PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The Christmas holiday season has left a whole lot of gifts at the movie industry's doorstep in recent years, but a Christmas movie hasn't been the biggest present under the tree in a long time.
According to the folks at BoxOfficeMojo, the holiday season that runs from the first Friday in November to the end of New Year's weekend or week has generated more than $2 billion in box office receipts since 2000. That's also the last year a full-on holiday movie was the top-grossing film during that stretch, with Jim Carrey's The Grinch taking in $260 million over that span.
Since then, it's been a whole lot of Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings and Twilight, with the occasional blockbuster exception of 2009's Avatar (still the holiday champ with nearly $750 million in ticket sales during that period alone) and last year's James Bond installment Skyfall (a $304 million beast). In fact, since 1982, only one other Christmas-specific movie has been the big-money film of the holiday season: Tim Allen's 1994 hit The Santa Clause. There's an argument to be made for 1985's Rocky IV -- which features Sylvester Stallone enduring a concussive Cold War bruising from Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago on Christmas night -- and an even stronger case for 1990's heavily Christmas-themed Home Alone, but BoxOfficeMojo doesn't consider the first a Christmas movie and relegates the latter to its Christmas -- Setting Only category.
We're going to get into that Setting Only group later this holiday season -- especially since it includes holiday favorites Gremlins, Trading Places, Love Actually and the Die Hard series. But for now we're going to play along with BoxOfficeMojo's wishes and delve into its Christmas canon.
We've culled the Top 10 highest-grossing holiday films of all time and noticed that it lacks a whole lot of holiday favorites. The big lesson to be learned here is that, where Christmas movies are concerned, the initial box office numbers don't mean a whole lot. The world knows It's A Wonderful Life only because it was a moviehouse failure that didn't even cover its production costs. The $3.2 million it made during its original release in 1946 would be roughly $38 million today -- making it less successful than 2011's Arthur Christmas and its $46 million take -- and briefly relegated its images to the public domain. That allowed local TV affiliates to air it with only minimal royalty fees in the late '70s and early '80s, making it nearly ubiquitous for impressionable Generation X kids.
A Christmas Story, meanwhile, made only $20.6 million when it was released in 1983 and never played in more than 950 theaters. That's $48 million in current dollars and firmly in Arthur Christmas territory, but that kept the price of the rights just low enough for Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner and their various networks to use A Christmas Story as cheap, inoffensive holiday filler and give a whole bunch of their staff the holiday off as it aired on repeat. Both TBS and TNT have been airing 24-hour marathons of the film since 1997, and the ratings for its Christmas Eve and Christmas morning showings just keep rising.
While studio executives would probably like a Christmas film that fills their stockings as soon as it's released, history and the following 10 movies make clear that it's better to present audiences with a holiday gift that keeps on giving: