Everybody loves a good holiday movie. When we wrote last week about the beginning of the season, and our favorite annual Christmas movies (Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life), our readers threw in their favorites: A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, Bad Santa, Muppets Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. But, lest we forget, every film of the season ain’t White Christmas; there are plenty of rotten holiday movies. (And, in fact, one of them is coming out tomorrow: steer clear of New Year’s Eve as though your life depends on it.) As many great Christmas movies as there are, it’s also a very tricky style to get right, requiring the proper mix of holiday cheer, sentiment, laughs, and warmth. It is pretty easy to screw that elixir up, and end up with something sickly sweet and utterly unwatchable. After the jump, we’ll gather up a few lumps of coal from our previous Christmas stockings.
Santa Claus: The Movie
The producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind had created a blockbuster franchise with 1978’s Superman: The Movie, but sensing that series was running out of gas, they were on the lookout for a new venture. They landed on perhaps the only pop culture icon more beloved than the Man of Steel: the Man from the North Pole. Team Salkind engaged longtime Superman screenwriters David and Leslie Newman to cook up an “origin story” for St. Nick (not, of course, the actual St. Nicholas story), which was then paired up with a contemporary story of a beloved elf (Dudley Moore) and an evil toymaker (John Lithgow). David Huddleston (later a beloved figure in cult circles for playing the title role in The Big Lebowski) stepped into the big red Santa suit, the Salkinds threw buckets of money at the project (between $30 and $50 million—big bucks for 1985), and waited for the big payoff. It didn’t come. The film opened against Rocky IV and barely pulled in a quarter of that 91-minute montage’s weekend numbers; the $23 million total gross didn’t even cover the budget. Critics were underwhelmed as well, with the New York Times’ Vincent Canby noting that the film “manages to look both elaborate and tacky… It has the manner of a listless musical without any production numbers.”