Bad Santa (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In order to do this accurately, I need to do a mini dissertation on the four dimensions of black humor.

Dimension 1: There are various degrees of anger. On the simplest level, it's "nah, that sucked". On the bitterest level it might be something like Hunter Thompson's comments about Nixon, "If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president."

Dimension 2: There are various degrees of profanity. No elaboration necessary.

Dimension 3: There are various degrees of context. If a screenplay shows Hunter Thompson saying those things about Nixon to people predisposed to agree, that is one thing. But if the script were to show, for example, the Pope saying those things over Nixon's body, that context would magnify the impact a dozen fold.

Dimension 4: There are various degrees of wit.

It is possible to make people laugh without Dimension 4 . Imagine the Pope simply delivering Hunter Thompson's lines above, with plenty of "fucks" and other ugly words. Many people would find that funny, although it would not be clever or witty in any way. Your likelihood to laugh in such a case depends on how you feel about the subject matter. People on the far left think that it is funny to say "President Bush is a dumb fuck". People on the far right think it is funny to say, "Bill Clinton would fuck a snake". Say those things among people who share your opinion, and people will laugh, even though there is absolutely nothing inherently funny in those statements. Lacking wit, you can still make the people in the room convulse with laughter by using anger, profanity, and context - provided that they share your anger and your world-view.

For example, imagine a profanity-laden black comedy invective against Ronald Reagan, making fun of him and his Alzheimer's disease. Give me the right room, and it's comedy gold. Give me the wrong room, and it's suicide.

What does all this have to do with Bad Santa?

Well, on a scale of 1-100, it would score something like this on the dimensions above:

Anger: 100

Profanity: 100

Context: 100 (It is Santa Claus swearing, drinking, and "fucking fat chicks in the ass" in front of children.)

Wit: 10.

The things that the characters say in this film are rarely witty, clever, or imaginative. They are hateful, profanity-laden invectives, mostly delivered by Santa and one of his elves. You or I could have written every word of their dialogue in an afternoon. Having said that, you may well find this movie very funny anyway, if you are a member of the right room. It all depends on whether you share its anger. Let's face it, a lot of people are sick of Christmas. It may work for you because it dared to do it first, and because it is one angry-ass, iconoclastic motherfucker. There are reports of young audiences laughing loud enough and often enough to drown out the dialogue.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a degenerate safecracker who takes a Santa job each year in a different big city shopping mall, then robs all the receipts on Christmas eve. His accomplice is a little person who works as his elf. Santa sits around in a filthy shit-stained suit, with his beard hanging off. He tells the kids to "get the fuck lost", and he stumbles around dead drunk in front of the kids when he's not actually puking on them. Judging from his appearance, he hasn't shaved or bathed or changed his clothes in years. He pisses himself. At one point, he goes into a rage in front of the families waiting in the Santa line, and destroys all the papier-mâché reindeer. In another scene, he flies into in an uncontrolled rage and beats a 14 year old bully into a blood pulp, all while wearing his Santa suit in public. Finally, he's a suicidal guy, and the only thing that really gets him excited in life is to "fuck fat chicks in the ass" - and this is not revealed subtly. Santa is in the plus-sized fitting rooms with the door open, right next to his Santaland area, screaming away in orgasm, and shouting things like, "oh, yeah, baby, you won't be able to shit right for a week".

In short, Santa is a complete rumpgap or, as this movie would word it, an asshole.

Eventually, Santa is caught making his criminal escape, still in costume, and is blown away by a volley of fire from the police. Some of the gunshots leave particularly ugly wounds.

Is that funny? Again, it depends on your sense of humor. If you don't require any wit or intelligence to make you laugh, but simply enjoy seeing sacred cows being torn to shreds in ferocious, ugly ways, then you may join the people who have loved this genuinely nasty movie. I loved the attitude, but was disappointed by the lack of imagination. I wanted it to show at least a little bit of brainpower and say clever nasty things, not just stuff like "Santa, you're an ugly, drunk motherfucker".

It is adolescent, but yes, it is funny if you really have a certain black sense of humor. It isn't clever or witty, but it makes up for its lack of intelligence by ferocity, by pulling no punches whatsoever. It is completely outrageous, way beyond the outside of the envelope. It strives to be as mean-spirited, ugly, gross, violent, and profane as it can be in every scene, and it does so in a sacred context while debunking a sacred cow. Thornton is completely disgusting, and nails the part perfectly.

The Disney people hated the film, and hated the fact that they were associated with it, which may be an ipso facto recommendation for some of you.

And, amazingly enough, it has kind of a warm, sentimental ending, but does not really compromise its nastiness.

DVD info from Amazon

  • 5 minutes of extra footage incorporated into the film

  • "Badder Santa" gag reel

  • Behind-the-scenes feature

  • Deleted & alternate scenes

  • Outtakes

  • Widescreen anamorphic format


There are two topless strippers in the unrated DVD version. The actresses are not identified.

The critics were polarized by this film. Check out some of the extremes below.  

The negative extreme

Slant Magazine, 1 star out of 4.

Kinnopio, 1.5 stars out of 4


The positive extreme

Dallas Observer - "jolliest Christmas movie ever"

Roger Ebert, 3.5 stars


Sidebar: John Ritter

Speaking of sacred cows, John Ritter is in this film. It was his last. Because he died between filming and release, it is dedicated to his "loving memory".

He died young, and he was, by all accounts, a very nice human being. This has led people to eulogize him fondly and to canonize him into some kind of comedy sainthood. His sweet-hearted nature and his untimely death have caused people to ignore the fact that he simply wasn't funny. Not in this film. Pretty much never.

With the possible exception of Elvis, no person in my memory ever made a better career move by dying.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Critical panel: three stars plus. Roger Ebert 3.5/4, James Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.2/10. Yahoo voters rate it a B.
  • Box Office Mojo. Production budget: $25 million, marketing $20 million. It was a mini-hit, grossing $60 million.

and ...

  • Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. It will probably become a cult film. One of the meanest, most scabrous big budget movies ever made. Not that many people will like it, but those who like it will place it on their list of all-time favorites.

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