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The Highest Grossing Christmas Day Opening Movie Releases Ever

Hollywood loves releasing movies during the holiday season, and several of the top-grossing films of all time have been available in theaters on Christmas Day, including "Avatar" and the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy. None of those films, however, have been released on Christmas Day itself — while the season in general is a great time for ticket sales, people tend to spend Christmas Day at home with their families, or at parties and gatherings, rather than in the theater.

However, that's not to say movies don't get released on Christmas! Far from it — every year sees a handful of Christmas Day releases, many of which do, in fact, see reasonable box office. They're not the biggest money-makers in cinematic history, but the ones that do make money form a fascinating list of films, from franchise sequels to family comedies to Oscar winners. So in the spirit of the season, let's count down the movies that have actually gotten audiences into the theater on the biggest holiday of the year — the 15 top-grossing Christmas Day openings of all time — and maybe even learn a few lessons along the way.


Christmas Day 2008 turned out to be a last-minute Christmas gift for Hollywood — four of the five widely-released films that year appear on this list. The smallest of those four hauls came from "Valkyrie," the star-studded historical thriller helmed by since-disgraced director Bryan Singer and featuring Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg. During World War II, Stauffenberg was a German colonel who, along with other conspirators in the German military, attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Of course, they failed, meaning that the ending of "Valkyrie" is something of a downer — an interesting choice for a Christmas Day release.

Of course, "Valkyrie" was originally supposed to hit theaters on Independence Day weekend – it ended up with multiple new release dates, getting moved back and forth along the calendar until finally settling on Christmas. The heavy source material, however, didn't stop it from opening strong, pulling in nearly $8.5 million in its first day at the domestic box office. 


All kinds of films get released on Christmas Day, but with carolers thronging the streets and old familiar songs emanating from radios everywhere, it's no surprise that Christmas theatergoers seem to have a particular soft spot for musicals. Case in point: "Dreamgirls," the story of a trio of Black singers who take the world by storm and become the backbone of a new record label. Though a work of fiction, "Dreamgirls," like the Broadway show it's adapted from, takes heavy inspiration from real-life events involving the group The Supremes and their label, Motown. 

With an almost entirely Black cast, including Jaime Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Beyoncé (a few years after departing her own musical trio) the film was a critical and commercial success, earning $8.7 million in its wide release Christmas 2006 opening and garnering no fewer than eight Academy Award nominations. It's perhaps most notable for the breakout performance of singer Jennifer Hudson, who steals the movie so completely that she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her very first film role.

The Wolf of Wall Street

In terms of sheer quality, it's hard to touch 2013's "The Wolf of Wall Street," Martin Scorsese's utterly unhinged adaptation of the story of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Based on Belfort's memoir of the same name, the film stars frequent Scorsese muse Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, and he throws himself into Belfort's fast-paced life of drugs and money with manic abandon alongside fellow cast members Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Matthew McConaughey (whose single scene is one for the ages). 

It's another biopic and another Oscar contender, but where "Valkyrie" and "Dreamgirls" were films that largely idolized their real-world subjects, "The Wolf of Wall Street" centers on one of the most ruthless scam artists ever to walk the Earth, somehow infusing Belfort with a degree of sympathy even as it lambasts his criminal actions and his ridiculous lifestyle. If holiday audiences had any reservations about the movie's subject matter, the established track record of Scorsese and DiCaprio was more than enough to overcome it — their film made $9.1 million on Christmas Day.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Sometimes, a film's opening day numbers only tell part of the story. "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem," the follow-up to the "Aliens vs. Predator" crossover blockbuster, came out on Christmas Day 2007 and immediately made $9.5 million, but that turned out to be a whopping 22.8% of its final box office total. To put this number in perspective, "Valkyrie" made 10.2% of its total earnings on Christmas Day, "Dreamgirls" made 8.4%, and "The Wolf of Wall Street" made 7.8%. It's pretty rare for a film to make nearly a quarter of its total on opening day, and it usually means the movie in question was either a massive hit or a massive flop. 

"Requiem," unfortunately, was the latter — its strong early returns can likely be attributed to the fact that it was a franchise sequel, but the reviews were unkind, to say the least, and as word got around, it quickly plummeted, finishing with a paltry $40 million and stonewalling plans for a third installment. That said, die-hard "AVP" fans might still have something to hope for, as rumors have recently begun flying about a potential revival of the franchise under the Disney banner.

Catch Me If You Can

At this point, if someone were to tell you that one of the biggest Christmas Day openings of all time was a prestigious adaptation of an autobiography, made by a famous director, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a sympathetic con artist who stole a bunch of money, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were talking about "The Wolf of Wall Street." But appropriately, DiCaprio had pulled the same trick more than a decade earlier, working for Steven Spielberg in 2002's "Catch Me If You Can." 

The film tells the story of Frank Abagnale, who, as a teenager in the 1960s, supposedly traveled the nation posing as (among other things) a doctor, a lawyer, and an airline pilot, forging millions of dollars' worth of paychecks until finally being caught by the FBI. Abagnale's story has come under scrutiny in recent years, and it's very possible he never did any of the things he claimed to have done, but the movie is still a classic, as its $9.8 million opening day can attest.


The box office numbers in this list haven't been adjusted for inflation, which makes our oldest film, 2001's "Ali," even more impressive in its opening day take. Another dramatized biopic (let it never be said that America doesn't love celebrities, especially Hollywood versions of them), this one stars Will Smith, in peak blockbuster form, as legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. It opens with his historic first championship victory against Sonny Liston in 1964 and closes a decade later with the famed Rumble in the Jungle, in which Ali defeated George Foreman with the technique that has since been immortalized as the "rope-a-dope." 

In between, "Ali" covers the controversial champion's troubled romances, conversion to Islam, and refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Like "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem," the film cleaned up on Christmas before sliding into box office failure, but it still made $10.2 million, was better received by critics, and earned Smith his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It also featured Jaime Foxx as Ali cornerman Drew Bundini Brown, Foxx's second (but not final) appearance on this list.

Bedtime Stories

Say what you will about Adam Sandler, but you can't say he doesn't sell tickets. Disney's first appearance on the list comes in the form of "Bedtime Stories," another film that debuted on the profitable Christmas Day of 2008. Sandler stars as Skeeter, a down-on-his-luck hotel employee whose fortunes begin to turn when the stories he tells his sister's two children before bed begin to come true — but only the elements added by the kids themselves. 

As a result, "Bedtime Stories" takes on something of an anthology format, revolving around a series of fantastical setpieces that cycle through popular genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and Western, all framed by the larger narrative that sees Skeeter find both career and romantic success thanks to the unexplained phenomenon of the stories in question. Critics weren't impressed, but the family-friendly movie proved popular on Christmas Day, to the tune of $10.5 million.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Our third 2008 Christmas Day release is probably the best known: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a film that racked up not just $11.9 million on opening day, but 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It only won three, but those three — Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects — tell the tale, as David Fincher's loose adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story was hailed for its high-budget depiction of a man who ages in reverse, beginning his life as an ancient, wrinkled baby and ending it as a child suffering from dementia. 

The titular Benjamin Button is portrayed by seven different actors over the course of the film, but most notably by Brad Pitt, who's joined by Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and Mahershala Ali. Once again, considering the inevitable end of the story, Christmas audiences revealed that they're not afraid of a bittersweet conclusion (particularly given the film's use of then-recent natural disaster Hurricane Katrina) and will show up for Hollywood's biggest stars.

Marley and Me

Rounding out the 2008 class is "Marley and Me," a film that threads the needle between all-ages family comedy and autobiographical adaptation — two genres that, as we've seen, are perfect for getting audiences into theaters on Christmas Day. As if to prove the point, it set a new record for Christmas openings, finishing the day with an astonishing $14.4 million

Owen Wilson stars as journalist John Grogan (who wrote the memoir on which it's based) with Jennifer Aniston as his wife, and both actors manage to seamlessly blend their well-established comedic chops with their considerable dramatic abilities. But the real star of the film is Marley, the couple's yellow Labrador retriever, whose destructive (but hilarious) misdeeds anchor both the film's comedy and its heart. "Marley and Me" follows the dog's antics throughout his time with the Grogans, as he becomes the primary subject for John's newspaper columns (which rocket him to journalistic success) and more importantly, an indispensable part of their growing family.

Django Unchained

When it comes to Christmas Day releases, there's nothing quite like 2012's "Django Unchained" — but then, when it comes to filmmakers, there's no one quite like Quentin Tarantino. The celebrated director's seventh film is also his most financially successful and among his most critically acclaimed, earning him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Indeed, "Django" is one of the few totally original films on this list, though like many Tarantino movies, it's also a love letter to a specific genre of cinema — in this case, the Spaghetti Western

As a historically revisionist takedown of the institution of American slavery, "Django" pulls no punches, following the eponymous lead character on his journey from runaway slave to vengeful bounty hunter, searching for his missing wife while doling out gloriously violent punishment to the human traffickers and plantation owners of the Antebellum South. Jaime Foxx makes his third and most notable appearance on this list, as does Leonardo DiCaprio, whose turn as Calvin Candie is strikingly ghoulish in its banality. "Django Unchained" isn't the kind of film you'd expect audiences to flock to over the holidays, but it's so good and so unique that its $15 million opening day haul makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Into The Woods

Just barely beating out "Django Unchained" with $15.1 million at the box office on Christmas Day, Disney's 2014 adaptation of the late Stephen Sondheim's classic musical is a classic in its own right, featuring an incredible cast — Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine — and anchored by Meryl Streep in a performance that earned her a 19th Oscar nomination. 

"Into The Woods" is a strange and beautiful film, a subversive mash-up of traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tales, with numerous twists and turns that are by turns poignant and dark. It's a movie that never goes quite where you think it's going (despite the inherent familiarity of the characters involved) and ends in a way you'd never expect. Die-hard Sondheim fans might take issue with some of Disney's alterations, but between the sheer breadth of star power on display, the Tony-winning reputation of its source material, and the might of the Mouse House backing it up, this one was never going to be anything but a hit.


"Into The Woods" wasn't the only movie released on Christmas Day 2014 — its opening day numbers were slightly surpassed by "Unbroken," the World War II biopic directed by Angelina Jolie. Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, "Unbroken" tells the story of Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an American distance runner who distinguished himself at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even shaking hands with Adolf Hitler. Five years later, Zamperini joined the war effort against the Axis Powers as a bombardier. After being shot down in 1943, he spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war. His refusal to break under the harsh treatment of notorious prison guard Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe is the primary subject of Jolie's film.

Holiday audiences are all about those cinematic war heroes, and that was especially the case in 2014. "American Sniper" technically opened that Christmas, as well — its limited initial run meant it didn't make this list, but it ended up earning more total box office than any other Christmas Day release. "Unbroken," meanwhile, brought in $15.4 million, which was enough to spawn a widely-panned 2018 sequel, "Unbroken: Path to Redemption."

Daddy's Home

2014 produced two top-five Christmas Day releases, but 2015 managed to top musicals and war stories alike with — what else? — family comedy. Written, directed, and produced by Sean Anders, "Daddy's Home" stars Will Ferrell as the hard-working stepdad of two young children, and Mark Wahlberg as their biological father determined to reclaim his parental role. The two men engage in a not-so-subtle battle to win the affections of the family they both want, with Ferrell's increasingly desperate tactics consistently foiled by Wahlberg's swaggering, hyper-competent machismo.

Like many of the films on this list, "Daddy's Home" was not beloved by critics, but it's easy to see why it was a popular movie for Christmas audiences, particularly since one scene has Ferrell decked out in a full Santa Claus costume to literally give his kids a pony. It made $15.7 million on its opening day, prompted a sequel (even less popular with critics than the original) and remains one of the most lucrative movies in the careers of both Ferrell and Wahlberg.

Les Misérables

Few stories are as timeless as "Les Misérables," the classic tale of crime, justice, poverty and revolution. Tom Hooper's 2012 film musical is an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, as "Les Misérables" has leapt from page to stage to screen, from France to England to America, over the course of it's 150-year history. But it remains monumentally unique. Its $18.1 million Christmas Day earnings make complete sense — the cast is absolutely stacked, with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine. All three actors, however (particularly Crowe), have received criticism for their singing during the film, partially because of Hooper's decision to shoot the musical performances as though he was producing a live show, and the steps taken to make those performances more raw and realistic. 

On the other hand, "Les Misérables" also features standout performances, both musical and otherwise, from the younger trio of Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks, and brings Victor Hugo's novel to life in a way previous film adaptations didn't. A flawed but majestic spectacle, "Les Misérables" would have been a worthy Christmas outing in any year, a fantastic reason to leave the tree and presents for a couple of hours and go to the theater.

Sherlock Holmes

These days, it's exceptionally uncommon to reach the top of any list involving box office and not find Robert Downey Jr., and this list is no exception. On Christmas Day 2009, even out of his high-tech Iron Man armor, RDJ still managed to rake in a whopping $24.6 million thanks to his wisecracking, action hero take on Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes. Co-starring Jude Law as famed sidekick Dr. Watson, "Sherlock Holmes" actually had the fifth most lucrative Christmas Day in Hollywood history, and the four films above it are all "Star Wars" movies. That's what happens when you take an actor like Downey Jr. and put him to work as one of literature's most well-known and beloved characters.

"Sherlock Holmes" doesn't really fit the established template for successful Christmas releases — it's not a musical, it's not a biopic, it's very loosely based on Doyle's stories — as the gunfights, explosions, and bare-knuckle boxing matches can attest — and it's not exactly family-friendly. Yet that only makes it a more appropriate #1 entry. For all our analysis of what kinds of films get audiences into the theaters on Christmas Day, the fact of the matter is that in 2009 and pretty much every year since, nothing – nothing – gets people excited like a geek culture blockbuster.

And it doesn't hurt to put Robert Downey Jr.'s face on the poster.