Chevy Chase’s Best Vacation Movie Is Now Streaming

By Michileen Martin | Published

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Chevy Chase’s first time as the hapless family man Clark Griswold may have been 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, but it was his third film as the character — 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — that not only proved to be the best of the film series, but one of the best holiday flicks period. And you can watch it right now on HBO Max.

Christmas Vacation is unique in the comedy film series in one important way. While most of the films feature the Griswold clan on some cross-country journey–or even international trips in the case of 1985’s National Lampoon’s European Vacation–for the holidays, Chevy Chase stays home and lets the world come to him.

He invites his parents and his in-laws to stay for the holidays, and on their own that would be more than enough stress for most couples. But between the Griswolds’ uptight neighbors, some unexpected guests, Chevy Chase’s war on his Christmas lights, and the saga of a missing Christmas bonus check; Clark has more than enough to handle in Christmas Vacation without ever leaving his house.

And audiences seemed to agree. While according to Rotten Tomatoes, Chevy Chase’s first turn as Clark Griswold was more popular with the critics, Christmas Vacation took home the biggest box office return–$70 million–of the entire series until the Ed Helms led 2015 revival.

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Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation (1989)

One of the most memorable moments from Christmas Vacation is Chevy Chase’s final victory over the massive arsenal of Christmas lights he covers his house in (though to be fair, it’s really the victory of his wife Ellen, played by Beverly D’Angelo). Once Clark’s lights finally activate, it sucks enough juice out of the rest of the area to cause trouble at the local power plant, and it literally blinds Griswold’s snooty neighbors. Chase recently paid tribute to the moment while helping the fastfood chain Raising Cane’s raise money for a local animal shelter.

There are a number of future stars hiding behind Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, particularly on the sitcom front. Future The Big Bang Theory lead Johnny Galecki is Clark’s son Rusty and his mother-in-law is played by Doris Roberts, who would later play the titular lead’s overbearing mother in Everybody Loves Raymond. Juliette Lewis makes a very early appearance as Clark’s daughter Audrey, years before she would land much more prominent roles in films like Martin Scorsese‘s Cape Fear remake and as the female lead in Natural Born Killers.

There is something of a tangible emotional core to Christmas Vacation that Chevy Chase’s other entries in the series lack. His impossible situation in the film is much more relatable and believable than in the other films. When he finally loses his cool and starts kicking over presents after receiving what he thought was going to be his bonus check, it’s maybe a few of Chase’s finest acting moments.