‘Tis the season to get in the yuletide spirit by binge-watching a cheery collection of Christmas movies, no? Revered for their ability to remain watchable even after countless viewings, Christmas movies are the perfect way to usher in the holiday season. Needless to say, some of the more popular festive flicks made a killing at the worldwide box office, leaving viewers with a shared sense of Christmas cheer.
After all the box-office receipts were counted and categorized, the statisticians at Box Office Mojo were, in the spirit of the holiday, able to grant us a full list of the highest-grossing Christmas movies of all time.
Updated on January 27th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: What even constitutes a Christmas movie is something that often inspires intense debate amongst movie fans, let alone the discussion over what the best examples are. In an effort to alleviate as much potential for an argument around Christmas as possible, we’ve added an extra 5 movies to our list to create an irrefutable list of popular holiday hits. Being the highest-grossing movie within a given genre by no means makes it the best but global box office results do give a clear indication as to what audiences have responded to the most enthusiastically.
15 Arthur Christmas (2011) – $147 million
The first computer-animated movie from Oscar-winning animation studio Aardman Animations, Arthur Christmas revolves around the youngest son of the then-sitting Santa whose naive love for the season leads him on a heartfelt adventure to get a missed present to its rightful owner before Christmas morning.
Though not one of the company’s highest-grossing movies overall, especially in relation to its budget, it was a hit with critics and audiences, developing a stronger fanbase with each passing Christmas.
14 Four Christmases (2008) – $164 million
A star-studded Christmas comedy lead by Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, Four Christmases sees a couple suffering through the holiday by visiting each of their divorced parents, resulting in four separately awkward scenes that test the strength of their relationship.
Featuring Oscar-winning actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, and Mary Steenburgen as the parents, the movie overcame its largely negative reviews to become a relative holiday hot at the box office.
13 The Santa Clause 2 (2002) – $172 million
The Santa Clause 2 takes place eight years after its predecessor, but not much has changed – Scott Calvin is still Santa Claus, and all the characters from the first film are living their lives normally – except for Scott’s son Charlie, who has vandalized his school in what appears to be a bid for attention. While Scott seeks to figure out the source of his son’s rebellious attitude, he also learns there’s another clause – The “Mrs. Clause” – which states that the new Santa must find his life partner before next Christmas Eve or forever lose his spot as head honcho of Christmastime.
While these plot contrivances are a tad extraordinary, it’s an okay follow-up to a successful comedy, and it will forever be better than The Santa Clause 3, so… count your blessings.
12 The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – $173 million
Disney’s whimsical Christmas musical never really transcended its token premise to become anything more meaningful than just a hollow fantasy with some strong performances and high-quality visual effects, and despite its heavy box office spoils, it was actually a monumental failure for Disney, as they spent around $120 million creating the film – although Nutcracker-related films bombing at the box office is nothing new.
It’s still completely watchable, but it definitely had some execution problems that kept it from filling the role of a modern Christmas classic.
11 Daddy’s Home 2 (2017) – $180 million
The sequel to the hit family comedy Daddy’s Home from 2015, Daddy’s Home 2 sees stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg return with a Christmas setting and added stars Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, and John Cena in tow.
Though not as big a financial success as the first movie, and even more mauled by critics than its predecessor, Daddy’s Home 2 earned enough to make it one of the highest-grossing Christmas movies of all time at the box office.
10 The Santa Clause (1994) – $189 million
Tim Allen’s well-loved Christmas comedy about a man who becomes Santa Claus after putting on Santa’s coat was a hit with critics and audiences, and we can see why – while the film runs into a little bit of trouble trying to suspend disbelief, the comedy, acting, and story form what’s actually a somewhat deep and inviting Christmas parable, celebrating its almost Hallmark-y vibe and being equally as enthralling as several other Christmas comedies, as well as much more memorable.
Apparently, the film’s audience agreed with at least some of these stipulations, because the film went on to make nearly $200 million at the worldwide box office.
9 The Holiday (2006) – $205 million
A newspaper columnist in London and a producer in Los Angeles decide to switch homes for the Christmas season to get away from their unfortunate love lives and find their mojo in this beloved rom-com from writer and director Nancy Meyers.
Kate Winslet and Cameron star in the lead roles and are joined by charming love interests Jude Law and Jack Black. Though not without its fair share of criticism from both critics and fans, The Holiday has steadily become essential viewing for many movie lovers around Christmas.
8 Elf (2003) – $223 million
Here’s another unforgettable Christmas comedy – who hasn’t heard of Elf? The film follows Buddy, a human who was raised as an elf by Santa’s elves and has only recently discovered his true identity. While attempting to connect with his biological father, who he traveled nearly 3,200 miles to meet, he wanders around New York City, spreading a spirit of jolliness and festivity everywhere he goes.
The film’s lead, Will Ferell, and director, Jon Favreau, both enjoyed increased periods in the spotlight because of the film’s nearly-universal triumph, and it remains a beloved and oft-quoted holiday hit.
7 Love Actually (2003) – $245 million
One of the most devoutly watched Christmas movies to emerge from the 21st century so far, Richard Curtis’ large scale ensemble rom-com follows various people and their romantic troubles in the run up to Christmas.
Curtis’ longtime collaborator Hugh Grant returns in the movie alongside an impressive cast of predominantly British stars for an almost entirely upbeat collection of stories that capture the holiday spirit.
6 The Polar Express (2004) – $314 million
This somewhat experimental motion-capture adaption of a children’s book became a surprise hit, although, with a budget of nearly $165 million, its success can’t be attributed only to luck. The film, which follows a group of children embarking on a train ride to the North Pole, became a critical success despite a few problems with its overall execution, not the least of which was the vague, lifeless expressions often decorating the faces of the human characters – in a disturbing example of the uncanny valley – that shows the film’s technology might have needed more time to develop.
Still, there’s not much else to dislike about the film, and many consider it witty and enjoyable December fare.
5 A Christmas Carol (2009) – $325 million
This 2009 film has a couple of similarities to The Polar Express – for one, it uses the infamous motion-capture technology the other film pioneered, although this time the mo-cap animation seems to have improved, as the visuals are top-notch; also, it was helmed by Polar Express director Robert Zemeckis.
Telling the classic story of the miserly Scrooge as he is visited by a trio of Christmas spirits isn’t an easy task, but the film is shockingly adept at its goal and never strays too far from the Dickens classic, with Jim Carrey killing it as Scrooge – and despite not being particularly memorable – not to mention lacking festive imagery – it was a critical and commercial success.
4 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) – $358 million
The first Home Alone movie was such a success that a sequel was imminent, but the one we got is a little too much like the original to deserve a special spot on the Christmas movie roster – it follows Kevin McCallister as he is once again forced to take down two conniving criminals with only his ingeniously designed booby traps, instead of calling the police, for instance.
However, it still has some great moments (including a laughably awkward Donald Trump cameo), and with a Home Alone remake in the works at Disney, this is the perfect time to give this one a quick rewatch.
3 Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000) – $363 million
Jim Carrey plays a sulking and reclusive but sympathetic villain in A Christmas Carol, but that description also fits the character he plays here. This 2000 film gives the famous green, misanthropic character his own origin story and highlights some great performances, especially from Carrey.
While the 1966 television special is still widely considered to be the best version of the source text, there’s a lot to like about this fun Christmas adventure through a strange, Seussian world – even if sometimes it gets a little too incoherent.
2 Home Alone (1990) – $476 million
Yup. The mac daddy of Christmas comedies packed a serious box-office punch, and while we may never truly understand the phenomenon of just why this film became such a commercial success, the story of Kevin (played by Macauley Culkin) defending his territory from his archnemeses, the bumbling Wet Bandits, is still hilarious and quite possibly timeless.
While there are quite a few improvements the directors could have made, such as ridding the script of its plot holes and introducing more fully fleshed-out characters, the film’s likable amateurishness is part of its signature flair and, in the end, is what sets it apart from other Christmas-themed comedies.
1 Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – $512 million
The eponymous antagonist of Christmas earned yet another film adaptation detailing his story, and with Illumination Entertainment masterminding the production, it was clear that commercial success of massive proportions was in the works – but that’s not to say the film didn’t make some bad decisions.
Turning the Grinch into a character that behaves more like a cereal mascot hyped up on sugar than a narcissistic mountain-dweller who engages in animal abuse kind of messes up the film’s story from the get-go, and critics highlighted this frequently, although the film’s visuals and general Christmas spirit were widely considered positive aspects, making many reviews decidedly mixed. You can’t argue with success though – and if the film’s box office receipts are any indication, this was one massive success.
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