Bad Santa

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For the basketball player known as "Bad Santa", see Kenny Brunner.
Bad Santa
Bad Santa film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Produced by John Cameron
Sarah Aubrey
Bob Weinstein
Written by Glenn Ficarra
John Requa
Starring Billy Bob Thornton
Tony Cox
Lauren Graham
Brett Kelly
Lauren Tom
John Ritter
Bernie Mac
Music by David Kitay
Cinematography Jamie Anderson
Edited by Robert Hoffman
Distributed by Dimension Films (North America)
Columbia Pictures (International)
Release date(s)
  • November 21, 2003 (2003-11-21) (United States)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $18 million
Box office $76,057,639

Bad Santa is a 2003 American Christmas black comedy 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.[1]

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 and Marcus are professional thieves. They take on the Santa Claus routine for the children at a different shopping mall every year as a front for the opportunity to disable the mall security system, clean out the safe, and then flee on Christmas Eve. Willie is an alcoholic, a sex addict and is getting gradually unable to perform his Santa duties with children, much to Marcus' dismay. When they are hired at a mall in Phoenix, Arizona, the vulgar remarks made by Willie shock the prudish mall manager Bob Chipeska, who brings it to the attention of security chief Gin Slagel.

At the mall, Willie is visited by Thurman, an exceedingly naive, overweight boy, who believes Willie is actually Santa. The boy is the target of taunts from a skateboarding gang. In a bar, Willie initiates a love affair with charming bartender Sue, who has a Santa fetish. In the parking lot, Willie is attacked by a man (Ajay Naidu) who watched him in the bar, insisting he is not gay; Thurman intervenes, believing Santa needs his assistance. The attacker, not wanting to expose the kid to adult matters, leaves.

Willie gives Thurman a ride home, answering his endless questions, then enters the boy's affluent house, where he is living with just a very senile grandmother. Thurman reveals that his mother passed away, and his father is away "exploring mountains" (when he is actually in jail for embezzlement). Thurman has no suspicion that Willie is not Santa, so he makes no resistance when Willie breaks into the house safe and takes his father's BMW.

Bob overhears Willie having anal sex with a woman in a mall dressing room, informing Gin, who begins an investigation. When Willie goes to his motel room and sees someone ransacking his room, he inquires a bystanding prostitute as to who is in his room and she suggests a cop. Willie then takes advantage of Thurman's naivete, taking up residence in his house, claiming that "Mrs. Santa caught me fucking her sister." He continues to endure Thurman's relentless barrage of questions, his verbal abuse never offending the clueless boy.

Marcus berates Willie for taking advantage of a kid, stating his disapproval of Willie's "serial fornicating." Thurman screams after cutting his hand carving a wooden pickle, which he later gives to Willie and Sue when lovemaking, referring to her as Mrs. Santa's sister.

Gin's investigation of Willie includes visiting Thurman's imprisoned father, revealing that Willie's staying there illegally. Thurman visits Willie during his shift with a wedgie from the skateboard gang and changes his Christmas request of a stuffed elephant to a gorilla. Gin arrives, taking Willie and Marcus to a bar and revealing his figuring out of the con scheme, blackmailing them for a half cut to keep silent.

Willie sits in the BMW in Thurman's garage, running the engine to commit death by inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. He gives Thurman a letter to give to the police, confessing all his misdeeds. But noticing Thurman's black eye 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 set up a trap for Gin, feigning needing a jumpstart for their vehicle from Gin's in order to ram Gin. When Gin survives, Marcus electrocutes him to death with the jumper cables.

On Christmas Eve, when the heist is almost complete, Marcus reveals to Willie that he intends to finish him off, fed up with his increasing carelessness. The police swarm them, tipped off by the letter Willie gave to Thurman, regretting extensively abusing Thurman and being determined to deliver his stuffed elephant. When Marcus opens fire, drawing police fire, Willie flees. He leads the police on a chase to Thurman's house, ignoring orders to freeze. It ends with him repeatedly shot on the porch.

The epilogue is told through a letter from Willie. Thurman's giving the police the letter cleared his name. Shooting a Santa embarrassed the police, and Sue is granted guardianship over Thurman and his house. When Thurman goes out to ride his bike, he kicks the skateboard gang's leader in the groin, correcting his incorrect belief that the bike belongs to him. Thurman rides off, with the middle finger over his shoulder.



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]


The film has been praised for its innovative use of classical music in scenes. The following pieces of music were used in the film:[2]


The film has an aggregate "Certified Fresh" rating of 77% at Rotten Tomatoes.[3] It received 3½ stars out of four from Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert.[4]

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 at U.S. box offices and over $76 million worldwide.[5]

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.[6] In March 2011, Thornton and The Weinstein Company confirmed that negotiations had begun for a sequel.[7] A sequel had been scheduled for December 2013.[8] On May 30, 2013, it was revealed that Miramax has hired Entourage creator Doug Ellin to rewrite the script.[9] 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's been suggested that it is set for release by 2016, but no sources from Thornton himself or the film producers are currently reliable.[10]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Bad Santa". Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  2. ^ Bad Santa (2003) – Soundtrack
  3. ^ Bad Santa at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ "Bad Santa :: :: Reviews". Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  5. ^ "Bad Santa (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  6. ^ Fleming, Mike. "Weinsteins And Miramax Strike Sequels Deal". Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  7. ^ Hopson, Travis (2011-03-20). "Punch Drunk Critics". Punch Drunk Critics. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  8. ^ Eisenberg, Eric (2012-02-14). "Billy Bob Thornton Says Bad Santa 2 Is Starting Up This Year". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Billy Bob Thornton confirms Bad Santa 2". RTÉ Ten. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 

External links[edit]