Bad Santa (2003)

bad santa poster 2003 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 7/10

Great cast and a different story

Not as visual as some of Zwigoff's other stories

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Bad Santa

Studio:  Dimension Films

Genre(s):  Comedy/Seasonal

Release Date(s):  November 26, 2003

MPAA Rating:  R


Kid, you’re weird.

Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a two-time loser and along with his friend Marcus (Tony Cox) and his wife Lois (Lauren Tom), they run a holiday racket.  Willie plays Santa at a department store with Marcus as his elf.  Come Christmas Eve, Marcus, Willie, and Lois rob the store blind.  A new year has come, and the trio and have set themselves up at at a mall in Phoenix, Arizona and looking for a big score.  With a sauve store detective named Gin Slagel (Bernie Mac) trying to get in on the take and a store manager named Bob Chipeska (John Ritter) also watching over him, Willie and Marcus are out to score big.  Willie finds himself commandeering the home of an incarcertated man where only an old woman (Cloris Leachman) and her grandson Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) live.  Will Willie find the Christmas spirit or will the police find him first?


I’ll give you ho-ho-ho a whole new meaning, Santa!

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Bad Santa is a dark holiday comedy with a script allegedly touched up by the producers Joel and Ethan Coen.  Well received when it was released, Billy Bob Thorton won praise as the degenerative Santa Claus and garnered a nomination for Best Actor—Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe.  The movie has been released on Blu-Ray and DVD with a director’s cut and another unrated version referred to as Bad(der) Santa.

I am a big fan of Terry Zwigoff.  I have enjoyed some of his other ventures like Ghost World and the documentary Crumb.  I had skipped Bad Santa when it was released however because I’m not the biggest Billy Bob Thornton fan.  I finally decided to sit down and watch the film and was pleasantly surprised.


Did one of the kids do that? No…great Willie…

Knowing a few of Zwigoff’s other works, I knew that Bad Santa probably was going to be surprisingly deeper than just a crooked Santa…which it was.  Despite ultimately having an ending that had typical elements of a holiday film, the path to that ending was surprising.

The real thrust of the movie is Billy Bob Thornton who plays Willie unapologetically.  He swears, curses, and treats people and the holiday like crap.  It is in this behavior that the movie is a bit of a change than most holiday films.  The movie is vulgar and harsh.  A number of actors were interested in Thorton’s role and it would have been interesting to see Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, or Larry David play it (though Larry David would have been weaker).


No, I always were my underwear this way

Thorton is backed up by a great cast.  Tony Cox is great at the elf who puts up with Willie and ultimately decides he’s had enough.  Lauren Graham is nice as the Santa fetish waitress and Bernie Mac’s role is surprisingly small as the mall security who figures out Willie’s scam.  Cloris Leachman has a small role as the sandwich making grandmother, and the movie is dedicated to John Ritter who died soon after making the film on the set of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.  The whole cast threatens to be upstaged by the bizarre and odd snot-nosed Brett Kelly who has some great comic timing as the kid who rides Thorton’s nerves.


I hate the holidays…

In general, I like the edgy look of Zwigoff, but Bad Santa is probably the most mainstream looking film.  The picture does some nice play on the holiday motifs, but does little to really push the envelope like his other films.

It is rare to have a R-Rated holiday film that isn’t a horror film or a heavy drama.  There has been talk of a sequel to the film for years, and it is unclear whether one will happen anytime soon.  If you are looking for an adult holiday comedy, Bad Santa will fit your bill with a lot of language, sex, and Santa.  Make sure the kids don’t stay up for it…it is adults only.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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