America’s Favorite Christmas Movies: Box Office Battle

Do you have a Christmas movie favorite? One that you watch every year, or one that sets the tone for the season just like that first cup of eggnog or putting up the Christmas tree? Although there are favorites aplenty, the box office numbers haven’t always lined up with the sentimental Christmas favorites.

Favorite Christmas Movies Infographic

Top-Grossing Christmas Movies Since 1980

  • Home Alone (1990), $285.8 million
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), $260.0 million
  • The Polar Express (2004), $183.4 million
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), $173.6 million
  • Elf (2003), $173.4 million
  • Gremlins (1984), $153.0 million
  • The Santa Clause (1994), $144.8 million
  • The Santa Clause 2 (2002), $139.2 million
  • A Christmas Carol (2009), $137.9 million
  • Four Christmases (2008), $120.1 million
  • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), $84.5 million

Timeline of Christmas Movies at the Box Office

  • A Christmas Story (1983), $3.2M budget, $17.4M profit
  • Gremlins (1984) $11M budget, $142M profit
  • Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), $30M budget, $6.3M net loss
  • Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986), $781K gross
  • Ernest Saves Christmas (1988),$6M budget, $22.2M profit
  • Die Hard (1988), $28M budget, $55M profit
  • Home Alone (1990), $18M budget, $267.8M profit
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), $20M budget, $153.6M profit
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), $12M budget, $15.3M profit
  • Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), $18M budget, $57.1M profit
  • The Nutcracker (1993), $19M budget, $16.9M net loss
  • The Santa Clause (1994), $22M budget, $122.8M profit
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1994), $17.3M gross
  • Jingle All the Way, (1996), $75M budget, $14.4M net loss
  • The Preacher’s Wife (1996), $48M gross
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998), $30M budget, $17.8M net loss
  • Jack Frost (1998), $85M budget, $50.4M net loss
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), $123M budget, $137M profit
  • The Santa Clause 2 (2002), $65M budget, $74.2M profit
  • Elf (2003), $33M budget, $140.4M profit
  • Love Actually (2003), $45M budget, $14.7M profit
  • Bad Santa (2003), $23M budget, $37.1M budget
  • The Polar Express (2004), $150M budget, $33.4M profit
  • Christmas With the Kranks (2004), $60M budget, $13.8 profit
  • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), $12M budget, $72.5M profit
  • Fred Claus (2007), $100M budget, $28M net loss
  • Four Christmases (2008), $80M budget, $40.1M profit
  • A Christmas Carol (2009), $175M budget, $37.1M net loss
  • The Nutcracker in 3D (2010), $90M budget, $89.8M net loss
  • A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), $19M budget, $16.1M profit
  • The Best Man Holiday (2013), $17M budget, $53.5M profit
  • Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (2013), $25M budget, $27.5M profit
  • The Night Before (2015), $25M budget, $18M profit
  • Krampus (2015), $15M budget, $27.7M profit

Check this graph for net profit and losses for all Christmas movies in our research:

Christmas Movies at the Box Office

Not What You’d Expect

The 1983 classic, A Christmas Story, is shown repeatedly on TV and often quoted, but its total lifetime gross is just $20.6 million. It made less money than Ernest Saves Christmas!

Interestingly, there is some debate about what’s considered a Christmas movie. Some films that are not considered Christmas movies by data collectors include the sixth-highest-grossing movie, Gremlins (1984), at $153.0 million; the 12th-highest-grossing movie, Die Hard (1988), at $83.0 million; and the 21st-highest-grossing movie, Love Actually (2003), at $59.7 million.

What about the classics? After looking through the list of films, you may have the realization that many of your favorites are actually from before 1980. If you’re looking for It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or Charlie Brown’s Christmas (1965), then you may be taking an old-fashioned approach to your holiday movie picks.

Net Profit/Loss

More than just box office sales, let’s look at which Christmas movies since 1980 made the most money or lost the most money.

Highest Net Profit

  1. Home Alone, $268 million
  2. Home Alone 2, $154 million
  3. Gremlins, $142 million
  4. Elf, $140 million
  5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), $137 million

Biggest Net Loss

  1. The Nutcracker in 3D, $90 million
  2. Happy Christmas, $70 million
  3. Arthur Christmas, $54 million
  4. Jack Frost, $50 million
  5. A Christmas Carol (2009), $37 million

In addition to grossing less in recent years, more Christmas movies have been showing a net loss after box-office sales.

Trivia and Background

It’s a Wonderful Life: The 1946 film made $3.3 million during its initial run, failing to break even after $3.7 million in costs. The film was shot in a California studio, but Seneca Falls, N.Y., claims to be the inspiration for the small-town setting. It returned from obscurity in the 1980s, going on to be so beloved that an original film poster sold for $15,535. The film was named by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made.

Muppet Christmas Carol: It was the first major muppet project after Jim Henson’s death. The puppet for the Ghost of Christmas Past was filmed underwater to create its ethereal, ghostly look before being superimposed onto the set background.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: 100 people worked for 3 years to create the 12 stop-motion moves made for every second of film. Because stop motion is such a time-consuming process, filming began before the script was completed.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Jim Carey’s makeup took 8 hours to apply. No movie since the Wizard of Oz in 1939 had so many characters in heavy makeup. The costume designer looked to 1950s cookbooks as vintage inspiration for the 300 hats in the film.

Love Actually: The airport footage at the beginning and end of the film was of real people greeting each other at Heathrow Airport. The nativity concert was filmed at the Elliott School in Putney, southwest London, which is also where Pierce Brosnan went to school.

Bad Santa: To play a drunk Santa, Billy Bob Thornton got drunk during the filming. The non-traditional representation of Santa ruffled some feathers. Thornton’s reply: “As far as I know, Santa Claus is not in the Bible. I think you guys are talking about Jesus.”

A Christmas Story: The filming budget was $3.2 million. You can visit Ralphie’s house in Cleveland, which is open for tours year-round. In 2004, a San Diego entrepreneur bought the house on eBay for $150,000. A longtime fan of the movie, he watched it frame by frame to draw up the plans for a $240,000 restoration back to the way it was in the film. Although none of the three “leg lamps” that were used during filming have survived, reproductions are available for about $200.

Elf: Walter’s apartment is in the same building as Dana’s apartment in Ghostbusters (located at Central Park West in Manhattan). Will Ferrell’s costume sold for $10,000.

Polar Express: It’s the first all-digital capture film, which got it listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The conductor references director Robert Zemeckis’ childhood home in Chicago when he says the street address, “11344 Edbrooke.”

Home Alone: A blizzard struck on the second day of shooting, which meant that fake snow had to be created for the rest of the filming. The suburban Chicago house that was used for both interior and exterior scenes sold for $1.58 million in 2012.


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