National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (released theatrically in the United Kingdom as National Lampoon's Winter Holiday)[2] is a 1989 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik.[3] It is the third installment in National Lampoon's Vacation film series, and was written by John Hughes, based on his short story in National Lampoon magazine, "Christmas '59". The film stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and Randy Quaid, with Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as the Griswold children Audrey and Rusty, respectively.[3]

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJeremiah S. Chechik
Produced by
Written byJohn Hughes
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
CinematographyThomas E. Ackerman
Edited by
Hughes Entertainment
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 1, 1989 (1989-12-01)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$71.3 million

Since its release, Christmas Vacation has often been labeled as a modern Christmas classic. It is widely regarded as the best sequel of the Vacation series, and is the only sequel to have its own direct sequel: a 2003 made-for-TV release titled National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure. Christmas Vacation is the last theatrical Vacation film to carry the National Lampoon label and to feature a screenwriting credit from Hughes.


With Christmas only a few weeks away, Chicago resident Clark Griswold decides it is time to get a Christmas tree. He gathers his wife Ellen, daughter Audrey, and son Rusty and drives out to the country to a tree farm. After walking through the snow for hours, Clark finds the largest tree he can. Realizing too late that they didn't 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 to spend 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 snobby neighbors, Todd and Margo. While standing on the front lawn admiring the lights, Clark is shocked to see Ellen's redneck cousin Catherine and her husband Eddie, as they arrive unannounced with their children, Rocky and Ruby Sue, and their Rottweiler dog, 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. Clark offers to buy gifts for Eddie's kids so they can still enjoy Christmas.

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, 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, requests that he be delivered to the house, wrapped in a bow, so Clark can insult him to his face.

Eddie takes the request literally, drives to Frank's mansion, and kidnaps him. Clark confronts him about the cancellation of the employees' Christmas bonuses. 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, who scold him for his decision to scrap the bonuses, and he decides to reinstate them (with Clark getting a bonus equal to last year's amount, plus 20% as compensation).

The family heads outside, with Rocky and Ruby Sue believing they see Santa Claus in the distance. Clark tells them it's 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 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 discarded Christmas decorations flying into the sky. Aunt Bethany starts singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and everyone joins in as the decorations fly into the distance. The entire family and the SWAT team members then celebrate inside the house, while Clark and Ellen happily share a Christmas kiss.


  • Chevy Chase as Clark W. "Sparky" Griswold, Jr., the patriarch of the Griswold family.
  • Beverly D'Angelo as Ellen Griswold, the matriarch of the Griswold family.
  • Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold, the daughter of Clark and Ellen.
  • Johnny Galecki as Russ Griswold, the son of Clark and Ellen.
  • Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie Johnson, the cousin-in-law of Ellen and Clark and uncle of Audrey and Russ.
  • John Randolph as Clark W. Griswold, Sr., the father of Clark Jr. and grandfather of Audrey and Russ who is often the traditional reader of The Night Before Christmas.
  • Diane Ladd as Nora Griswold, the wife of Clark Sr., mother of Clark Jr., and grandmother of Audrey and Russ.
  • E.G. Marshall as Art Smith, the cranky father of Ellen and grandfather of Audrey and Russ.
  • Doris Roberts as Frances Smith, the wife of Art, mother of Ellen, and grandmother of Audrey and Russ.
  • Miriam Flynn as Cousin Catherine Johnson, the cousin of Ellen, cousin-in-law of Clark, and aunt of Audrey and Russ.
  • Cody Burger as Rocky Johnson, the son of Eddie and Catherine, nephew of Clark and Ellen, and cousin of Audrey and Russ.
  • Ellen Hamilton Latzen as Ruby Sue Johnson, the daughter of Eddie and Catherine, niece of Clark and Ellen, and cousin of Audrey and Russ.
  • William Hickey as Uncle Lewis, the uncle of Clark and great-uncle of Audrey and Russ who enjoys wearing bad wigs and smoking cigars.
  • Mae Questel as Aunt Bethany, the old and incredibly senile wife of Lewis, aunt of Clark, and great-aunt of Audrey and Russ.
  • Sam McMurray as Bill, a co-worker of Clark.
  • Nicholas Guest as Todd Chester, the snobby neighbor of the Griswold.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester, the snobby neighbor of the Griswold and wife of Todd who takes the brunt of the Griswold's antics.
  • Brian Doyle-Murray as Frank Shirley, Clark's boss.
  • Natalia Nogulich as Helen Shirley, the wife of Frank.
  • Nicolette Scorsese as Mary, a lingerie counter girl that Clark meets.
  • Alexander Folk as Lead SWAT Officer
  • Doug Llewelyn as the voice of the Parade Announcer


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 Chevy 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" that was written for the movie by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and 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 prominently in the film include Bing Crosby's 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.


Box office

The movie debuted at #2 at the box-office while grossing $11,750,203 during the opening weekend, behind Back to the Future Part II.[20] 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.[21] It was the highest-grossing film in the series, until the release of Vacation in 2015.

Critical response

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. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 65% of 37 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2 out of 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."[22]

Entertainment magazine Variety responded positively to the film stating, "Solid family fare with plenty of yocks, 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."[23] 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."[24]

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."[25]

Home media

The film has been released on home media seven 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.[26] In 2009, a second Blu-ray of the film was released as an "Ultimate Collector's Edition." At the same time of this release, it was also released on a simple Blu-ray/DVD combo.[27][28][29] A steelbook Blu-ray was released in 2015.

See also


  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 (1989) - Release Info - IMDb". Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  3. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  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, Ira III. "Chris Columbus Directed Home Alone Instead of Christmas Vacation Because He Met Chevy Chase". Vulrure. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  7. "Xmas or Bust: The Untold Story of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'". Rolling Stone. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  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". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  10. Blake, Lindsay (December 24, 2013). "Scene It Before: The Griswold House from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Los Angeles. Emmis Communications. 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". 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. Hughes, Becky (24 December 2018). "Why We Still Love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". 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. "Weekend Box Office Results for December 1-3, 1989". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  21. "Christmas Vacation (1989)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  22. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  23. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Variety. 1989. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  24. Kempley, Rita (December 1, 1989). "'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  25. Ebert, Roger (December 1, 1989). "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  26. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation HD DVD Review". Hi-Def Digest. November 29, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  27. "Yule Love 'Em". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 2004. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  28. Durrett, Mike. "Top 10 Christmas and New Year's Comedy Movies". Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  29. Leo, Alex (December 16, 2012). "The 10 Funniest Christmas Movies Of All Time". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
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