6. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Year released: 2003
Christmas Day take: $14 million In what world weren't moviegoers going to watch Frodo throw his accursed ring into the fires of Mordor and see the forces of Middle Earth assemble for their final, epic battle? Maybe in a world where fantasies about elves, orcs, kings, wizards and goblins are banished to the dark corners of the bookstore, comic shop or Internet only to emerge when a geek goes shopping. As much as Return of the King helped Peter Jackson and company clean up at the Oscars the following year and helped bring in $340 million in the U.S. alone during the holiday season, its cultural impact was far broader. It capped off a three-year period in which either Harry Potter or a Tolkien film was the biggest movie of the holiday season. It pushed witches, hobbits and fantasy geeks of all sorts out of the shadows and firmly into the mainstream and predicted a Christmas future where Potter, creatures from Narnia and twinkly teen vampires would dominate holiday film. It made the holidays safe for bookish kids and freed elves from the purgatory of Santa's Workshop. It's far tougher to crack the whip on a toymaker with Legolas threatening to put an arrow through your whiskers.