National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of the best Christmas movies of all-time. It may be a bit raunchier than most of its contemporaries, but at its core, the film is about the power of family – and it boasts a serious wholesome message. We’re going to break down the Christmas Vacation movie script by looking at its characters, quotes and ludicrous ending. Buckle your seatbelts, we’re heading straight for the Griswolds!

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Breakfast Club Script - John Hughes Headshot - StudioBinder

WHO WROTE Christmas Vacation?

Written by John Hughes

John Hughes was an American filmmaker and writer who pioneered coming-of-age drama films in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some of Hughes’ most iconic works include The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Hughes died in 2009 at the age of 59 due to a heart attack and was honored at the Academy Awards by collaborators Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, and Macauley Culkin, among others.

CHRISTMAS VACATION SUMMARY

STRUCTURE OF THE CHRISTMAS VACATION SCREENPLAY

Here is the structure for the Christmas Vacation screenplay:

Exposition

Clark Griswold is a middle-aged dad who just wants to have a “good old fashioned” Christmas with his wife, Ellen, daughter, Audrey, and son, Rusty.

Inciting Incident

Ellen informs Clark that her parents are coming to stay with them for the holidays.

Plot Point One

Clark reveals to his co-worker that he’s going to use his Christmas bonus to build a swimming pool and spa for his family.

Rising Action

Clark and Ellen’s parents arrive and instantly clash with each other. Meanwhile Clark installs elaborate light fixtures around the house but he can’t get them to work.

Midpoint

Unexpectedly, Ellen’s cousin Catherine, her husband Eddie, and their children Rocky and Ruby Sue arrive just in time to see the light fixtures turn on.

Plot Point Two

Clark begins to doubt whether he’s going to receive a Christmas bonus despite his exemplary work at the company.

Build Up

More family members arrive and it seems like Clark and company may actually have a nice Christmas.

Climax

Disaster strikes the Griswold household; a cat blows up because it was chewing on the light fixtures; the tree catches on fire; and Clark’s bonus turns out to be a one-year subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club. Clark replaces the charred tree with one from the yard – but just as he puts it into the living room, a squirrel jumps out and causes mayhem.

Finale

Eddie kidnaps Clark’s boss Frank and tells him how rotten he is for refusing to give Clark a bonus. Frank concedes that he was wrong not to give out bonuses and agrees to give Clark his bonus plus 20%. The police arrive to find the house in a disarray.

Denouement

Despite the chaos, Clark is a happy man – he stands in the yard and looks at his house, finally enjoying a good old fashioned Christmas with family.

Christmas Vacation Script Takeaway #1

Hilarious Christmas Vacation quotes

Is Christmas Vacation the most quotable Christmas movie of all-time? I’d say it’s certainly up there. We imported the Christmas Vacation screenplay into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to highlight some of its best quotes. In this next scene, we’ll see how Clark’s misuse of a popular idiom created an all-time iconic quote.

Christmas Vacation Quotes  •  Iconic Lines from Christmas Vacation

How does the saying go? Is it burning dust and eating rubber? Or burning rubber and eating dust? Clark may think it’s the former, but we know the latter is the idiom – it’s not much, but it’s a fun little moment of dramatic irony. Now let’s check out the scene from the film.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Quotes ‘Road Race’

Clark’s “burning dust, eating rubber” is just one of many great Christmas Vacation quotes. Here are some others:

  • “Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.”
  • “Eat my road grit, liver lips.”
  • “I was just looking at something for my wife, God rest her soul.”
  • “A little tree water ain’t gonna’ hurt him.”
  • “Mom? The box is meowing.”
  • “Grace? She passed away 30 years ago!”

And of course, many of the best Christmas Vacation quotes can be found in the Clark Griswold rant. Let’s go back to the script to see Clark’s diatribe on full display.

Christmas Vacation Quotes  •  Read the Clark Griswold Rant

Clark Griswold is like a tea kettle in Christmas Vacation, slowly simmering until he reaches a boiling point. His rant at the end of the script is a legendary example of a character’s internal tension snapping. We’d be remiss not to include the clip from the movie – check it out here.

Clark Griswold Rant Final Cut

So, when writing a screenplay of your own, think about why Clark’s rant is so memorable. Keep your characters in check to build towards a climactic breakdown, just like Hughes did in Christmas Vacation.

Christmas Vacation Script Takeaway #2

Christmas Vacation cast and characters

Before we look at the Christmas Vacation characters, let’s break down the Christmas Vacation cast. The Christmas Vacation cast included some big-name stars – here are the major players in the Christmas Vacation cast:

  • Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold
  • Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen Griswold
  • Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold
  • Johnny Galecki as Russ Griswold
  • Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie
  • Miriam Flynn as Catherine Johnson
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester
  • Nicholas Guest as Todd Chester


The Christmas Vacation cast was certainly well-rounded but the characters are the ones we can learn from. 

Want to learn how to effectively utilize stock characters? Look no further than the Christmas Vacation script. It’s fair to say that the Christmas Vacation characters don’t have much depth – but despite that, the story is still enjoyable.

Why? Because writer John Hughes was a master of building character archetypes. Let’s break down a couple of the archetypes in Christmas Vacation characters:

Clark: The overbearing dad – annoying but endearing.

Eddie: The idiot in-law – stupid but noble.

Now let’s take a look at a scene from the Christmas Vacation movie script to see how Hughes communicated character archetypes through dialogue. In this scene, Clark and Eddie demonstrate their best characteristics at a point in which we start to grow tired of their continued displays of self-interest.

Hughes shows us Clark’s kindness and Eddie’s honesty in a sincere way, which results in a subversive but touching moment. There’s no doubt about it: Clark and Eddie are simple characters; but by showing us their two diametric sides – emotional and operative – Hughes displays a great understanding of how to make us care about their character.

Christmas Vacation Characters  •  Shopping With Cousin Eddie

So, yeah, Eddie swindled Clark – but isn’t that what we’d expect from his character? That’s why he’s an archetype; a good-for-nothing moocher – but hey he’s also got a heart of gold and he proves his worth in the end.

Christmas Vacation Script Takeaway #3

That crazy Christmas Vacation ending

The Christmas Vacation ending is a lesson in how to write pure chaos. We’ve been conditioned to think that stories are going to follow a specific structure – and although some stories subvert our expectations, most conform to major structural tenets. That’s why when things seem to be going exceptionally well for Clark near the end of the script, we know that something is about to go wrong.

Let’s take a look at how Hughes uses the climax to release tension in the Griswold household. As you’re reading, think about how Hughes lets the action speak for itself. 

From this moment forward, up until the final resolution, nothing goes right for Clark. First, the cat explodes, then the tree burns down, then the bonus check turns out to be a jelly-of-the-month subscription. Ultimately, Clark explodes.

But in the end, things work out for Clark. He receives his Christmas bonus and the good old fashioned family Christmas he wanted with his family. 

Christmas Vacation Characters Get a Happy Ending

The National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ending is a classic example of how to execute rising tension, climax, falling action and denouement in an immersive way.

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Read and download more scripts

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a great Holiday script. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like Die Hard, A Christmas Story, and Groundhog Day in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.

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