Disney at the time, [Jeffery] Katzenberg says, ‘Well we can’t start a movie like that.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He says, ‘We can’t start a Disney movie with you murdering Santa.’”
6. ‘The Polar Express’
Budget: $165 million
Domestic gross: $187.22 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $254.48 million
Fifteen years later, “The Polar Express” might be most remembered for its off-putting and slightly creepy dead-eyed character animations.
This film had an enormous $165 million budget, with an additional $125 million allocated to global marketing. In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that the movie would have to make over $500 million in box office, DVD and TV sales for the studios to make a profit. It only made $313.5 million worldwide in 2004, and it’s unlikely that this film made another $187 million since then.
5. ‘The Grinch’ (2018)
Budget: $75 million
Domestic gross: $270.62 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $276.7 million
This animated re-imagining of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” book was not a critical favorite, but it certainly pleased audiences. The film collected over $270 million in domestic sales and an additional $241 million internationally.
4. ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’
Budget: $18-$28 million
Domestic gross: $173.58 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $317.67 million
Kevin McCallister and the Wet Bandits (now the Sticky Bandits) cross paths once again, this time in New York. It’s no surprise that this film was a smash hit — it made $173.5 million domestically and an additional $191.4 million around the world.
Budget: $11 million
Domestic gross: $153 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $378.3 million
For a PG Christmas film, “Gremlins” is pretty gruesome. In fact, it was one of the movies which led to the establishment of a PG-13 rating. But for every Gremlin meeting its fate in a blender or a microwave, there are five shots of that adorable Gizmo. And the whole thing is set during Christmas, even though it came out in the summer.
2. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’
Budget: $123 million
Domestic gross: $260 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $387.74 million
Jim Carrey donned a green fur suit to play the Grinch in this live-action movie, and he played the part well. Even critics, who seem to hate most holiday movies, enjoyed Carrey’s rendition of the misanthropic gift-taker. The population of a million Whovilles came out to see the film, which grossed $260 million domestically and $345 million worldwide.
1. ‘Home Alone’
Budget: $18 million
Domestic gross: $285.76 million
Inflation-adjusted gross: $561.37 million
When adjusted for inflation, the highest-grossing Christmas and holiday of all time is “Home Alone.” It has one of the best Christmas scores ever produced and is one of the best Christmas films ever made. Macaulay Culkin (who may or may not have officially changed his name to Macaulay ‘Macaulay Culkin’ Culkin) still has a scar on his finger from where Joe Pesci actually bit him during a rehearsal for this scene.
But what would a hugely successful movie be without a reboot? One is in the works, and this time it follows a husband and wife who go to war with a thieving nine-year-old boy, according to Observer. What happened to good, old-fashioned home invasions?