North American theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terry Zwigoff|
|Music by||David Kitay|
|Edited by||Robert Hoffman|
|Box office||$76.5 million|
Bad Santa is a 2003 American Christmas black comedy film directed by Terry Zwigoff and written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, John Ritter, and Bernie Mac. It was Ritter's last film appearance before his death on September 11, 2003; the film was dedicated to his 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. It received generally positive reviews and was a commercial success.
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, much to Marcus's displeasure. 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. After some casual sex with Sue in Willie's beaten-up Impala SS, Willie is harassed and attacked by a Hindustani hoodlum from 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 assaults 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 ends the letter by hoping that Roger will avoid them and 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 to the downed bully.
In January 2002, Variety announced that Terry Zwigoff would be directing Bad Santa (his fourth picture following Ghost World) under Dimension Films, with Glenn Ficarra and John Requa writing the screenplay and the Coen brothers serving as executive producers.
The Coens had developed the concept for Bad Santa, before eventually hiring the writing team of Ficarra and Requa to bring the story to life. The Coens told Ficarra and Requa that the story would center on an alcoholic "bad Santa" who seeks redemption very later on; additionally, they wanted it to be as funny as The Bad News Bears. Afterward, Ficarra and Requa completed what they described as a "really crass script", with the Coens adding "a bunch of crass jokes". When the script's final draft was sent to Universal Pictures, the studio rejected it on the grounds that "[I]t was the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine," all of which influenced Bob Weinstein of Miramax to give it the green-light.
The Coens initially tailored roles for specific actors, such as James Gandolfini as Willie (since they had worked with him on The Man Who Wasn't There), Danny Woodburn as Marcus, and Angus T. Jones as Thurman.Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro were also considered for the role of Willie, but it eventually went to Billy Bob Thornton. Zwigoff cast Tony Cox for the role of Marcus and Brett Kelly for Thurman, which led to disagreements between himself and the producers. Upon learning of Cox's casting, the Coens' told Weinstein that they "hate" him, and according to Zwigoff, Dimension was pining for "a more Disney-like generic cute kid" to play Thurman. "Maybe there are other actors who could do a great job with these parts. But Tony and Brett are just funny. They are these characters," explained Zwigoff.
The movie was filmed in various parts of California in the summer of 2002. The "Miami Beach" sequence at the beginning of the movie was filmed in Long Beach, while all of the scenes at Thurman's house were filmed in West Hills. All of the Saguaro Square Mall scenes were filmed entirely in the northeastern wing of Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, particularly in the former Montgomery Ward building, which was used for the mall's fictional anchor store, "Chamberlain's." The store and the entire wing were both vacant at the time of the movie's filming. The wing and building where the movie was filmed have since been demolished and replaced with the mall's new open-air lifestyle center.
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.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 78% rating, based on 217 reviews, with an average rating of 6.72/10. The site's Critics Consensus reads: "A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 70 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film grossed over $60 million domestically and more than $76 million in total worldwide.
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 dvdtown.com, 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 on May 18, 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.
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. On November 3, 2015, it was announced that Mean Girls director Mark Waters would direct the film. 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. On December 21, 2015, it was announced that Bad Santa 2 would be released on November 23, 2016. On January 6, 2016, Christina Hendricks joined the cast.