Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are an upscale San Francisco couple. Having both come from dysfunctional families, with divorced parents and siblings with out-of-control kids, the two disdain the idea of getting married or having kids. In an effort to avoid their families at Christmas, the two go on vacation abroad while pretending to be doing charity work there. The third Christmas of their relationship, Brad and Kate are trapped at San Francisco International Airport by a fog bank that cancels every outbound flight, and interviewed by a news crew, alerting their families to the fact they're stuck at home for the holidays.
With no way to get out of it, Kate and Brad find themselves visiting their families on Christmas Day. They first visit Brad's father (Robert Duvall), then Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen), then Brad's mother (Sissy Spacek) and, finally, Kate's father (Jon Voight), thereby celebrating four Christmases in one day. As they brace themselves for a marathon of homecomings, Brad and Kate expect the worst, but are nevertheless unable to prepare themselves enough for what they get. As the day progresses, each discover a new secret about their partner that they had previously been too embarrassed to share, namely that Brad's real name is "Orlando", and Kate has a fear of inflatable castles, stemming from being ostracized as a child, and these discoveries put an intense strain on their relationship. While Brad counts down the minutes to freedom, Kate finds herself looking at the lives of Brad's and her own siblings and comes to realize that she does want a marriage and children of her own, the prospect of which frightens Brad when she mentions it to him. Eventually, in the final visit of the day, at Kate's father's house, Kate asks Brad to let her spend the visit on her own and claims to her family that they had split up. Meanwhile, Brad spends some time at his own father's house with just his father and realises that he wants a marriage and children, and that he loves Kate way too much to leave her. He returns to her and they discuss the possibilities of having a child and getting married. The two then embark on their holiday in Fiji.
A year later on New Year's Day, the couple welcomes their first child, a baby girl. They have spent the last nine months hiding from their families. As their baby is the first born in the New Year, a news crew comes to congratulate them—once again revealing them, and their new baby, to the whole city, and their families.
One of the film's executive producers, Peter Billingsley, who had a starring role as Ralphie in the 1983 film A Christmas Story, has a credited role as an airline ticket agent.
Gordon was brought in as director at the insistence of Vaughn, who had seen Gordon's documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a film, Gordon points out, which, like Four Christmases, has a "traditional three-act structure".
The film began production in December 2007, during the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which meant that no changes could be made to the script. During production New Line Cinema became a "unit of Warner Bros.", which put the film's completion at risk. Witherspoon and Vaughn did not get along during filming.
The film received generally negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 25% based on reviews from 139 critics, the site's consensus reading "Despite a strong cast, this sour holiday comedy suffers from a hackneyed script." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film holds a mixed/average score of 41 based on 27 reviews.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film "one of the most joyless Christmas movies ever" with "an unearned feel-good ending [that] adds insult to injury"; it criticized the film's script for "situat[ing] Hollywood clichés about Southern rednecks incongruously within the tony Bay Area". Variety magazine called it an "oddly misanthropic, occasionally amusing but thoroughly cheerless holiday attraction that is in no way a family film". The Associated Press said the film "began with some promise" then segued into "noisy joylessness [that] sets the tone for the whole movie"; the review noted that "Vaughn makes the movie tolerable here and there, but this kind of slapsticky physical comedy doesn't suit Witherspoon at all." Frank Lovece of Film Journal International found "no core to their characters. They just embody whatever plot machination the movie needs at any given moment", and that, "Every predictable Christmas-comedy trope gets dragged out like the string of electric lights that is pulled from the wall to whipsaw through the living room". Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, and wrote his review in the style of a pitch session between a filmmaker and his boss, whereby he derided the film's alleged lack of humour or narrative sense.
On its opening day, a Wednesday, it ranked second at the box office with $6.1 million, behind the previous week's new release blockbuster Twilight. It then went on to take the top spot each successive day from Thursday to Sunday, earning $46.1 million and ranking #1 over the entire extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In its second weekend, Four Christmases held on to the #1 spot, taking in another $18.1 million.
The film grossed $120,146,040 domestically and $43,587,657 in foreign countries, for a worldwide gross of $163,733,697.
The DVD and Blu-ray Disc was released on November 24, 2009.
Four Christmases: Music from the Motion Picture was originally available to download from Amazon (MP3) or iTunes (MPEG-4), along with a digital booklet in portable document format which summarizes the credits of the album along with screenshots and other promotional images of the film. It was released on November 25, 2008, by New Line Records. The compact disc format was released on October 6, 2009, by Watertower Music.Track listing
- "Baby It's Cold Outside" by Dean Martin & Martina McBride – 2:55
- "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" by Perry Como – 2:51
- "Sleigh Ride" by Ferrante & Teicher – 2:16
- "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty – 4:15
- "Season's Greetings" by Robbers On High Street – 2:23
- "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms with The Anita Kerr Singers – 2:11
- "The Christmas Song" by Gavin DeGraw – 3:24
- "Cool Yule" by Louis Armstrong – 2:55
- "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Dean Martin – 2:33
- "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby – 2:59
- "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Sarah McLachlan – 3:53