Initially overlooked as a sleeper film, A Christmas Story was released a week before Thanksgiving 1983 to moderate success, earning about $2 million in its first weekend. Critics were severely divided on the film, with the majority of reviews on the negative side. Leonard Maltin proclaimed it a "Top screen comedy". Vincent Canby's mostly negative New York Times review echoed the more common response. Roger Ebert suggested the film had only modest success because holiday themed films were not popular at the time. The film would go on to win two Genie Awards, for Bob Clark's screenplay and direction.
By Christmas 1983, however, the film was no longer playing at most venues, but remained in about a hundred theaters until January 1984. Gross earnings were just over $19.2 million. In the years since, due to television airings and home video release, A Christmas Story has become widely popular and is now a perennial Christmas special. The film was originally released by MGM.Turner Entertainment Co. acquired rights to the film due to Ted Turner's purchase of MGM's pre-1986 library. Subsequently, Time Warner purchased Turner Entertainment, and currently owns the film.
Over the years, the film's critical reputation has grown considerably and is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1983. Based on 43 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 88%, with an average score of 8.3/10. A Christmas Story was on the ballot for the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list.