Open main menu

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]

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]

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 in order for both of them to rob shopping malls at night, using Marcus' wife Lois (Lauren Tom) as their getaway driver and accomplice. Marcus takes his duty as an elf seriously, but Willie is a sex-addicted alcoholic, and is gradually unable to appropriately perform his Santa duties with children, plus his safe-cracking performance is being affected, much to Marcus' dismay. When they are hired at the Saguaro Square Mall in Phoenix, the vulgar remarks made by Willie shock 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 naive and gullible, overweight boy who assumes Willie is really Santa. Thurman is a constant target of bullying 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, then enters the boy's house where he lives with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Thurman reveals that his mother died, and his father, Roger, is away "exploring mountains" (he is actually in jail for embezzlement) until next year. Willie tricks Thurman into letting him rob the house safe and steal a BMW 740iL (E38) owned by Roger.

Bob informs Gin that he overheard Willie having sex with a woman in a mall dressing room and Gin starts to investigate. Willie goes to his motel room and sees it being raided, causing him to take advantage of Thurman's naivete and live in his house, much to Thurman's delight. The next day, Marcus gets 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's investigation of Willie includes visiting 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, blackmailing them for half of the cut to keep silent. Marcus tries to reason with Gin for a smaller cut, but Gin is adamant. With Willie and Marcus now in a corner, their partnership begins to falter, which is exacerbated further when Willie shows up to work clearly drunk or hungover and destroys the Santa attraction, much to Marcus' and Gin's shock.

Willie attempts to commit suicide by inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. He gives Thurman a letter to give to the police when they arrive, confessing his misdeeds and giving information about a heist that will take place in the mall on Christmas Eve. Willie notices Thurman's black eye, which persuades him to abandon the suicide attempt and make an example of the skateboarding bullies. He confronts and beats up the gang's leader, frightening the other members into stopping their acts towards Thurman.

Enraged at Gin for blackmailing him, Marcus and Lois set up a trap for Gin, feigning needing a jump start for their vehicle. Lois hits Gin with the car, then Marcus kills him via electrocution.

As Christmas draws closer, Willie and Thurman set up for the holiday, with help from Sue. On Christmas Eve, Willie, Marcus, and Lois burglarize the mall. When the heist is almost complete, Willie goes to get Thurman a pink stuffed elephant that he had wanted for Christmas. Just as he gets the elephant, Marcus reveals to Willie that he intends to kill him, fed up with his increasing carelessness year after year. Lois tells him to hurry up and kill Willie so they can get away with the money and merchandise. But just as Marcus is about to shoot Willie, the police swarm in, tipped off by the letter Willie gave to Thurman. When Marcus opens fire, the police shoot at him and Willie flees. Determined to give Thurman his present, he leads the police on a chase to Thurman's house, ignoring orders to freeze. He is repeatedly shot on Thurman's porch, but survives.

The epilogue is told through a letter from Willie, who is in a hospital recovering. He expresses his gratitude for Thurman in giving the letter to the police and his name was cleared of the robbery, adding that he will be working for the police as a sensitivity counselor. The shooting of an unarmed Santa embarrassed the police, and Sue is granted guardianship over Thurman and his house until Thurman's father is released. Willie also explains that Marcus and Lois are in prison for their actions, while expressing hope that Roger is wise to avoid the two. Willie ends the letter by telling Thurman that he should be let out of the hospital soon and for him 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 officeEdit

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 linksEdit