A few years ago, the internet crowned a new film with the coveted, unofficial title of “worst movie of all time.” And that movie was Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.
An atypical “war on Christmas” film, Saving Christmas is an odd fish. Rather than the expected message of “we need to put the Christ back in Christmas,” it instead mainly focuses on defending secular traditions to evangelical Christians in an effort to achieve some weird middle ground that nobody was interested in. In any normal world it would have immediately faded into obscurity—the only reason it was suddenly vaulted into true infamy is because Cameron couldn’t accept the fact that it was receiving negative reviews. In his attempt to manipulate the film’s ratings, he poked the Internet hornet’s nest.
Upset that Saving Christmas wasn’t hailed as an immediate holiday classic, Cameron tried to rally his fans and asked all of them to drive up the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating by submitting their own favorable reviews. That worked—for a few days—until the rest of the web caught wind of what Cameron was trying to do. Suddenly, a much larger and more vociferous community was mobilized, vote brigading to drive the ratings for Saving Christmas down into the ditch. What started as simply “bad” ratings was soon pushed into “historically bad” territory.
As it currently stands, the IMDB rating of Saving Christmas is 2.2 (1 is the lowest rating), the #6 lowest of all time. For a while it held the position of #1, before being surpassed by several foreign films, including one simply named “Potato Salad”.
But is Saving Christmas really the worst film of all time? Honestly? No. It’s not even the worst Christmas movie of all time, simply an amateurly made “inspirational” flick that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are plenty of Christmas films that are far worse. If you really want to indulge in some terrible Christmas movies over your break, here are the true 20 worst Christmas films of all time.
20. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, 1979
Everyone loves the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday special from 1964, but there’s a reason you only see that special broadcast these days rather than the ill-fated sequels. In reality, Rankin/Bass cranked out numerous Rudolph sequels in the years that followed, of increasingly horrendous quality. Things finally bottomed out with the insane Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July in 1979, featuring a plot that involves Rudolph being accused of theft and experiencing a flying reindeer’s version of erectile dysfunction when his nose stops glowing. Frosty, meanwhile, has his magical top hat stolen by an evil wizard who wants to conquer the world with an army of killer snowmen. Did I mention this is all in (pretty bad) stop-motion animation?
Most festive offense: Rudolph hits rock bottom, sings “No Bed of Roses” and covers his nose with red glitter in a desperate attempt to convince himself that life still has meaning.
19. Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, 2014
I am honestly curious how Lifetime managed to rope Aubrey Plaza into performing as the voice of Grumpy Cat—are all of her family members accounted for, and is it possible that one of them is being held in a Lifetime Torture Dungeon of some kind? (That’s a dungeon where one is made to watch Lifetime movies, by the way.) You can understand their reasoning in seeking Plaza—her most prominent comedic roles rely heavily on her deadpan and, well, “grumpy” demeanor, so it seems obvious. In practice though, she simply sounds either disinterested or heavily drugged. There’s a reason that voiceover work is usually heightened in intensity from regular performance—it needs to pop. This film is just 90 minutes of a miscast actress sleepwalking through a passionless quagmire on the way to pick up a check. Every line sounds like a first take.
Most festive offense: The pair of would-be rock musicians meant to serve as comic villains are particularly grating. Grumpy Cat occasionally pauses the film to make snide comments on the action, but Plaza has no idea what to say about them. As they do their shtick, Grumpy Cat appears on screen, the action freezes, there’s a pregnant pause, and she delivers her pithy joke “...um, nevermind.” That’s this movie in a nutshell.
18. Santa’s Slay, 2005
You could probably make an entertainingly cheesy Christmas horror-comedy from the Santa’s Slay premise: That Santa is actually the son of Satan and is out for revenge after being forced to deliver presents for the last 1,000 years after losing a bet. You could, but it would require real actors with comic timing and ably written jokes, and this movie has neither of those things. As such, it’s significantly more painful than you would expect, as only a badly executed comedy can be. Former pro wrestler Bill Goldberg joins the legendary hall of fame of wrestlers who tried to make the transition into horrendous actors, right up there on the pantheon alongside Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and John Cena.
Most festive offense:
The opening scene, which features Fran Drescher doing her Nanny voice, Chris Kattan and freakin’ Academy Award nominee James Caan calling Kattan “half a fag” within the first 90 seconds.
17. I’ll Be Home For Christmas, 1998
This was about a year before the end of the Jonathan Taylor Thomas Tiger Beat days, but already the cracks were showing in the foundation. Several years removed from having provided the voice of young Simba in The Lion King, JTT hadn’t proven to be reliable Hollywood bank, so his agent did what any good agent does: Book him in a terrible Christmas movie and hope for the best. Even by Christmas movie standards, this road trip movie is offensively contrived. Roger Ebert put it best, saying it features “people who seem to be removed from a ’50s sit-com so they can spread cliches, ancient jokes, dumb plotting and empty cheerful sanitized gimmicks into our world and time.”
Most festive offense: Lest we forget, why does JTT need so desperately to get home from California to New York? Is it for family togetherness? Oh, that’s right: It’s because his father has promised him a Porsche if he’s home in time for Christmas dinner. Such an identifiable predicament, amiright?
16. The Nutcracker in 3D, 2009
Here’s a film that probably sounded alright when it was initially pitched, but spun out of control into an inappropriate disaster by the time it was complete. The plot feels like someone took The Nutcracker ballet, sent the script through an office shredder, and then attempted to piece all the bits back together again in random order on the day that filming began. The tone is legitimately bizarre, somewhere between “war film” and “family comedy,” alternating between horrifying rat men in Nazi uniforms and Nathan Lane in a fright wig and a German accent. It maintains a perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and caused Roger Ebert to wonder: “From what dark night of the soul emerged the wretched idea for The Nutcracker in 3D?”
Most festive offense: Nazi Rat King John Turturro summons a horn band out of thin air and performs a jazzy number about evil while electrocuting a shark to death for fun. This is a real thing that happens in The Nutcracker in 3D. A shark is electrocuted to death during a music number.
15. Saving Christmas, 2014
The film that got us talking in the first place. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is one of the strangest entries you’ll ever find in the “put Christ back in Christmas” genre, precisely because it runs counter to all those other Christian movies that condemn the secular traditions of the holiday, or say that Christmas has lost its soul. Cameron has no desire to denounce Santa, or decorating your Christmas tree, or participating gleefully in late stage capitalism. Rather, his entire goal in making Saving Christmas is instead to claim all of those activities in the name of Christianity—it’s an evangelistic movie that is trying to convince hardcore Christians that “Xmas” staples such as Santa Claus, ornaments and corporations are all actually Christian symbols in disguise. This makes for as deeply conflicted a tone as you would imagine, and he spends the majority of the film hunkered down in a car in the driveway with his brother in law, shooting down straw man arguments that “No, Christmas hasn’t gotten too commercialized, but it’s all secretly in service of Christ!” It’s perhaps that only Christmas film you’ll ever see that is specifically about how we need more consumerism in the holiday. The whole thing plays as if Cameron was purposefully shooting for a message that was likely to be equally rejected by believers and non-believers alike.
Most festive offense: There’s a lot of utterly absurd rationalizations in Saving Christmas, and a lot of drawing deep symbolism where none exists, but I particularly enjoy Cameron defending the giving of big piles of Christmas presents because the packages arrayed at the base of the tree “evoke the skyline of the New Jerusalem.” Sure Kirk, that doesn’t sound in the least like something you’d hear from an grizzled stranger preaching to an imaginary audience at the bus depot.
14. Christmas Evil, 1980
Christmas Evil sounds like a derivative slasher, but it’s so much weirder than that. In fact, it predates Silent Night, Deadly Night as the first of the “killer Santa” features, and it’s so much more disturbed. A man is literally driven insane as a child when he sees Mommy performing sexual favors on Santa Claus, so the film naturally then fast-forwards about 40 years to this sad, middle-aged loser who works at a toy factory and spends his time at home dressing up as Santa and spying on the neighborhood children. He’s actually a totally sympathetic character for the first two-thirds of the film before he starts killing folks for no good reason, culminating in what is, with no hyperbole, one of the most unexpected, WTF endings in film history. I won’t spoil it. Just watch, with the knowledge that up to this point, the film has been completely “realistic.”
Most festive offense: The ending is of course the star of the show, but there’s another bit I love. After committing his first murder, Santa is wandering the street when he gets pulled into an office party. He spends literally five full minutes of screen time playing with the children and dancing before taking his leave. It has no bearing on the plot of any kind. Nothing happens, it’s just pure film-padding of the highest caliber.
13. Surviving Christmas, 2004
What a mean-spirited, positively non-jolly movie this really is. A relic from the Ben Affleck Dark Ages of the mid-2000’s, it’s probably the only film on the list to be released in October, because hey, who cares? It came only a year after Gigli, which should give you an idea of the levels Affleck Stock was trading at. He plays a rich advertising exec and generally terrible human being who pays the people residing in his old house to pretend to be his family for the holiday season. This is exactly as pathetic and depressing as it sounds. The film just feels broken and wrong on a deep, subconscious level—it’s like the cinematic equivalent of an old high-school ex who drops by your house unannounced to say hi 20 years later “because he was in the neighborhood.”
Most festive offense: The fact that James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara were both tricked into being in this movie makes me hate the person responsible for it that much more. Christina Applegate on the other hand, this movie feels just about right for her.
12. Deck the Halls, 2006
In terms of major studio, wide-release films, this is pretty much the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. It’s hard to even know what to say when faced with this kind of anti-entertainment, the story of two neighbors (Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito) who battle to determine who is the most vociferous Christmas celebrator. Why that matters, no one can say, and it’s hard to believe anyone unlucky enough to have seen this movie when it was first in theaters would voluntarily remember the experience either. Michael Medved, who knows a thing or two about bad movies, called this the single worst film of 2006.
Most festive offense: Oh, I don’t know: How about Matthew Broderick being covered in green camel mucous?
11. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964
Fondly remembered for its classic MST3k episode, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at least has charmingly dumb early ’60s sincerity going for it, which makes it one of the more genuinely enjoyable films on the list. A children’s movie revolving around a band of inept green Martians who kidnap Santa to bring Christmas to the listless children of the red planet, it features some of the more hilariously bad costumes of the last century, from the man crawling around on all fours as a polar bear to the archetypal cardboard box robot. I love how the little girl’s legs helplessly flail as the “intimidating” cardboard robot threatens to crush her tiny spine.
Most festive offense: There’s a moment that has always disturbed me deeply, when Santa first meets the Martian children. He’s brought into the room and stands in front of two children he’s never met. No introductions are made. He begins to awkwardly chuckle, which gathers strength into a self-sustaining maniacal howl of insanity. The Martians are locked in place, frozen with horror, until their minds begin to unravel and they too join the cacophony of unhinged laughter. Their minds are broken. Santa Claus has conquered again. End of scene.
10. Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, 2000
The only reason that 1996’s original killer snowman movie, Jack Frost, isn’t on this list is that the sequel is even more insane. Previously dissolved by antifreeze in the first movie, Jack Frost is reborn thanks to a spilled cup of coffee with new powers, including the ability to split into a pack of carnivorous snowball children, ‘ala Critters. Shockingly low-budget, the film is anything but sincere, but it still attempts to be both funny and scary at times while visually looking like a high school film project. It has that uniquely tawdry-looking visual quality that you can only find in films that have been shot on video with absolutely nothing in the budget for video editing. If The Days of Our Lives ever did a killer snowman episode, this is what it would look like.
Most festive offense: Because the snowman was recreated in part with the hero’s DNA, he shares various traits with him … including a banana allergy. Which means that the killer mutant snowman’s only weakness is bananas.
9. A Christmas Story 2, 2012
If you can watch the trailer for A Christmas Story 2 without running to the bathroom to vomit, then you should be commended. In the long history of crass Christmas commercialism, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more offensive appropriation of beloved source material than this straight-to-DVD sequel to the 1983 black comedy classic. This is desecration, plain and simple. The only redeeming quality is that Darren McGavin had been dead for six years when it came out and didn’t have to witness Daniel Stern take on his role as The Old Man. Although it is sort of amusing how they didn’t care about age continuity: Despite Ralphie now being 16 (and wanting a car for Christmas), his parents are both younger than they were in the first film, while Randy is roughly the same age.
Most festive offense: The movie is obsessed with replaying every joke from the first film, but doesn’t bother to give an impetus for any of the events. So when the writer remembers the mandate that Flick’s tongue is supposed to get stuck to something, they just say “Eh, have him jam it in a suction tube for no reason, our target audience is too stupid to notice or care.”
8. Santa Claws, 1996
I remember once showing this film during a Christmas party, thinking it would be a kitschy Christmas slasher—perfect for the irreverent, geeky audience. What we didn’t bank on was the fact that it’s essentially softcore porn masquerading as a horror movie, which made things just a tad awkward. It’s one of those exploitation films that attempts to do two different things at the same time and is equally miserable at both—too dirty and depressing to titillate and far too inept to entertain or frighten anyone. Revolving around the obsessed fan of a B-movie scream queen/sex symbol, it waffles between poorly dubbed action sequences and cringe-inducing “sexy photo shoots” with actresses destined to meet a claw-related end. The villain has all the menace (and thespian delivery) of your office’s IT specialist.
Most festive offense: Even for someone acclimated to the callous sleaze of most exploitation movies, the softcore stripping sequences of Santa Claws are like a perfect distillation of depression and pity. They go on for longer than you could ever think possible.
7. Santa With Muscles, 1996
If one were to glance at the cover of Santa With Muscles, they’d walk away with a pretty clear idea of what to expect: Hulk Hogan as a kindly Santa who’s going to protect Christmas with his 24-inch pythons. But you would be so wrong, because that’s really only scratching the surface of the weapons-grade weirdness in this movie. Hogan plays an evil millionaire who becomes Santa after falling down a garbage chute and receiving what is clearly severe brain damage. There’s also Ed Begley Jr. as a second evil millionaire and hypochondriac inventor, wielding a quirky miniboss squad with superpowers that range from “electric hands” to “proficient in the use of stink gas” to “has a stethoscope.” His objective: The glowing purple crystals found in the Parisian-like catacombs under an orphanage where a young Mila Kunis resides. So in other words: This movie is batshit crazy.
Most festive offense: The character of Lenny, Hogan’s scheming, oily elf sidekick, is a disgrace to every actor who has proudly played an Italian-American stereotype for the last 80 years.
6. Jingle All the Way 2, 2014
The most frustrating thing about Jingle All the Way 2 isn’t that it stars Larry the Cable Guy. It’s not that the film is a WWE production. It’s not even that it’s a sequel. The infuriating thing about it is that, unlike say A Christmas Story 2, it’s a sequel to a film that no one in the world desired to have sequelized. You can understand a producer saying A Christmas Story is still a fondly remembered holiday classic, let’s churn out an insipid sequel! But Jingle All the Way? The 1996 original is undeniably fun-bad thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, along with the majesty of a 7-year-old Jake Lloyd, but how could someone possibly have looked at it 18 years later, and thought “This is a hot brand! We make a sequel and we’re printing money, goddamnit!” I’d rather watch something titled Larry’s Git-R-Done Christmas Kerfuffle.
Most festive offense: The absolute worst thing about this film is the realization that there are actually some people out there willing to choke it down and go on their merry way. From the YouTube comments: “The first one was way better. But still its OK movie its worth a rental. :) happy holidays every one.” This is the voice of a person who has never disliked a film in his life—anything with moving pictures that drowns out the horror of sentience for another 90 minutes is A-OK by him.
5. A Karate Christmas Miracle, 2019
This high-grade hallucinogen of a movie is what you get if you apply the “magical thinking” reasoning powers of a psych ward inmate to a vaguely Christmas-themed film script. There’s almost no way to even do it justice, short of simply printing the synopsis below—suffice to say, it concerns a boy who becomes convinced that if does karate well enough, his murdered father will return from the dead for Christmas. It includes everything you’d want in a zero-budget family drama, such as unrelated footage of Martin Kove and Eric Roberts that the producer seems to have shot for a different film and haphazardly reused here. Breathtaking in its derangement, I offer the following official synopsis of A Karate Christmas Miracle:
After his father disappeared during a mass shooting on Christmas Day the year before, precocious 10-year-old Jesse Genesis creates a “12 Days of Christmas List” of tasks. He believes that If he completes them all, including becoming a self-taught karate black belt, his father will return on Christmas Day. Jesse’s sophisticated, workaholic mother Abby believes that her husband died in the shooting but visions that Jesse reports to her give her a glimmer of hope. After Abby enlists the aid of an eccentric psychic-turned-law professor, a rollercoaster thriller ensues and the trio unravels an unexpected mystery—and maybe, just maybe, will witness the delivery of a miracle that can only happen on Christmas.
Most festive offense: The young boy has visions throughout of the mass shooting in a movie theater that killed his father, complete with clown-masked killers that in no way directly evoke rumors about the 2012 mass theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. That’s the kind of tactful treatment of mass shooting violence you can expect from A Karate Christmas Miracle.
4. Last Ounce of Courage, 2012
Every bad Christmas movie list needs at least one genuine Christian “war on Christmas” movie, and Last Ounce of Courage may well be the worst one ever made—Saving Christmas wishes it could be this demented. Regardless, this film is truly an amazing viewing experience, packed with conservative dogma that is so clumsily ham-fisted that one can’t help but wonder who the writer thought would possibly be simple-minded enough to not realize the attempted manipulation at work. The plot centers around an archetypal American hero/veteran/grandfather/town mayor who decides it’s up to him to “bring Christmas back” to a city that has banned all displays of festive merriment for reasons that are totally unclear—but Satan would surely approve. Will he be able to affix a big cross with the word “Jesus” on it to a building downtown in time to save the planet from what is surely imminent destruction?
Most festive offense: In the film’s climactic emotional moment, the veteran’s Bieber-coifed grandson who has learned The True Meaning of Christmas hijacks the junior high school pageant to show a recently discovered video recorded by his dead soldier father from Afghanistan. In front of a crowd of strangers, he plays the video, which ends with his father wishing them “Merry Christmas” before being blown to pieces by an incoming mortar. Yes. The kid screens a snuff film during a junior high Christmas pageant. And then everyone stands and applauds.
3. Santa Claus, 1959
The word “inexplicable” gets thrown a lot when I write about bad movies, but there’s truly no explaining how 1959’s Mexican Santa Claus came into being. Simply trying to describe the premise makes you sound like you should be institutionalized: “Alright, so Santa lives in a castle in space with Merlin the wizard, robotic reindeer and a bunch of ethnically stereotyped children who perform for his amusement. Meanwhile in hell, Satan sends one of his demon henchmen to wreak havoc on Earth and induce petty vandalism.” That’s about the point when whoever you’re talking to smiles, nods and slowly backs out of the room. I’ve always liked Red Letter Media’s conception of how the film might have happened: That a bunch of Mexico City residents just got really loaded one night, blacked out, and woke up to find a completed film canister clutched in their hands and a bunch of frightened children asking for their parents.
Most festive offense: Nothing could ever top the parade of Santa’s multi-ethnic slave children from Africa, Spain, China, England, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, Italy and “The Orient,” which is definitely not just a blanket term for “everything in that Middle Eastern sort of area over there.” Did I mention that these bits comprise the first 10 minutes of the film?
2. Elves, 1989
Elves is a perfect storm of everything that could conceivably go wrong while shooting a movie all going wrong at the same time. It’s got everything: Anti-Christmas witches, neo-Nazi scientists, inarticulate elf puppets and a plot to bring about a “pint-sized master race” by breeding Nazi elves with a virgin. The characters are awesomely ludicrous, none more so than Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty who plays an alcoholic bum/mall Santa/former mall-cop/former private eye who also happens to recognize symbols scrawled on the ground in blood thanks to “a book in college I remember on mystical symbols and runes.” Stumbling onto filmmaking this sincere but inept is like winning the bad movie lottery.
Most festive offense: There’s a dozen great moments you could choose, but I love when Haggerty barges into a professor’s home during Christmas dinner and makes the guy (dressed like the conductor from Shining Time Station) explain “the connection between the elves and the Nazis.” There’s an amazing cutaway shot to the professor’s two little girls staring intently up at him right at the moment he starts talking about the genetic properties of elf sperm.
1. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, 1987
Even if you’ve never heard the title Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, you may well be familiar with the classic “garbage day!; scene, the infamy of which has far surpassed the film itself. And rightly so, because Eric Freeman’s stilted, alien performance in that iconic scene is a perfectly accurate representation of how the woefully out-of-his-depth tough guy inhabits the character of “Ricky” throughout the whole film. Everything about it is a beautiful catastrophe, from a first half composed almost entirely of flashbacks to the previous movie, to the meta-bizzarity involved in the theater scene, where Ricky somehow watches clips of his own brother from Part 1, bending space and time in the process. Further entries in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series (there were five, believe it or not) actually improve in terms of filmmaking quality—it’s hard to believe that in terms of pure, unadulterated crap, anything could ever surpass it.
Most festive offense: “Garbage day” is obviously too easy. How about the scene where Ricky bumps into a stranger and then impales him with an umbrella for no reason? I particularly enjoy the director’s decision to hold on the image of the umbrella for a full 45 seconds afterward.
Special Bonus Film: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, 1972
I forgot that Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is actually feature-length, which is just as well. This movie is the closest thing you’ll find to an American version of the Mexican Santa Claus in terms of its inscrutability. It is not recommended for human consumption, but should you feel compelled…