National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Theatrical release poster by Chris Consani
Directed byJeremiah S. Chechik
Written byJohn Hughes
Based onCharacters by
John Hughes
Produced by
  • John Hughes
  • Tom Jacobson
CinematographyThomas E. Ackerman
Edited by
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 1, 1989 (1989-12-01)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$73.3 million

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a 1989 American Christmas comedy film and the third installment in National Lampoon magazine's Vacation film series. Christmas Vacation was directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, written and co-produced by John Hughes, and starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, and Randy Quaid with supporting roles by Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Diane Ladd, John Randolph, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Johnny Galecki, and special appearances by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Natalia Nogulich.[2] Based on Hughes' short story "Christmas '59" that was published in National Lampoon,[3] it tells the story of the Griswold family spending Christmas vacation at home with their relatives and the ensuing mayhem.


Chicago-area resident Clark Griswold plans to have a great Christmas with his entire family. He drives his wife Ellen, daughter Audrey, and son Rusty out to the country to find a tree. After walking through the snow for hours, Clark picks out the largest tree he can find. Realizing too late that they did not bring any tools to cut the tree down, they are forced to uproot it instead, before driving home with the tree strapped to the roof of their car.

Soon after, both Clark's and Ellen's parents arrive for Christmas, but their bickering quickly begins to annoy the family. Clark, however, maintains a positive attitude, determined to have a "fun old-fashioned family Christmas". He covers the house's entire exterior with 25,000 twinkle lights, which fail to work at first, as he has accidentally wired them through his garage's light switch. When they finally come on, they temporarily cause a citywide power shortage and create chaos for Clark's yuppie neighbors, Todd and Margo Chester. While standing on the front lawn admiring the lights, Clark is shocked to see Ellen's country-based cousin Cathrine and her husband Eddie, as they arrive unannounced with their children, Rocky and Ruby Sue, and their pet Rottweiler Snots. Eddie later admits that they are living in the RV they arrived in as he is broke and has been forced to sell his home and acreage. In addition, the older half of his children are too busy to join Eddie in the visit. Clark offers to buy gifts for Eddie's kids so they can still enjoy Christmas. Soon afterward, Clark's senile Aunt Bethany and grumpy Uncle Lewis arrive as well.

Clark begins to wonder why his boss, Frank Shirley, has not given him his yearly bonus, which he desperately needs to replace an advance payment he has made to install a swimming pool for the coming summer. After a disastrous Christmas Eve dinner, along with Bethany's cat getting electrocuted and Uncle Lewis accidentally burning down the Christmas tree while lighting his cigar, he finally receives an envelope from a company messenger, who had failed to deliver it the day before. Instead of the presumed bonus, the envelope contains a free year's membership for the "Jelly of the Month Club". This prompts Clark to snap and go into a tirade about Frank and, out of anger, request that he be delivered to the house, wrapped in a bow, so Clark can insult him to his face.

Taking Clark's request literally, Eddie drives to Frank's mansion, and kidnaps him. Frank admits to having canceled the Christmas bonuses, and Clark chastises him for doing so. Meanwhile, Frank's wife, Helen, calls the police, and a SWAT team storms the Griswold house and holds everyone at gunpoint. Frank decides not to press charges and explains the situation to his wife and the SWAT leader, both of whom scold him for his decision to scrap the bonuses. Frank ultimately decides to reinstate the bonuses (with Clark getting a bonus equal to last year's amount, plus 20% as compensation).

The family heads outside when Rocky and Ruby Sue believe they see Santa Claus in the distance. Clark tells them it is actually the Christmas Star and that he finally realizes what the holiday means to him. Uncle Lewis says the light is coming from the sewage treatment plant, reminding Clark that Eddie had been dumping his RV sewage into the nearby storm drain. Before Clark can stop him, Uncle Lewis tosses a match used to light his cigar into the drain, triggering an explosion. The explosion sends a Santa's sleigh decoration flying into the sky. Aunt Bethany starts singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and everyone joins in as the flaming decoration flies into the distance.

The entire family, Frank and Helen, and the SWAT team members then celebrate inside the house, while Clark and Ellen happily share a Christmas kiss, and Clark stands outside satisfied that he provided a great Christmas for his family. As the credits roll, he manages to give Snots the petting he wanted.


  • Chevy Chase as Clark W. "Sparky" Griswold Jr., the patriarch of the Griswold family. Perpetually optimistic, and sometimes in denial, he is nonetheless passionate about and dedicated to putting on the perfect family holiday.
  • Beverly D'Angelo as Ellen Griswold, Clark's wife. She does not share her husband's outlook but still supports him in his Christmas endeavor.
  • Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold, Clark and Ellen's daughter. Audrey hates the entire idea of the big family Christmas, especially when it affects her social life. She was previously portrayed by Dana Barron and Dana Hill in the last two films.
  • Johnny Galecki as Russ Griswold, Clark and Ellen's son. Russ supports his father but is greatly annoyed by his relatives. He was previously portrayed by Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively in the last two films.
  • John Randolph as Clark Griswold Sr., Clark's father.
  • Diane Ladd as Nora Griswold, Clark's mother.
  • E. G. Marshall as Art Smith, Ellen's father.
  • Doris Roberts as Frances Smith, Ellen's mother.
  • Miriam Flynn as Cathrine Johnson, Ellen's cousin.
  • Randy Quaid as Eddie Johnson, Cathrine's husband who brings his family to Chicago unannounced and uninvited.
  • Cody Burger as Rocky Johnson, Eddie and Cathrine's son who has a lip fungus that hasn't been identified yet and is mostly silent. He speaks toward the end of the film.
  • Ellen Hamilton Latzen as Ruby Sue Johnson, Eddie and Cathrine's daughter who was formerly cross-eyed until she was kicked by a mule.
  • William Hickey as Lewis, Clark's grouchy uncle and the husband of Bethany who wears a toupee and smokes cigars.
  • Mae Questel as Bethany, Clark's 80-year-old senile aunt and the wife of Lewis.
  • Sam McMurray as Bill, Clark's co-worker and best friend at work.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester, the Griswolds' yuppie neighbor who despises Clark and takes the brunt of the Griswolds' antics. She is the wife of Todd.
  • Nicholas Guest as Todd Chester, Margo's husband who also despises Clark.
  • Brian Doyle-Murray as Frank Shirley, Clark's boss. He does not remember Clark's first name and calls him different names until the final scene of the movie. He is Helen's husband.
  • Natalia Nogulich as Helen Shirley, Frank's wife.
  • Nicolette Scorsese as Mary, a lingerie counter clerk.
  • Alexander Folk as Lead SWAT Officer
  • Doug Llewelyn as the voice of the Parade Announcer


Development and writing[edit]

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation originated from a short story by writer John Hughes called "Christmas '59," which was published in the December 1980 issue of National Lampoon magazine.[4] "The studio came to me and begged for another one, and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on," said Hughes. "But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles."[5] Director Chris Columbus initially was to direct the film, but due to a personality clash between him and Chase, Columbus left the film and was replaced by Chechik. Hughes eventually gave Columbus the script to Home Alone.[6][7]


Principal photography began on March 27, 1989, in Summit County, Colorado,[8] with footage shot in Silverthorne, Breckenridge, and Frisco.[9] From there the production moved to Warner Bros. Ranch Facilities in Burbank, California, where the set of the Griswold family's house and street is located.[10]


The musical score for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was composed by Angelo Badalamenti. It is the only installment of the Vacation film series not to include Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road". In its place is a song entitled "Christmas Vacation" was music by Barry Mann, lyrics by Cynthia Weil and performed by Mavis Staples of The Staple Singers fame.[11] The song was covered in 2007 by High School Musical star Monique Coleman for the 2007 Christmas album Disney Channel Holiday.[12] Popular Christmas songs featured in the film include Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters Hawaiian-themed "Mele Kalikimaka",[13] and, during the climax of the film, Gene Autry's "Here Comes Santa Claus".[14][15] For the latter song, Autry's re-recorded 1957 Challenge Records version is used.[16]

Despite several popular songs being present in the film, no official soundtrack album was released. In 1999, a bootleg copy containing music featured in the film along with select cuts of dialogue dubbed as the "10th Anniversary Limited Edition" began to appear on Internet auction sites with the claim that Warner Bros. and RedDotNet had pressed 20,000 CDs for Six Flags Magic Mountain employees to sell to customers entering the park.[17] However, while the discs were individually numbered out of 20,000, only 7,000 were sold as a part of an on demand production printed at gift shop kiosks within the park.[18] Forums on movie music sites such as SoundtrackCollector later declared the disc to be a bootleg due to its inaccuracies.[19] For instance, the cut "Christmas Vacation Medley" (claiming to be the work of composer Angelo Badalamenti) is really a track called "Christmas at Carnegie Hall" from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York by composer John Williams and does not actually contain any of Badalamenti's Christmas Vacation score.


Home media[edit]

The film has been released on home media several different times: VHS and Laserdisc in early 1990, a bare bones DVD in 1997, and a "Special Edition" DVD in 2003. HD DVD as well as Blu-ray editions were released in 2006.[20] In 2009, a second Blu-ray of the film was released as an "Ultimate Collector's Edition".[21] A steelbook Blu-ray was released in 2015 with remastered picture quality.[22]


Box office[edit]

The movie debuted at No. 2 at the box-office while grossing $11,750,203 during the opening weekend, behind Back to the Future Part II.[23] The movie eventually topped the box-office charts in its third week of release and remained #1 the following weekend. It went on to gross a total of $71,319,546 in the United States while showing in movie theaters.[24] It was the highest-grossing film in the series, until the release of Vacation in 2015.

Critical response[edit]

At the time of the film's release, the film received mixed to positive reviews; however, over time, many have cited it as a Christmas classic.[14][25][26] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 67% of 46 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.3/10. The site's consensus reads, "While Christmas Vacation may not be the most disciplined comedy, it's got enough laughs and good cheer to make for a solid seasonal treat."[27] Another review aggregation website, Metacritic, assigned the film a rating of 49 out of 100 based on 18 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[28]

Entertainment magazine Variety responded positively to the film stating, "Solid family fare with plenty of yucks, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is Chevy Chase and brood doing what they do best. Despite the title, which links it to previous pics in the rambling Vacation series, this third entry is firmly rooted at the Griswold family homestead, where Clark Griswold (Chase) is engaged in a typical over-reaching attempt to give his family a perfect, old-fashioned Christmas."[29] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave the film a positive review explaining that "it will prove pater-familiar to fans of the 1983 original and the European Vacation sequel. Only it's a bit more whimsical."[30]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars, saying, "The movie is curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work."[31]


The fourth film in the series, Vegas Vacation, would follow in 1997, without the involvement of either Hughes or National Lampoon.


In 2003, NBC aired a spin-off called National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2 which featured Cousin Eddie's family on a Christmas vacation in the South Pacific. Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, and Dana Barron reprise their roles from the previous Vacation films alongside series newcomers Jake Thomas, Edward Asner, Sung Hi Lee, and Fred Willard.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2012, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, and Juliette Lewis reunited for Christmas Vacation-themed ads for Old Navy.[32] The series of ads also featured the other actors who portrayed past versions of Russ and Audrey.[33]

In 2020, Chase and D'Angelo reprised their roles as Clark and Ellen in a Ford commercial for the Ford Mustang Mach-E spoofing the house lighting scene.[34]

In Up (2009) Beta is similar to Snots.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harmetz, Ajean (December 7, 1989). "It's Fade-Out for the Cheap Film As Hollywood's Budgets Soar". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  2. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  3. ^ Hughes, John. "Christmas 59". National Lampoon. Archived from the original on February 23, 2006. Retrieved December 23, 2019.
  4. ^ Quin, Eleanor. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  5. ^ Ham, William. "Straight Outta Sherman: An Interview with John Hughes". Lollipop Magazine Online. Archived from the original on August 19, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  6. ^ Madison III, Ira (10 November 2015). "Chris Columbus Directed Home Alone Instead of Christmas Vacation Because He Met Chevy Chase". Retrieved 10 June 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ LeDonne, Rob (22 December 2014). "Xmas or Bust: The Untold Story of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 15 November 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  9. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - Locations". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2016. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  10. ^ Blake, Lindsay (December 24, 2013). "Scene It Before: The Griswold House from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Los Angeles. Archived from the original on November 30, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  11. ^ Willis, John (December 8, 1990). "Screen World: 1990 Film Annual". Screen World. Crown Publishing Group. 41: 121.
  12. ^ Lace, Beverly (January 30, 2011). The Musical Life of Monique Coleman. p. 5.
  13. ^ Cruz, Lenika (20 December 2015). "'Mele Kalikimaka': A Holiday Humblebrag". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 21 February 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2019. ...when Chevy Chase fantasizes about having a pool in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “Mele Kalikimaka” plays perkily in the background.
  14. ^ a b Hughes, Becky (24 December 2018). "Why We Still Love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Parade. AMG/Parade. Archived from the original on 5 December 2019. Retrieved 5 December 2019. When a SWAT team arrives to the strains of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus,” the tone is just right.
  15. ^ Roberson, Joe (5 December 2014). "25 Things You Never Knew About 'Christmas Vacation'". Archived from the original on 5 December 2019. Retrieved 5 December 2019. Gene Autry's "Here Comes Santa Claus" scores the scene when the police storm the Griswolds' house. Coincidentally, Randy Quaid is Autry's third cousin.
  16. ^ "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)". Archived from the original on 5 December 2019. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  17. ^ Stitzel, Kelly (December 5, 2009). "Soundtrack Saturday: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"". Popdose. Archived from the original on December 13, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  18. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - 10th Anniversary Movie Soundtrack". Archived from the original on August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  19. ^ "Christmas Vacation - Soundtrack Details". SoundtrackCollector. Archived from the original on August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  20. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation HD DVD Review". Hi-Def Digest. November 29, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  21. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Blu-ray Ultimate Collector's Edition)". DVD Talk. 23 November 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Blu-ray Steelbook". Retrieved December 17, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for December 1-3, 1989". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  24. ^ "Christmas Vacation (1989)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  25. ^ Durrett, Mike. "Top 10 Christmas and New Year's Comedy Movies". Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  26. ^ Leo, Alex (December 16, 2012). "The 10 Funniest Christmas Movies Of All Time". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  27. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 7, 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  28. ^ National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, retrieved 2021-12-14
  29. ^ "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Variety. 1989. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  30. ^ Kempley, Rita (December 1, 1989). "'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  31. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 1, 1989). "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 2, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  32. ^ "'Christmas Vacation' cast reunite for Old Navy commercial". Yahoo! News. 27 November 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  33. ^ "Old Navy Reunites the Griswolds". Retrieved December 17, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  34. ^ "Chevy Chase And Beverly D'Angelo Recreate 'Christmas Vacation' Scene With Mustang Mach-E". Retrieved December 26, 2020.

External links[edit]