7 Christmas Movies So Bad, They're Bad

(But if you must watch them, here's what to look for.)

by | December 18, 2015 | Comments

Whether you’re an It’s a Wonderful Life-r, a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-er, or even Die Hard-y, you’ve got a favorite movie that you pull out every December as part of your holiday celebration. But for every Elf and A Christmas Story, there are dozens of duds like Christmas with the Kranks and Deck the Halls and The Santa Clause 3 to put a damper on your cinematic fun.

You may, of course, enjoy one or all of those movies: We tend to fall in love with our favorite Christmas films as children, and in some ways, every December that we revisit them, we watch through those same innocent eyes. All of which is to say: If you watched Surviving Christmas or The Family Man on cable when you were seven years old, you will most likely love those movies your entire life. Even if they’re terrible. Which they are.


Magic Christmas Tree (1964)  

I’ve come around to appreciating the bizarro 1959 Mexican Santa Claus as less of a bad movie and more an odd gem of low-budget kiddie surrealism. If you want a terrible example of the latter, check out this super-cheap film (apparently, almost no one involved in its production ever worked in the business again) about a kid and a witch and an enchanted seed that grows the titular tree, which talks like Charles Nelson Reilly and grants wishes that lead to slapstick mayhem and the kidnapping of Santa.

Look for: The kid’s first wish is for “an hour of absolute power,” which he uses to make police cars and fire trucks run amok, culminating in a big pie fight. Because who wouldn’t use omnipotence for that?

If you must: The Rifftrax version is on DVD, and the whole movie can be legally viewed on YouTube.


The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)  

Mean old millionaire Phineas T. Prune (Rossano Brazzi, who also directed) buys the North Pole so he can foreclose on Santa Claus (Alberto Rabagliati) and cancel Christmas. (This is one of those stories where the underlying premise is no Christmas presents = no Christmas.) Santa turns to kindhearted lawyer Mr. Whipple (screenwriter Paul Tripp) to help out, and after several botched attempts, they eventually teach Prune to love Christmas again. This happy turn of events is capped off by a musical number in which Santa and Prune ride off in the sleigh and sing a song called, I kid you not, “We’ve Got a Date with Children.”

Look for: The ladies wigs that all the elves are wearing.

If you must: Available via Amazon Video (for free with Amazon Prime), and DVD.


One Magic Christmas (1985)   47%

There’s precedent for Christmas stories going bleak, whether it’s the horrors witnessed by Ebenezer Scrooge or it’s George Bailey yelling at his family, groveling before his rival, and getting punched in a tavern before attempting suicide. But dag, this Disney movie gets really, really dark before the requisite happy ending, and it’s a textbook example of how not to handle a tonal shift in a holiday story. Any movie where Harry Dean Stanton plays a guardian angel is clearly planning to take you to some uncomfortable places, but the underlying message seems to be that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus — like Mary Steenburgen’s harried housewife and mother — everyone you love will be killed horribly on Christmas Eve. Or something like that.

Look for: The moment when a getaway car that may contain Steenburgen’s children as hostages skids off an icy bridge and into the water. Magic Christmas, everybody!

If you must: Available via Amazon VideoNetflix and DVD.


Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)   20%

After raking in the bucks on their late-70s Superman franchise, producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind turned to another universally beloved figure with the power of flight: jolly old Saint Nick himself. Once we get past the origin story of how a kindly 14th century woodcutter winds up living at the North Pole, the movie detours and spends a great deal of time on an inventive but clumsy elf (played by Dudley Moore) and his decision to run away to New York City, where he falls in with a greedy toy manufacturer (John Lithgow, giving what may be the one terrible performance in an otherwise distinguished career). Throw in a streetwise urchin and some eye-assaulting polka-dot outfits on the elves, and you’ve got one humbuggy holiday stinker.

Look for: The blatant McDonald’s product placement. Ho Ho Hamburglar!

If you must: Available via Amazon Video, DVD and Blu-ray.


The Christmas Shoes (2006)  

Based on one of the most cringe-inducing songs ever recorded, it’s no surprise that this made-for-TV movie is hard to stomach in its own right. As comedian Patton Oswalt so accurately sums it up, this is a story about God killing a woman so a grumpy man can rekindle his Christmas spirit. Inflating the ditty’s simple tale to two hours of television, however, requires a gargantuan lattice of coincidence, mostly woven around Rob Lowe as an emotionally detached family man and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as a choir director whose days are numbered. When a movie has to play the “mommy dying at Christmas” card — looking at you, Stepmom — it’s a sign of desperation.

Look for: The kindly shopkeeper who, in this movie’s universe, may or may not also be the Supreme Deity.

If you must: Available on DVD.


The Nutcracker in 3-D (2013)   0%

The first credit in this movie isn’t for a movie studio or a distributor — it’s for a bank, which reveals that a.) this film probably only got made for some complicated deal involving frozen assets or money laundering and b.) only a fat paycheck could get this many talented people involved in an enterprise so soul-crushing. Director Andrei Konchalovsky (in happier times, he directed arthouse fare like Runaway Train and Shy People for Cannon Films) gives us an “updating” of the classic ballet that includes hip-hop orchestrations of Tchaikovsky (with new lyrics by Tim Rice), toy-destroying rats strutting about in Nazi-esque uniforms; and Nathan Lane camping it up as Albert Einstein. This isn’t just one of the lousiest Christmas movies ever made but one of the singularly worst films of all time. And not even in a fun way.

Look for: John Turturro (in an Andy Warhol wig) and Frances de la Tour straining their dignity as the goose-stepping leaders of the rats.

If you must: Available on DVD under the title The Nutcracker: The Untold Story, and on Amazon Video.


Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014)   0%

A new addition to the canon, this screed from former child star turned endlessly quotable evangelist Kirk Cameron barely even counts as a movie. Its 80-minute running time is padded with a lengthy introduction from the sitcom veteran, closing credits jammed with unfunny outtakes, and an extended dance sequence in which Cameron and costar-director Darren Doane get to bust out their freshest 1986 breakdance moves. The rest of the film offers Cameron’s crackpot theories — with no regard for history or science — about how everything we think is pagan about the holiday (trees, Santa, etc.) was really Bible-based all along. Oh, and that materialism is awesome since Christmas is about the divine manifesting itself as human. Saving Christmas is the kind of Sunday School lesson you sneak out of in the hopes of finding lemon bars in the fellowship hall.

Look for: Cameron talks a lot about cocoa, but it’s obvious that the mug he’s “drinking” out of is completely empty.

If you must: Available on DVD, and Amazon Video.


Alonso Duralde is the author of the quintessential holiday film guide Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Follow him on Twitter at @aduralde.

Tag Cloud

TCA Winter 2020 news Photos screenings superhero crime thriller hidden camera DirecTV 2015 Year in Review Thanksgiving olympics ABC slasher james bond Grammys YouTube Premium high school casting Arrowverse Britbox debate Tubi dexter APB true crime Family TV renewals book Country zero dark thirty quibi NBA critic resources basketball ghosts Horror serial killer Action movie jamie lee curtis Countdown VOD Nat Geo Rocketman BBC mcc Masterpiece what to watch 2021 CBS All Access target scene in color Oscar discovery marvel comics docudrama Exclusive Video singing competition stand-up comedy Nickelodeon Syfy Reality Competition President ratings Emmys Polls and Games comic books Lucasfilm Summer Ellie Kemper E! rt labs critics edition Interview Rom-Com PlayStation Adult Swim Tarantino screen actors guild new star wars movies Awards Tour Trivia Opinion classics Marvel Television Chernobyl suspense Dark Horse Comics Emmy Nominations Black Mirror Starz Kids & Family Apple TV Plus scorecard CMT supernatural harry potter deadpool comic book movie Captain marvel Brie Larson Comedy Central aapi cooking GoT crime drama nbcuniversal name the review South by Southwest Film Festival summer TV preview politics cats Elton John australia cinemax television Classic Film cops Endgame twilight movies zombie travel Disney trailers series Star Wars Celebration Western HBO Go japanese USA Network rotten YouTube Red WGN spain action-comedy X-Men 94th Oscars Mindy Kaling DC Comics green book Turner Crackle Avengers SundanceTV TV movies hollywood Election teaser streaming movies police drama romance First Look toronto elevated horror Rock ID robots remakes Awards NYCC posters Biopics Superheroe First Reviews CW Seed fresh Creative Arts Emmys TBS ViacomCBS free movies indiana jones art house Legendary Turner Classic Movies Holidays venice asian-american Broadway Best and Worst thriller summer preview video on demand Best Actor Lifetime Christmas movies kaiju reviews rt archives AMC kong anime YA halloween tv Martial Arts Image Comics Ovation WarnerMedia children's TV rotten movies we love Baby Yoda BAFTA Amazon Prime doctor who CBS nfl Certified Fresh BBC America Ghostbusters VICE Television Critics Association worst movies A24 Freeform 90s Sundance sequels Alien The CW comic Instagram Live Netflix AMC Plus Spring TV TCA 2017 IFC Mudbound Esquire Nominations 1990s PaleyFest feel good heist movie BET San Diego Comic-Con 2019 sitcom Best Picture Fall TV Marathons medical drama Mystery spy thriller Watching Series sag awards mockumentary Pop 2016 4/20 Pop TV composers 45 strong female leads Columbia Pictures Teen blaxploitation New York Comic Con french aliens scene in color film series Best Director scene in color series indie genre Hallmark fast and furious Sundance Now streaming adenture Set visit A&E lord of the rings latino MSNBC Trophy Talk BET Awards parents spider-verse obituary TV Land comics Sony adaptation concert The Witch scary talk show TIFF Showtime HFPA mutant new york young adult animated DC streaming service black comedy Spike FOX Crunchyroll HBO Max Stephen King Cartoon Network Red Carpet docuseries miniseries godzilla BBC One justice league child's play Mary Poppins Returns VH1 interviews sequel live event emmy awards Sundance TV USA mission: impossible El Rey Fox Searchlight Sci-Fi broadcast Logo theme song japan Lifetime criterion Valentine's Day MGM target Extras Video Games 24 frames Fargo Oscars disaster Lionsgate Paramount Network die hard The Arrangement TNT binge Funimation Anna Paquin See It Skip It women versus FX game show Writers Guild of America crossover archives Pirates Neflix Disney streaming service 007 crime south america wonder woman Animation Amazon Prime Video witnail Comics on TV new zealand Rocky 93rd Oscars SXSW dark MCU blockbusters comic book movies YouTube mob The Walt Disney Company golden globe awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Reality leaderboard toy story Peacock vs. ITV boxing political drama Travel Channel dragons 71st Emmy Awards History spanish language jurassic park adventure breaking bad joker Acorn TV Comic Book laika live action football 2017 documentaries Mary Tyler Moore FXX prank Fox News Amazon a nightmare on elm street war facebook anthology Indigenous Tokyo Olympics popular universal monsters TV One CNN telelvision TruTV Song of Ice and Fire comedies spanish rt labs unscripted Disney Plus DGA boxoffice space Toys Star Wars GLAAD Bravo razzies book adaptation 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards science fiction Disney+ Disney Plus finale monster movies hispanic heritage month superman period drama DC Universe Hallmark Christmas movies stop motion trophy Food Network Schedule Vudu Film ESPN natural history festivals cancelled TV shows TLC cartoon Black History Month Disney Channel cancelled television all-time Television Academy Netflix Christmas movies Premiere Dates satire worst 2020 Tomatazos transformers foreign kids Cosplay sports italian spider-man marvel cinematic universe Marvel Studios RT History independent TCM LGBT slashers obi wan scene in color historical drama dreamworks canceled dogs Paramount technology Music OneApp Universal Pictures 73rd Emmy Awards psycho king arthur golden globes biopic films Wes Anderson award winner Tumblr dceu biography international SXSW 2022 Podcast Binge Guide Shudder Hollywood Foreign Press Association Star Trek king kong Walt Disney Pictures Superheroes cancelled batman Pixar social media werewolf Geeked Week ABC Family ABC Signature Calendar Film Festival 72 Emmy Awards christmas movies TV Paramount Plus Sneak Peek E3 reboot sopranos hispanic The Walking Dead Sony Pictures tv talk richard e. Grant cancelled TV series Prime Video GIFs zombies Marvel TCA Awards Hear Us Out OWN dramedy Epix Universal Fantasy gangster romantic comedy Hulu royal family Pet Sematary Christmas 21st Century Fox 20th Century Fox Women's History Month spinoff pirates of the caribbean saw MTV cars Musicals Shondaland Discovery Channel Paramount Pictures directors Box Office The Academy Heroines National Geographic stoner Pride Month Comic-Con@Home 2021 HBO dc comiccon chucky Winners Mary poppins 79th Golden Globes Awards Best Actress cults IMDb TV Tags: Comedy Quiz vampires RT21 streamig Holiday IFC Films renewed TV shows Musical Trailer franchise Academy Awards The Purge Winter TV documentary nature scary movies Comedy Super Bowl American Society of Cinematographers Character Guide canceled TV shows Infographic Warner Bros. Amazon Studios rom-coms FX on Hulu SDCC Pacific Islander critics LGBTQ PBS video blockbuster black revenge summer TV based on movie 99% Cannes Native Spectrum Originals NBC Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Apple TV+ best festival halloween legend Drama Focus Features 2018 know your critic game of thrones psychological thriller hist TCA Apple diversity