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How can one properly make a list of bad Christmas films? Is it even possible?

When I took on the task of narrowing down a list of films that soften your brain and have the audacity to call it Christmas spirit, I had assumed that certain films would stand out from the rest. I assumed it would be an easy task to separate the chaff from the even more chaff.

Thus began my descent.

Like the Mariana Trench opening up beneath you as you descend in the depths of the Pacific, the gaping void was larger than I could have ever imagined.

This is by far the longest article I have ever written for this site. Let me explain why.

My process for film selection is usually a mix of anecdotal and analytical. I’ll ask friends, people I’m close to who are cineastes or work in the industry, to make recommendations. I’ll supplement this with lists taken from Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb.

I believe that I’ve become good at making these types of lists.

But for this assignment, I was completely overwhelmed.

To write this article, I watched no fewer than two dozen Christmas films culled via this process. I would not recommend anyone do this. I have lost years of my life. My loved ones have seen the joy vanish from behind my eyes. I’m not saying I am as brave as a coal miner getting black lung to bring energy to the surface, but I’m pretty close.

It’s what was required in order to save you and the ones you love from grief this holiday season. Because the more films I watched, the more I realized that I had a trove of horror that I could not separate from one another. They’re all terrible in their own special ways.

As I watched these films, I noticed certain patterns worth chronicling:

  1. These films almost always have a short runtime.
  2. Someone in each film has an unhealthy, unnatural obsession with Christmas.
  3. Women are either shrews or passive housewives.
  4. People of color do not exist.

Every single one of the films listed below includes these patterns. And it’s the fourth that I find particularly troublesome.

Film in general tends to relegate people of color to the sidelines. In the Christmas film genre, they are not even allowed a place at the table (that’s likely serving the most unseasoned holiday food you’ve ever tasted). It’s baffling and upsetting, because it suggests something more insidious about the holiday: that it is first and foremost a white, Christian, capitalist holiday.

It’s begun to change slowly. But in a genre as mass-produced as this one, you would assume that there would be some variety. At least three films titled some variation of “All I Want for Christmas” have been released in the past 30 years. You’d assume having characters of color would differentiate them a little bit.

But the Christmas film genre is not one defined by its creativity. It’s bred by low budgets and whatever star is available. The entire genre is a sluice gate of shit unleashed every November.

Now that streaming platforms have so much buying power, their libraries are packed to the brim with indistinguishable white and red covers with some variation of a white man back to back with a white woman, either or both dressed in a Christmas sweater, either or both in a suit to indicate that they’re the asshole who must change their ways.

And so this list is merely a hand scoop into the cesspool that grows everyday. I have pulled up a few, but a thousand more roil below the surface waiting to take their place. The genre beckons you into its mediocrity.

Come and see.

Mixed Nuts (1994)

Every star in the sky. Courtesy of Sony.

When a movie’s talent is this stacked and you have never heard of it, it’s a bad sign.

The cast and creators of Mixed Nuts are not only some of the most talented performers of their time, the cast might be tailor-made to suit my interests.

Steve Martin. Madeline Khan. Juliette Lewis. Parker Posey. Jon Stewart. Gary Shandling as an evil landlord. Liev Schreiber in his first film role.

It’s directed by Nora Ephron (one year after Sleepless in Seattle). The cinematography is by Sven Nykvist who filmed most of Bergman’s work.

It is no exaggeration to say that this might be one of my favorite ensemble groups ever assembled for a film. I should be itching for an opportunity to watch a film like this.

But none of these glittering gems can match the one glaring red flag.

Steve Martin’s hair is dyed.

For a period of time in the 90s, Steve Martin would take on more serious roles. When he did, he would usually dye his hair a darker color to help separate himself from his white-haired, standup persona.

He even mentions this in an interview, and quotes a film critic who reviewed his performance in A Leap of Faith:

“Watch out when Steve Martin goes for the hair dye!”

This film’s plot is based around a LA nonprofit that serves as a suicide hotline during the holiday season. Steven Martin’s character runs the nonprofit and is days away from being evicted.

When you have a premise like this, you would hope that it would be played with some sensitivity. You would hope that suicide and the crippling mental issues that people face during a lonely holiday season would not be used as a punchline.

You would be wrong.

In this film…

  • A man commits suicide and it’s played for a laugh.
  • Someone suggests that a man is fucking his dogs.
  • A man potentially fakes leukemia to tell a woman over the phone that he wants to “ram it in her”.
  • There’s a hilarious bit where a woman crawls into a bathtub every time she gets upset

And slowly, as you watch this, you realize that this is the most awful of all film genres: the ensemble seasonal comedy.

This film may be the Ur-example of that genre, the progenitor. It comes before Love Actually, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Day, He’s Just Not That Into You.

This film is so bad that it should have been the death knell for these types of comedies.

Yet here we are.

It is no exaggeration to say that, with a cast of some of the funniest and most entertaining people alive, not a single joke lands.

Not. One.

The film’s title comes from an anecdote told during the film. The father of Steve Martin’s character is run over by a truck of mixed nuts. It’s treated with the same tone of absurd detachment and nonchalance as the rest of the film.

Steve Martin is the reason I do comedy. He is a shining light in my childhood memories and the platonic ideal of what it means to be a comedian.

So it is with great pain that I say…

“Watch out when Steve Martin goes for the hair dye.”

Merry Friggin’ Christmas (2014)

Deserving better. Courtesy of Phase 4.

Speaking of movie stars and personal heroes of mine in films that grossly misuse their talents…

Merry Friggin’ Christmas may be one of the least funny movies I’ve seen. And I’ve seen Mixed Nuts

Released in 2014, but filmed in 2013, this is one of Robin Williams’ final films. It’s strange to discuss his performance in this film on artistic merit. Because to watch this film, you see a superstar performer, maybe one of the funniest men to ever live, give the least funny performance of his storied career. Were you to only watch this film, you would assume Robin Williams was nothing more than a character actor gutting his way through another paycheck.

In fact, there is not a performer in this film who even remotely achieves their potential. In this movie about a family coming together to enjoy Christmas in the face of their father being an asshole (is that the plot?), there are no survivors. 

Joel McHale yells a lot as the son who hates Christmas because his father “ruined it” for him. Lauren Graham is pleasant as his wife who hasn’t had sex with him in SIX YEARS. Wendi McClendon-Covey and Tim Heidecker play a trash couple who you can tell are trash because of their wardrobe. Candice Bergen plays the mother who barely appears in the movie. Clark Duke is actually quite funny in the few moments he’s given, but he seems to be in his own, better film. 

But almost unforgivable is Oliver Platt, a great comedic and character actor, given a nothing role as a Hobo Santa with barely any lines.

And as you watch this film through its too-dark lighting and its shaky cameras, you will ask yourself, why? How? 

Why was this film made? 

How could this happen with such an excellent cast? 

My guess is that it’s the same story as with many terrible, clearly low-budget films. They manage to get one star on board, others follow, all with the promise of an okay paycheck and only a few shooting days. 

And good god does every scene in this film look like it was shot once.

Every stunt and “action” sequence has the feel of a day-one stage combat class before the teacher has gone over boundaries. There is no time to put down the camera for a single, stable shot, as the crew races against the working day’s clock to get just one take of the gang trying to chainsaw open a dead Santa’s body. 

The backbone of this film is that the men in the family go on some bizarre, Christmas night “adventure” to get Joel McHale’s son’s gifts back because, I think…

You know what, I can’t even remember. Basic plot details elude me. Because none of it actually matters.

All I remember is the distant look in Robin Williams’s eyes, the few actors of color in the film being Afghani refugees played with the exact sort of accuracy and respect you would expect in a film like this, and the fact that at the end of the film, the couple that has not had sex in SIX YEARS, decides to casually do it on Christmas morning. 

A trainwreck of a film that doesn’t even have the decency to be laughable. A dark, muddled film where nothing makes sense, where one turn into the surreal would’ve made it David Lynch, and another turn into the more comedic could’ve made it National Lampoon. But instead it languishes in nothingness, forgettable and ephemeral. 

This is a painful film to watch and an insult to a legendary performer near the end of his life. 

A Christmas Star (2015)

Courtesy of Cinemagic.

When does criticism of a film become slander of an entire nation?

A Christmas Star (2015) was produced by Northern Ireland through CineMagic, a charitable organization designed to introduce Northern Irish children to the film industry and help them develop valuable skills. It’s a film whose patrons are numerous Northern Irish stars who wanted to give back to their home nation by producing a film that was created and produced in Northern Ireland. 

Surely, a film with such noble intentions is immune to criticism. Surely, said film would have to be so awful, so clunky and strange and impossible to look away from, so as to merit inclusion on a “worst of” list.

Well luckily for me that A Christmas Star might be one of the strangest and worst Christmas films I’ve ever seen.

Baby Noelle (yes) is born on Christmas in a barn (again, yes) and discovers early on that she has the power to stop arguments using her mind, like the “Heart” character from Captain Planet. She grows up in a town where the entire industry of the town is based around making snow globes.

Note: if you build your town around a seasonal ornament, your economy is built on sand and it deserves to fail. 

An evil executive from AMERICA returns to this hometown to reclaim his inheritance as owner of the snow globe factory with his son in tow. His true plans involve shipping production out of the country to save on costs. Noelle and her gang of friends must race to stop him by using their hacking skills to foil him.

All the reviews for this film are proportionate to the run time. Incredibly short.

They sprinkle faint praise on how “some of the jokes work” and that the kids’ acting is “fine”. They don’t want to excoriate a film made by kids for kids. But as my 9th-grade arts class explained to me following a showing of my short film “you’re never too young to receive crippling feedback”. 

Every part of this movie gets more strange and illogical the deeper you look. 

The boss from America who seems to have a family claim to the town’s industry, works for another man, played by a very miscast Pierce Brosnan doing his very best “I remember this character from Mrs. Doubtfire“. Why does the man with the inheritance have a boss? What is his purpose?

An irrelevant but somehow pivotal detail: the license plate on this man’s car just reads “BOSS”. This nugget from IMDB illuminates it even further:

The number plate on Pat McKerrod’s car has the number THE BO55 on it, this is definitely not a British registration number and would result in him being prosecuted.

His plan seems destined to be foiled by little Noelle’s powers, but she somehow stops being able to use them. So she enlists the help of her kid gang to hack into the evil businessman’s computer. It reveals plans for the town that are so absurd and nonsensical that even upon closely examining the photo, I don’t know what the plans are.

Does he want to turn the town into a Snow Globe theme park?

What are your plans evil businessman? What’s the revenue model? Courtesy of CineMagic.

After discovering the plans, the kids storm the seat of government of Northern Ireland where the evil businessman is about to take over the town, they reveal the plans, the businessman’s son then tells him that, no, he actually doesn’t have any inheritance. THEN, celebrities from around the world (although primarily Great Britain, recorded via their cellphone), who happen to be watching the Northern Irish government’s news feed, order snow globes from the factory and save the town. One of these celebrities is Kylie Minogue.

Kylie. Minogue.

And at the end, *SPOILER*, it’s revealed that the voice of the radio announcer we’ve been hearing the entire time has been Liam Neeson. 

Also, it turns out Noelle’s powers were never real to begin with and that all you need is love, or something. The kids have a dance party during the epilogue that appears to be actually filmed at a live film festival in Northern Ireland.

Roll credits.

There is not a thread of this tapestry that when pulled does not unravel the whole thing while also bringing up a Northern Irish celebrity. It’s a bizarre, illogical scramble of holiday themed words crashing into hallmark adjacent plot lines. 

And if you’re hoping, clasping your hands together and praying, that the one thing that this film will answer is “what is the Christmas Star?”, prepare to be disappointed. 

Misteltoe and Menorahs (2019)

Normal faces, very happy. Courtesy of Lifetime.

I am certain that people in real life really, truly love Christmas. I’ve met these adults. People who have calendars counting down days to Christmas and who make everything peppermint flavored for the month of December.

But no one in reality, and I mean no one, loves Christmas quite as much as people in Christmas films do.

And in Mistletoe and Menorahs, boy are they obsessed with it.

Christmas spirit is a virus and the characters in this film are on death’s door. So much so that the main character’s father greets her on video calls by singing “one horse open sleigh”.

But twist!

People in this film also love Hannukah!

You see, our protagonist, a hard-working woman who likes her coffee in exactly a certain type of pumpkin spice way and served at 120 degrees (is that even hot enough?) has a problem. The toy company she works for needs a Hanukkah toy line, and she has to come up with plans for it by Christmas Eve.

Side note: do not work for a company that sets deadlines at Christmas Eve. This is a company that does not respect your boundaries.

But, of course, there’s a problem. Our character doesn’t know the first thing about Hannukah! How could she, when she’s so feverish with the illness that is Christmas?

So, although not knowing any Jewish people (even though the city they live in is supposed to be played as New York?) she’s connected to a Jewish teacher at her friend’s son’s school. And because he’s Jewish, of course he would automatically know a lot about Hannukah. That’s how Judaism works! He has a Hebrew ringtone on his phone! He doesn’t know what a fruitcake is! He’s very Jewish!

So our protagonist decides to share cultures with this Jewish teacher to help her toy line. What unfolds is the most surface-level swapping of religious ideas that has ever been captured on film. This film is a Wikipedia article with a slowly rotating camera and a whimsical piano soundtrack. It’s a food travel episode inhabited by people whose agents begged them to audition for this because they just need the work.

But wouldn’t you know it. The longer these two people of the book spend together, the more they realize that they might have a hunger for more than just cross-cultural exchange.

But she has a boyfriend! Albeit, a very bad boyfriend. You know he’s very bad because he turns off her Christmas movie and watches “the game” (and by game I mean basketball b-roll purchased from Getty Images). He wants to spend more time with his friends, one of whom is named, and I swear to god this is true, “Tater”.

And, at one point the boyfriend is making a smoothie out of what apparently is apples, carrots, and napa cabbage. It’s not relevant to the story. It’s just very funny.

The acting in this is as inhuman as it can get without actively turning to AI. There are moments when the actors no longer have lines but the scene goes on for a few more moments. Their eyes go empty. Their stares go blank. They want to be somewhere else. But they are here.

There is one moment in this film that will live in my mind forever.

The main character’s new Abrahamic squeeze goes to dinner with her parents instead of her boyfriend, because, again, and I swear this is true, he’s too busy watching the game.

As they leave, he shakes hands with the parents like a kind, wholesome man you bring home would. And as the parents reenter the home, he smiles after them.

But, because the shot lingers a few beats longer than normal, there’s just enough time to see the light leave the actor’s eyes. And for a moment, you’re transported to another film, where this kind, young man is a teacher by day, but a serial killer by night. He’s left a window unlocked in the bathroom and he’s returning later to kill them.

This is not the path that the film takes, but when one is bored watching a film like this, these are the other plot lines that one imagines.

There are a thousand details in this film that could be picked over, but I’ll leave that to a film studies student racing to find a topic for their capstone project. The main character’s diet eventually just becomes jelly-filled donuts and fist-sized latkes. Her new Jewish love interest actually likes fruitcake.

This film is the Zapruder tape of Christmas films. Keep rewatching it, and you’ll find that it makes less and less sense.

Saving Christmas (2014)

Uncle Kirk has you trapped now. Courtesy of LIBERTY. UNIVERSITY.

When a film is funded by Liberty University and stars Kirk Cameron, you’d better strap the fuck in.

This film, a screed against good taste and sanity, is notorious in the bad film community as being especially poisonous. I knew this going in, and yet I remained unprepared.

In fact, in the opening five minutes, it appears that there are no less than four different types of films going at the same time.

  • A Kirk Cameron speech to camera that has the same, sinking feeling as discovering you’re in a timeshare presentation and the doors are locked.
  • A period piece about Saint Nicholas.
  • A bearded man.
  • And an animated recreation of the nativity story with a ska soundtrack.

In essence, this is a movie about Kirk Cameron trying to get his brother-in-law, Christian (right? get it?) into the spirit of Christmas. He does this through various means, including aggressively badgering the man by stating opinions as facts (a Kirk Cameron special). He also does this by creating a film that seems to be dumbfounded as to how it can fill its overly ample 79-minute runtime.

And boy does it try to do a lot in a little over an hour. In this film, you have everything!

  • A black character who the film mocks because he talks too much.
  • Kirk Cameron’s haggard sister who acts like there’s a gun pointed at her just off camera.
  • A goatee that’s shaven so poorly that it looks asymmetrical.
  • Kirk Cameron.

And the longer the film goes on, the more you realize that this has the mise-en-scene of a poorly done improv show were the comedy is going so badly that you can hear the A/C turning on and off in the theater.

There are sequences that go on for two, three, four beats too long. The acting has cavernous spaces between the dialogue, and the entire production feels so amateurish that it can’t really be taken seriously.

But this film was not only a box office success. It was a triumph in the Christian right film community. And it’s a film that draws its power not from generating interesting ideas, but on attacking a straw man version of the Christian right’s most hated enemy.

The liberal, god-hating left.

Take for example the first big “dramatic” moment in the film. Kirk Cameron’s brother-in-law Christian (who, by the way, is played by the film’s director) has a talk with Kirk in his truck. He goes on a rambling, nonsensical diatribe about what Christmas should really be about (meant to represent far-right Christians who appear to be buying into the left’s views). Kirk then eviscerates his brother-in-law with such venom and ridicule that it’s a wonder why we can’t have calm, rational dialogue in this country anymore.

But really, the target is not the dopey-also-director Brother-in-law. It’s the godless cucks who want to take Christmas away. The people who hate Santa, presents, and hot cocoa.

This is a film in the same way a Dinesh D’Souza film is a documentary. Yes, you can call anything whatever you’d like. That doesn’t make it so.

Here at OnlySky, we know what Kirk Cameron is. We understand that, in his mind, he is crusading for a cause that he believes is constantly on the back foot of our society, despite all evidence to the contrary. His “art” is not genuine or based is a real desire to entertain, or even inform. The film wants to mock people who dare to say that maybe not everyone in the United States celebrates Christmas.

This is propaganda. It’s dumb, untalented Leni Riefenstahl. It’s a political statement whose core message is “stop saying Happy Holidays, start saying Merry Christmas.”

I cannot stress to you, reader, how uncomfortable it felt to watch these films.

Normally, there is a strange pleasure in watching truly bad movies. On occasion, I felt pinpricks of this during my viewings.

Finding out that one of the boyfriend’s buddies in Mistletoe and Menorahs was named “Tater” did brighten up my day. The evil boss’ plans for the small Northern Irish town will make you laugh in mild hysteria.

But these films are wrapping paper over asbestos. They are caustic and unfunny and leave you less than. I watched these, eyes pried open, Clockwork Orange-style, and begged for death.

I am alive and different than I was before. My only solace is that you will not be hurt as I have.

Honorable Mentions:

All I Want For Christmas (2014)

Elf (2003)

The Mistletoe Promise (2016)

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Casey Karaman is a writer, performer, improviser, and teacher who has worked with the Washington Improv Theater. He has performed in multiple theater productions, most recently in Second City's production...