The highest-grossing Christmas weekend movies from the last 40 years

Going to the movies over the Christmas holiday can be a great way to bond with your loved ones and escape chaos. It’s no wonder Christmas weekend is one of the busiest times of the year to catch a new film and one of the most crucial times of the year for Hollywood.

It also tends to offer a wide selection of popular movies. Awards season hopefuls are out in full force, with the goal to win over audiences and critics before Oscar nominations are announced. Meanwhile, you can see comedies fit for all ages as well as new installments of major franchises. After Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the early aughts, recent years have featured “Star Wars” and “Avatar” films leading the box office over Christmas weekend.

But which motion pictures have fared the best at the box office? To find out, Casino Bonus CA put together a ranking of 20 of the highest-grossing movies during Christmas weekend since the 1980s using data from The Numbers. Box office gross figures were adjusted for inflation. To be considered, movies needed to be in theaters the same weekend as Christmas or the weekend after when the holiday fell on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

So sit back, get cozy, and read on to learn about which movies dominated the box office during the most wonderful time of the year.

Eric Charbonneau // Getty Images

#20. National Treasure: Book of Secrets

– Christmas weekend gross: $59,699,752
– Total gross: $333,516,858
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 124 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 21, 2007
– Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger

In this sequel to the original “National Treasure” film, code-breaking historian Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) sets out on an international mission to disprove the allegation that his ancestor was involved in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Despite its box office success, the movie received largely negative reviews, nabbing a 36% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 48 on Metacritic. “Book of Secrets” also had two Razzie Award nominations: Worst Actor for Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.

Tom Hanks washed up on the beach of an island in a scene from 'Cast Away'.
20th Century-Fox // Getty Images

#19. Cast Away

– Christmas weekend gross: $60,017,462
– Total gross: $444,877,210
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 143 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 22, 2000
– Cast: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy

Tom Hanks received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in this survival film. He plays a FedEx employee named Chuck Noland who becomes stranded on a desert island when his plane crashes during a storm. After spending four years with no companions besides a volleyball named Wilson, Chuck constructs a raft and fends off the elements in a bid to reunite with his girlfriend.

Robin Williams visits a sick child in a scene from the film 'Patch Adams'.
Universal // Getty Images

#18. Patch Adams

– Christmas weekend gross: $60,327,837
– Total gross: $291,152,931
– Genre: Comedy
– Run time: 115 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 25, 1998
– Cast: Robin Williams, Daniel London, Monica Potter

Robin Williams stars in “Patch Adams” as real-life doctor Hunter “Patch” Adams, who is moved to open a clinic for uninsured patients following his own treatment for depression. The film set the high-water mark on Christmas weekend for two years before it was beaten out by “Cast Away” (though “Patch Adams” did outgross “Cast Away” on Christmas weekend when adjusted for inflation). The real-life Adams wasn’t a fan of the movie, telling film critic Roger Ebert, “I hate that movie.”

Jason Momoa attends the World Premiere of 'Aquaman'.
LightRocket // Getty Images

#17. Aquaman

– Christmas weekend gross: $62,226,371
– Total gross: $386,430,698
– Genre: Action
– Run time: 143 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 21, 2018
– Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe

The DC Extended Universe scored its highest-grossing film with “Aquaman.” It starred Jason Momoa as the titular superhero who embarks on a quest to prevent his half-brother from destroying the surface world and taking his rightful place as the king of Atlantis. It had a long road to the screen, as rumors about the film’s creation began as early as 2004.

Jacek Boczarski // Getty Images

#16. Home Alone

– Christmas weekend gross: $66,744,586
– Total gross: $713,693,663
– Genre: Comedy
– Run time: 103 minutes
– Release date: Nov. 16, 1990
– Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

A holiday classic emerged when “Home Alone” hit theaters in 1990, introducing audiences to mischievous kid hero Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin). After his family accidentally leaves him behind in their suburban Chicago home on a trip to Paris, Kevin is left to defend the house from two greedy burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). “Home Alone” spawned a franchise and was the highest-grossing live-action comedy in the U.S. until it was dethroned by “Barbie” in 2023.

David Livingston // Getty Images

#15. Beverly Hills Cop

– Christmas weekend gross: $66,882,637
– Total gross: $713,768,668
– Genre: Comedy
– Run time: 105 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 5, 1984
– Cast: Eddie Murphy, Lisa Eilbacher, Steven Berkoff

Eddie Murphy shot to international stardom thanks to his role in “Beverly Hills Cop.” He played Detroit officer Axel Foley, who follows his best friend’s killers to posh Beverly Hills, California, to solve the case. The movie gave rise to a franchise and a hugely successful career for Murphy, who became “a singular figure in film history,” following in the footsteps of Richard Pryor and Sidney Poitier.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Media/Family Day group picture.
Christopher Polk // Getty Images

#14. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

– Christmas weekend gross: $72,987,286
– Total gross: $303,918,345
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 88 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 23, 2009
– Cast: Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney

Hollywood’s favorite chipmunks head back to school in “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” the follow-up to the inaugural “Alvin and the Chipmunks” film in 2007. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore compete in a battle of the bands to save their school’s music program, meeting a trio of female chipmunks known as the Chipettes. Though “The Squeakquel” was popular, it was criticized for its overreliance on slapstick humor and the sexualization of its lead female characters.

New Line // Getty Images

#13. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

– Christmas weekend gross: $76,570,760
– Total gross: $581,403,252
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 178 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 19, 2001
– Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen

J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic “Lord of the Rings” book series received an equally iconic three-film adaptation from director Peter Jackson, starting with 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The saga takes place in the fantastical world of Middle-earth, where a young hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) and eight companions set out to destroy the One Ring, a powerful artifact sought by the evil Sauron to regain power. In 2021, the Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.

Gareth Cattermole // Getty Images

#12. Avatar: The Way of Water

– Christmas weekend gross: $77,359,666
– Total gross: $684,075,767
– Genre: Action
– Run time: 192 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 16, 2022
– Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Thirteen years after the special effects-pioneering, box office-dominating sci-fi epic “Avatar” was released, director James Cameron (who made three of the films on this list) brought audiences back to the alien world of Pandora with the first of four planned sequels, “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The film takes place more than a decade after the original, following Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and their children as they’re forced to once again evade human colonizers by taking refuge with an aquatic Na’vi tribe known as the Metkayina.

“The Way of Water” utilizes cutting-edge technology, which allowed Cameron and his crew to film performances underwater. However, its release also sparked the renewal of a Native American-led boycott of “Avatar,” citing cultural appropriation and “anti-Indigenous rhetoric” by Cameron in a 2010 interview.

Albert L. Ortega // Getty Images

#11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

– Christmas weekend gross: $82,150,981
– Total gross: $644,548,924
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 133 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 16, 2016
– Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn

A galaxy far, far away takes the most spots on this list of any franchise, starting with the 2016 film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Set just a week before the original “Star Wars,” the prequel follows rebel Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her crew as they fight to steal plans for a terrifying weapon known as the Death Star, scoring the rebels’ first major victory against the totalitarian Empire. It sparked an acclaimed spinoff series on Disney+ called “Andor,” which tells the origin story of Diego Luna’s character, Cassian Andor.

Chris Polk // Getty Images

#10. Meet the Fockers

– Christmas weekend gross: $83,181,157
– Total gross: $467,196,588
– Genre: Comedy
– Run time: 114 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 22, 2004
– Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman

In the 2000 comedy “Meet the Parents,” hilarious mishaps ensue when Gaylord “Greg” Focker meets fiancée Pam Byrnes’ (Teri Polo) parents. In this sequel, the couple gets their two families together, introducing Greg’s freewheeling parents (franchise newcomers Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman) to the straitlaced Byrneses (Blythe Danner and Robert De Niro). The film broke the record set the year prior by “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” for the highest Christmas Day gross, which was surpassed by “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes” in 2009.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing in a scene from the film 'Titanic'.
20th Century-Fox // Getty Images

#9. Titanic

– Christmas weekend gross: $86,514,926
– Total gross: $1,446,815,282
– Genre: Drama
– Run time: 194 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 19, 1997
– Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane

A fictional romance between young lovers Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) unfolds alongside the real-life tragic voyage of the RMS Titanic in James Cameron’s historical epic. “Titanic” was a sensation at the box office, bringing in a staggering $1.8 billion. It tied “Ben-Hur” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” for the most Academy Awards won by a film with 11. Given its success, it’s easy to forget “Titanic” was expected to be a failure after Cameron almost doubled the original budget from $109 million to $210 million.

Jesse Grant // Getty Images

#8. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

– Christmas weekend gross: $89,757,405
– Total gross: $726,181,506
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 152 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 15, 2017
– Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley

In the sophomore installment of the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, aspiring Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) pleads with a jaded, exiled Luke Skywalker to teach her the ways of the force and aid the rebellion, who are being ruthlessly pursued by the evil First Order. The movie was controversial among some hardcore fans, who criticized its progressivism and character portrayals, among other things. However, it received overwhelming critical acclaim.

Tristan Fewings // Getty Images

#7. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

– Christmas weekend gross: $89,785,528
– Total gross: $588,455,698
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 141 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 20, 2019
– Cast: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega

The three-trilogy “Skywalker Saga” that comprises the main “Star Wars” franchise purportedly came to an end with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” in which Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and their allies mount a final battle against the First Order, who are aided by the return of original series baddie Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

The film was the only entry in the sequel trilogy to receive a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, with many criticizing its convoluted plot and director J.J. Abrams’ decision to walk back developments from “The Last Jedi.” Nevertheless, it received Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Editing.

Jamie McCarthy // Getty Images

#6. Sherlock Holmes

– Christmas weekend gross: $93,041,054
– Total gross: $288,596,584
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 128 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 25, 2009
– Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

Soon after ushering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the titular character in “Iron Man,” Robert Downey Jr. took on the iconic role of famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. This particular Holmes adaptation follows Sherlock and his partner John Watson (Jude Law) as they attempt to stop a mystic (Mark Strong) from using supernatural means to take over the world. Downey won a Golden Globe for his performance, and “Sherlock Holmes” spawned a 2011 sequel, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

Dean Treml // Getty Images

#5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

– Christmas weekend gross: $93,979,894
– Total gross: $656,270,541
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 201 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 17, 2003
– Cast: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin

In the final installment of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Frodo (Elijah Wood) prepares to destroy the One Ring once and for all, while his friends prepare to meet Sauron’s army on the battlefield. Apart from dominating the Christmas box office, “Return of the King” made history as the first fantasy movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It also tied “Ben-Hur” and “Titanic” for the most Oscar wins by a film with 11.

Kevin Winter // Getty Images

#4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

– Christmas weekend gross: $94,217,928
– Total gross: $615,206,952
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 179 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 18, 2002
– Cast: Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen

In the second of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam’s (Sean Astin) journey to Mordor is complicated when they meet—and are eventually guided by—the mischievous Gollum (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and other members of the fellowship arrive in the kingdom of Rohan to help in the fight against Sauron’s evil forces. “The Two Towers” was the highest-grossing film of 2002.

Emma McIntyre // Getty Images

#3. Spider-Man: No Way Home

– Christmas weekend gross: $101,061,162
– Total gross: $821,277,378
– Genre: Action
– Run time: 148 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 17, 2021
– Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch

The Marvel Cinematic Universe toyed with the multiverse in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the third installment in the Tom Holland-led MCU “Spider-Man” trilogy. After making an ill-advised plea to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to reverse the reveal of his identity to the public, Peter Parker (Holland) accidentally draws in Spidey characters from other universes. This allowed for the return of previous “Spider-Man” actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as well as previous “Spider-Man” baddies Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin and Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus.

Barry King // Getty Images

#2. Avatar

– Christmas weekend gross: $112,921,581
– Total gross: $1,064,124,576
– Genre: Action
– Run time: 162 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 18, 2009
– Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Twelve years after the runaway success of “Titanic,” James Cameron returned to his sci-fi roots to introduce audiences to the breathtaking alien world of “Pandora,” which humans are attempting to colonize at the expense of native humanoids called the Na’vi. New recruit Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) enlists in the Avatar program, which allows people to inhabit Na’vi bodies to gain intel on Na’vi culture and help infiltrate their home. He is drawn to this new life, however, and falls in love with a warrior named Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña).

Cameron first came up with the idea for “Avatar” in the ’90s but waited for special effects to advance enough so that he could convincingly bring the Na’vi to life. The success of “Avatar” led to four planned sequels, the first of which came out in 2022.

Mike Marsland // Getty Images

#1. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

– Christmas weekend gross: $194,085,013
– Total gross: $1,163,816,804
– Genre: Adventure
– Run time: 136 minutes
– Release date: Dec. 18, 2015
– Cast: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega

Ten years after George Lucas’ often-maligned “Star Wars” prequel trilogy ended, Lucasfilm and Disney brought audiences back with the first film in the sequel trilogy: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It picks up 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” pitting new and old heroes alike against the evil First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire. “The Force Awakens” is considered one of the most successful movies of all time, having grossed more than $2 billion.

Data reporting by Karim Noorani. Story editing by Mike Taylor. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Photo selection by Clarese Moller. 

This story originally appeared on Casino Bonus CA and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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