In the years since its 2004 release, The Polar Express has not generated the most positive reputation online. Articles with headlines like The Polar Express Broke Me and jokes about the dead-looking eyes of the film’s motion-capture animated characters are rampant. General moviegoers, meanwhile, were more receptive to The Polar Express, even if its massive budget made it difficult to call it a hit.
Dropping in early November 2004, The Polar Express grossed $23.3 million on its domestic opening weekend. This debut came in under expectations considering the movie’s massive $165 million budget. If Elf and Home Alone have proven anything, it’s that lower budgets are better for Christmas fare given their limited appeal internationally. Hot off its opening, a Los Angeles Times piece examining its box office shortcomings included a quote from a rival studio executive labeling the box office performance “a disaster.”
Luckily for The Polar Express, the film held on spectacularly well in the following weeks as Christmas drew closer and closer, eventually securing a worldwide box office gross of $286 million. While still not profitable on that $165 million budget, Polar Express has proven to be an enduringly lucrative title for Warner Bros. Since 2004, annual theatrical re-releases across the world have brought its worldwide gross up to $313 million. Though still not as big as WB likely hoped, The Polar Express has managed to avoid going totally off the rails, at least financially.