Bad Santa

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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.
North American theatrical release poster
Directed byTerry Zwigoff
Produced by
Written by
Music byDavid Kitay
CinematographyJamie Anderson
Edited byRobert Hoffman
Dimension Films
Tryptich Pictures
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
(North America)
Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 26, 2003 (2003-11-26)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$23 million[1]
Box office$76.5 million[1]

Bad Santa is a 2003 American comedy film directed by Terry Zwigoff, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, John Ritter, and Bernie Mac. It was John Ritter's last film appearance before his death on September 11, 2003. The film was dedicated to Ritter's memory. The Coen brothers are credited as executive producers. The film was released in the United States on November 26, 2003, and was screened out of competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

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. A sequel, Bad Santa 2, was released on November 23, 2016.


Willie T. Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) and his dwarf assistant Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) are professional thieves. Every year, Willie gets a job as a department store Santa Claus and Marcus as an elf to rob shopping malls at night, with Marcus' wife Lois (Lauren Tom) as their getaway driver. Marcus takes his elf duties seriously, but Willie, a sex-addicted alcoholic, is gradually unable to perform with children, also affecting his safe-cracking abilities. When they are hired at the Saguaro Square Mall in Phoenix, Willie’s vulgarity shocks the prudish mall manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter), who brings them to the attention of security chief Gin Slagel (Bernie Mac).

At the mall, Willie is visited by Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a friendly but exceedingly gullible, overweight boy who assumes Willie is really Santa, and is constantly bullied by a teenage gang of skateboarders. 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, where he lives with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Thurman reveals that his mother died and his father, Roger, is "exploring mountains"—actually in jail for embezzlement. Willie tricks Thurman into letting him rob the house safe and steal Roger’s BMW 740iL (E38).

Bob informs Gin that he overheard Willie having sex in a dressing room and Gin starts to investigate. Willie sees his motel room being raided, and moves in to Thurman’s house, much to Thurman's delight. Marcus is angry at Willie for taking advantage of Thurman, and states his disapproval of Willie's sex addiction when Willie makes a rude remark about Thurman's grandmother.

Gin visits Roger, who indirectly reveals that Willie is staying with Thurman illegally. Gin confronts Willie and Marcus at the mall, and takes them to a bar. There, he reveals that he has figured out their plan, and blackmails them for half the score to keep silent. Willie and Marcus’ partnership begins to falter, further exacerbated when Willie shows up to work drunk and destroys the Santa attraction, to Marcus' and Gin's shock.

Willie attempts suicide by inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. He gives Thurman a letter to give to the police, confessing his misdeeds and the heist planned for Christmas Eve. Willie notices Thurman's black eye, and abandons the suicide attempt to confront the skateboarders; he beats up their leader, intimidating them into leaving Thurman alone.

Furious at Gin’s blackmail, Marcus and Lois set a trap for him. Feigning the need to jump start their vehicle, Lois hits Gin with the car, and Marcus kills him via electrocution.

Willie and Thurman prepare for the approaching holiday with help from Sue. On Christmas Eve, Willie, Marcus, and Lois burglarize the mall. Willie gets a pink stuffed elephant Thurman had wanted for Christmas. Marcus reveals to Willie that he intends to kill him, fed up with his increasing carelessness. Just as Marcus is about to shoot Willie, the police swarm in, tipped off by the letter Willie gave Thurman. Marcus opens fire and the police shoot back, and Willie flees. Determined to give Thurman his present, he leads the police on a chase to Thurman's house, ignoring their orders to freeze. He is shot repeatedly on Thurman's porch, but survives.

The epilogue is told through a letter from Willie, recovering in the hospital. He expresses his gratitude to Thurman, and reveals that he was cleared of the robbery—the shooting of an unarmed Santa embarrassed the police—and will be working for the police as a sensitivity counselor. Sue is granted guardianship over Thurman and his house until his father’s release. Marcus and Lois are in prison; Willie hopes Roger will avoid them. Willie ends the letter by telling Thurman that he should be out of the hospital soon and to be ready for his return. When the lead skateboard bully harasses Thurman again, Thurman finally stands up to him by kicking him hard in the crotch and riding away on his bike giving the finger.



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,[3] although by WGA rules, they were uncredited.

Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray[4][5] 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 film's 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.[6]


An editorial in The Washington Times 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 Miramax, then a Disney subsidiary.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3½ stars out of four.[8]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 78% rating, based on 213 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10.[9] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 70 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed over $60 million domestically and more than $76 million in total worldwide.[1]

Home media [edit]

In the U.S, a theatrical version, an unrated version, a director's cut and a Blu-ray Disc 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 Disc 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.[citation needed]


On October 29, 2015, it was announced that Billy Bob Thornton would return for Bad Santa 2, and that filming would begin in Montreal in January 2016 for a scheduled release of Christmas 2016.[11] On November 3, 2015, it was announced that Mean Girls director Mark Waters would direct the film.[12] On November 19, 2015, it was announced that Kathy Bates would join the cast as Willie's mother, and that Brett Kelly and Tony Cox would reprise their roles from the first film.[13] On December 21, 2015, it was announced that Bad Santa 2 would be released on November 23, 2016.[14] On January 6, 2016, Christina Hendricks joined the cast.[15]


  1. ^ a b c "Bad Santa (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Bad Santa". Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  3. ^ Taylor, Drew. "Terry Zwigoff Talks Battling Over 'Bad Santa,' His Preferred Director's Cut & Much More In Candid Interview". Indiewire. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  4. ^ Locke, Greg W. (26 August 2011). "The Top 25 Roles Bill Murray Didn't Take". Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  5. ^ Evans, Bradford (17 February 2011). "The Lost Roles of Bill Murray". Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Bad Disney". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 2005-05-01.
  8. ^ "Bad Santa :: :: Reviews". 2003-11-26. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  9. ^ Bad Santa at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Bad Santa at Metacritic
  11. ^ McNary, Dave (2015-10-29). "Billy Bob Thornton Returning in 'Bad Santa 2'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  12. ^ Gettell, Oliver (2015-11-03). "Mean Girls director Mark Waters to helm Bad Santa 2". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (2015-11-19). "Kathy Bates Joins Billy Bob Thornton in 'Bad Santa 2' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  14. ^ "'Bad Santa 2' to Hit Theaters in Time for Holidays". Variety. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  15. ^ "Christina Hendricks Joins Billy Bob Thornton in 'Bad Santa 2'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 7, 2016.

External links[edit]