Bad Santa

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For the basketball player known as "Bad Santa", see Kenny Brunner.
Bad Santa
A scruffy dishevelled Santa Claus, standing beside a scowling man in a yellow suit, and a fat child and an Santa helper elf standing in front of them.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Produced by
Written by
Music by David Kitay
Cinematography Jamie Anderson
Edited by Robert Hoffman
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
(United States)
Release dates
  • November 21, 2003 (2003-11-21) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $23 million[1]
Box office $76.5 million[2]

Bad Santa (known as Badder Santa on the unrated DVD) is a 2003 American Christmas black comedy crime film directed by Terry Zwigoff, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, and Lauren Graham, with Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, and John Ritter in supporting roles. It was Ritter's last film appearance before his death in 2003. The Coen brothers are credited as executive producers.

The film was screened out of competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.[3]

An unrated version was released on DVD on March 5, 2004 and on Blu-ray Disc on November 20, 2007 as Bad(der) Santa. A director's cut DVD was released in November 2006; it features Zwigoff's cut of the film (including an audio commentary with him and the film's editor), which is three minutes shorter than the theatrical cut and ten minutes shorter than the unrated version.


Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox) are professional thieves. Every year, Willie disguises himself as Santa Claus in order to rob shopping malls. Willie is an alcoholic, a sex addict, and is gradually getting unable to perform his Santa duties with children, much to Marcus' dismay. When they are hired at a mall in Phoenix, the vulgar remarks made by Willie shock the prudish mall manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter), who brings it to the attention of security chief Gin Slagel (Bernie Mac).

At the mall, Willie is visited by Thurman (Brett Kelly), an exceedingly naive, overweight boy who thinks Willie is really Santa. The boy is a target of taunt and torment from a skateboarding gang. At a bar, Willie meets Sue (Lauren Graham), a woman with a Santa Claus fetish, and they begin a sexual relationship. Willie is harassed by a man in the bar, but Thurman intervenes. Willie gives Thurman a ride home, then enters the boy's house where he lives with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Thurman reveals that his mother passed away, and his father is away "exploring mountains" (when he is actually in jail for embezzlement). Willie breaks into the house safe and steals a BMW owned by Thurman's father.

Bob informs Gin that he overheard Willie having sex with a woman in a mall dressing room; Gin starts to investigate. Willie goes to his motel room and sees it being raided, causing him to take advantage of Thurman's naivete and live in his house. Marcus berates Willie for taking advantage of Thurman, stating his disapproval of Willie's sex addiction.

Gin's investigation of Willie includes visiting Thurman's imprisoned father, revealing that Willie is staying there illegally. He confronts Willie at the mall, and takes him and Marcus to a bar. There, he reveals that he has figured out their plan, blackmailing them for half of the cut to keep silent.

Willie attempts to commit suicide by inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. He gives Thurman a letter to give to the police, confessing all his misdeeds. Willie notices Thurman's black eye, which persuades him to make an example of the skateboarding bully. A renewed sense of purpose for Willie has him attempt to train Thurman in boxing.

Marcus and his wife Lois (Lauren Tom) set up a trap for Gin, feigning needing a jump start for their vehicle from Gin's. Lois hits Gin with the car, then Marcus kills him.

On Christmas Eve, when the heist is almost complete, Willie goes to get Thurman a pink stuffed elephant that he had wanted for Christmas. Just as he gets the elephant, Marcus reveals to Willie that he intends to kill him, fed up with his increasing carelessness. Lois tells him to hurry up and kill Willie so they can get away with the merchandise. The police swarm them, tipped off by the letter Willie gave to Thurman. When Marcus opens fire, the police shoot at him and Willie flees. Determined to give Thurman his present, he leads the police on a chase to Thurman's house, ignoring orders to freeze. He is repeatedly shot on Thurman's porch, but survives.

The epilogue is told through a letter from Willie, who is in a hospital recovering. He expresses his gratitude for Thurman in giving the letter to the police and clearing his name. Shooting an unarmed Santa embarrassed the police, and Sue is granted guardianship over Thurman and his house until Thurman's father, Mr. Merman, is released. Willie also explains that Marcus (identified as Santa's Little Helper) and Lois are serving time behind bars for their actions, while expressing hope Mr. Merman is wise to avoid the two. The movie ends with Thurman finally standing up to his bully by kicking him in the crotch causing him to fall to the ground. Thurman is seen riding his bike away flipping off the bully.



Bad Santa, Zwigoff's fourth film, was his most mainstream, following the limited releases of Crumb and Ghost World. The original screenplay was written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Prior to filming, Ethan and Joel Coen and Zwigoff did rewrites on the script,[citation needed] although by WGA rules, they were uncredited.

Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray were both interested in playing the role of Willie, but were already filming Something's Gotta Give and Lost in Translation, respectively.[citation needed]

In an interview in 2012, Zwigoff revealed the difficulty of the films production, explaining how he and the writers tried to get the tone of the script right and also revealing creative differences between himself, the Coen Brothers and Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The Coen Brothers didn't agree with the casting of Tony Cox as Marcus, and the Weinsteins filmed additional sequences with another director without Zwigoff's approval, in order to make the film more mainstream. [4]


The film has been praised for its innovative use of classical music in scenes. The following pieces of music were used in the film:[5]


The film attracted bad publicity before its release from critics, who likened the movie to an "evil twin" of Miracle on 34th Street and chided The Walt Disney Company for allowing such a beloved figure as Santa Claus to be trashed by its Miramax subsidiary.[6]

The film has an aggregate "Certified Fresh" rating of 77% at Rotten Tomatoes.[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 70 out of 100, based on reviews from 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3½ stars out of four.[9]

Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and a Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture, but lost both awards to Bill Murray of Lost in Translation.

Box office[edit]

The film grossed over $60 million domestically and more than $76 million in total worldwide.[10]

Home media [edit]

In the U.S, a theatrical version, an unrated version, a director's cut and a Blu-ray version (which includes unrated and director's cut) have all been released. According to, the special features for the theatrical cut of the film included: a behind-the-scenes special, outtakes, and deleted scenes. The unrated edition was released June 22, 2004 and had all of the above plus a 'Badder Santa' gag reel and over seven minutes of unseen footage. The director's cut was released October 10, 2006 and contained the new version of the film (as Zwigoff originally intended it). It also had a new commentary (in addition to the rest of the features: outtakes, deleted/alternate scenes, and the behind-the-scenes feature). The Blu-ray version released November 20, 2007 contained the unrated version and the director's cut of the movie. Among its special features were director's commentary, an interview with Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffmann, along with other features ported over from the previous unrated version's release in addition to a showcase feature.


On September 18, 2009, Billy Bob Thornton appeared on the NFL Network show NFL Total Access. He confirmed, after host Rich Eisen hinted, that there would be a sequel to Bad Santa, aimed for release by Christmas 2011.[11] In March 2011, Thornton and The Weinstein Company confirmed that negotiations had begun for a sequel.[12] A sequel had been scheduled for December 2013.[13] On May 30, 2013, it was revealed that Miramax has hired Entourage creator Doug Ellin to rewrite the script.[14] On 25 November 2013, Billy Bob Thornton confirmed that the sequel Bad Santa 2 is expected to start production in early 2014 after script problems were resolved. It is due for release by 2016.[15]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Bad Santa". Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Drew (2014-12-20). "Terry Zwigoff Talks Battling Over 'Bad Santa,' His Preferred Director's Cut & Much More In Candid Interview". Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  5. ^ Bad Santa (2003) – Soundtrack
  6. ^ "Bad Disney". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 2003-11-20. 
  7. ^ Bad Santa at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Bad Santa :: :: Reviews". Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  10. ^ "Bad Santa (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike. "Weinsteins And Miramax Strike Sequels Deal". Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  12. ^ Hopson, Travis (2011-03-20). "Punch Drunk Critics". Punch Drunk Critics. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  13. ^ Eisenberg, Eric (2012-02-14). "Billy Bob Thornton Says Bad Santa 2 Is Starting Up This Year". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Billy Bob Thornton confirms Bad Santa 2". RTÉ Ten. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 

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