I’m not going to lie. Most holiday movies are at best mediocre. Beyond maybe a half-dozen veritable classics involving angels getting their wings and people shooting their eyes out, the vast majority have taken as their cue the slapstick cacophony of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (itself an amusingly irreverent comedy, but one that has a lot to answer for in the wake of Christmas with the Kranks, Four Christmases, Deck the Halls and so on).
The noisy, overdecorated holiday movies are all too profuse, which is why you won’t find the moronic Jingle All The Way and Ernest Saves Christmas duking it out here. Instead, we should reserve our contempt for the movies that are not only stupid, but crassly manipulative, the movies that sermon boy Linus Van Pelt would find least respectful to the true spirit of the season.
And while in the thick of the 2014 holiday season, Kirk Cameron’s … um, very dedicated #WarOnChristmas epic Saving Christmas earned its way to becoming the single worst-rated movie on the Internet Movie Database, it’s best to let things stand the test of time before they join the “all time” pantheon. Maybe in 2015 we’ll revise the list should Cameron’s sermonizing still be in the conversation.
So here, in chronological order, are the contenders for the title of the all-time worst Christmas movie ever.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
Stats: This relic of the Cold War features Santa and two slack-jawed kid actors being kidnapped by those intergalactic warmongers, the Martians, one of which is unmistakably Slavic. Santa and the kids teach the Red Planet (ahem) the value of consumerism, and it ends happily and profitably for all.
Why It Stinks: The sets in this old-school Z-grade movie are tragic. The kids’ attack by a man in a Polar bear suit is a sequence worthy of Ed Wood.
Mitigating Factor: You get an early glimpse at future camp icon Pia Zadora in her green years. It also became the basis of one of the all-time best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Stats: Is nothing sacred? Well, no, of course not. That’s why we love movies. But this mid-’80s slasher cheapie, in which a psychotic killer imagines himself to be the Divine Santa of Retribution, positively reeks of opportunism. What’s worse, the killing sequences weren’t even all that gory.
Why It Stinks: As far as bad movies go, the original doesn’t even has as much unintentional humor as its beyond-cheap sequel, in which the killer memorably quips, “Garbage day!”
Mitigating Factor: Well, a movie that gets under the craw of reactionary housewives and essentially lets their prudery fuel controversy and bolster ticket sales can’t be all that dumb, right?
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Stats: Not until Mac & Me did McDonald’s surpass the clear stranglehold they had upon a film’s creative process. This corrupt bit of would-be yuletide cheer was also one of the most expensive productions of its era, and earned back a lump of coal at the box-office.
Why It Stinks: OK, so it was created to sell Happy Meals. Big deal. The real problem is that its message of joy over commerce is rendered downright hypocritical.
Mitigating Factor: Say what you will about John Lithgow’s shameless mugging. The man doesn’t cash his paychecks halfway.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Stats: Ron Howard filps the bird to the Ghost of Christmas Past with this disaster, which detonates a perfectly beloved children’s book and a classic TV special with an artillery of expensive, deafening pyrotechnics. Howard’s Whoville resembles nothing so much as Hunter S. Thompson’s Las Vegas.
Why It Stinks: Its success fuelled the production of an even worse desecration of Theodor Geisel’s estate, the mirthless Mike Myers Cat in the Hat.
Mitigating Factor: Well, it does look like a million bucks. Actually, 123 million of ’em.
The Christmas Shoes (2002)
Stats: I’ll admit it, I haven’t actually seen this. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than any of the other 87,349 holiday specials to be found on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. I’m only throwing it into the ring here is because it unleashed the unspeakable horror that is its title song, which now pollutes holiday-themed radio stations about five times every hour for five weeks every year.
Why It Stinks: I can’t possibly do justice to the horror that is Newsong’s title song in one sentence. Here are Patton Oswalt’s extended, profane annotations. (NSFW, obviously.)
Mitigating Factor: The accursed song probably made your grandparents cry cathartic tears.
Place your bets by voting in the poll. And keep it clean. We wouldn’t want to end up on Santa’s naughty list already. Remember, he’s got an ax.