10 of the Worst Holiday Movies of This or Any Time

11_25_Christmas Dogs
A pair of chihuahuas take part in a fashion show in Antwerp. They don't have much to do with the worst holiday movies of all time, but they're adorable. Thierry Roge/Reuters

Every year, people bemoan the commercialization of the holiday season—the push on all sides, starting November 1, to buy more, whistle carols constantly and drench your world in nog 'til year's end. But it doesn't take a Grinch to get fed up with the most obvious Christmas cash-grab: the schlocky, uninspired holiday movie.

By all means, deck the halls and be merry. Just don't expect any of the following films—the worst of the worst of Christmas fare, as determined by critics, viewers, or both—to make the season bright.

Note that our cutoff was one star on Netflix, or 20% fresh (or lower) on Rotten Tomatoes (with one must-watch exception). We endured them in the hopes that no one, anywhere, will choose to again.

Christmas With the Kranks
Rotten Tomatoes: 5% Fresh

I'm 92% certain this movie wasn't intended as an even more tragic revelation of the soul-corroding meaninglessness of suburban life than American Beauty.

But I'm still not positive.

The characters' existences are so empty and pointless (and sexless! and henpecked! ha-HA!) that Tim Allen feels the need to send letters to his entire office about he and his wife's plan to "skip Christmas" (which inexplicably causes an uproar); an entire neighborhood expends relentless energy trying to strong-arm empty nesters into a certain "normal-person" level of themed lawn décor; and you're left with the sneaking suspicion everyone's mildly disappointed in the daughter who joined the Peace Corps because that's just so damn different. Seriously, has this neighborhood never heard of Jews?

Christmas With the Kranks tries to tie a holiday bow on lying to your kids, denying your own desires and conforming to arbitrary, unwanted levels of approved consumerism.

But as we all know, anything that features a character reading Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul unironically can't be trusted.

Surviving Christmas
Rotten Tomatoes: 7% fresh

It's so tragic when good actors wind up in truly terrible films.

I'm not referring to Ben Affleck, the best-known star in a studded cast. I mourn for Catherine O'Hara and James Gandolfini, both of whom look so tired, sour and depressed throughout this entire movie that I suspect they, like any viewer, immediately regretted having signed on.

The malaise they ooze applies to the entire film. The premise is that a douchey adman, Affleck (of course), pays a "normal" suburban family an exorbitant amount to spend Christmas with them…and fascistically demands they adhere to every detail of his vision for the holiday.

The problem is for farce to work—especially when it includes a budding romance—characters need to be lovable. For a host of depressingly ordinary reasons, all these characters are generally awful people. Late in the game the film tries to give depth to Affleck's near-sociopath by referencing crappy Christmases growing up, but it's too little, too late: he's shown far too many "crazy asshole" cards already. Because of that, the tacked-on happy ending feels both undeserved and unappealing.

If the movie was trying to illustrate its opening premise, though—that the holidays are usually miserable—it nailed it.

Happy Christmas
Netflix: 1 star and no change

When I started Happy Christmas, I assumed it would be a forgettable, pre-stardom Anna Kendrick vehicle: saccharine, ideally Lifetime-level in quality.

It was way worse. Because it was mumblecore.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, it is essentially anti-filmmaking. Mumblecore—at least as perpetrated by Happy Christmas—wants films to feel more like life…as viewed on 1970s discarded film stock. Everything's fuzzy and poorly lit, dialogue feels improvised, there's no recognizable story arc, and all the sets feel like your friend's mildly shitty apartment.

I'd summarize the plot, but the movie also dispensed with that.

The problem is that shearing conversation of polish, characters of context and plot of...existence, leaves a crappy home-movie of people you don't know. Ironically, that meant all people's "real" reactions—sudden anger, say, or seemingly unearned love—felt more plot-devicey than they would have in a less "real" script.

I found out only after losing two hours of my life that critics didn't actually hate Happy Christmas, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes.

It's just uninformed schmucks like me who want a movie—especially one with "Christmas" in the title—to be at least slightly more interesting than day-to-day life.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
Rotten Tomatoes: 0% fresh

Kids are notoriously stupid consumers, willing to sit through almost anything with a character they already know. (I say this as a former nanny forced to watch Crystal Skull more times than all three real Indiana Jones movies combined.)

This movie went a step further: It had an entire plot we already knew, namely, the plot of Beauty and the Beast.

Strangely neither a sequel nor a prequel, this middlequel follows the same outlines as the original—Belle is willful, Beast is a grump, they must love to break the curse but someone (in this case, a pipe organ voiced by Tim Curry) would rather break them up.

Of course the problem with the basic theory of a middlequel is: Why does it matter? We know not only that everything comes out OK for Belle and Beast—there's half of their real movie left after these events—but that, apparently, whatever happened during the Enchanted Christmas was so fundamentally pointless that none of it even came into their winter-montage of love.

The plot is stale, the songs are forgettable (with lyrics that border on offensively stupid), and the ending is…anticlimactic, since it's about halfway to the real climax.

The Dog Who Saved the Holidays
Not worthy of reviews

There is a cheat to the worst movies in any genre: stick to made-for-TV fare.

But even in this morass of jingle banality that's a step too far, so I picked just one, the cash-grabbingest option around: the third in a series of three "Dog Who Saved" Christmas movie variations. The first, aired in 2009 on ABC Family, was popular enough to win cable programming in its timeslot. Maybe it was better than this.

In this canine cross between Look Who's Talking and Home Alone 3, yellow lab Zeus is voiced by Joey Lawrence, sounding as bored as viewers feel. Every gag is cliché, every character is insultingly insipid and thanks to a lobotomized script, even the dog antics feel tired.

And that's before we address knockoff Kevin James's (the dad is played by his brother, Gary Valentine) misogyny, the aggressively terrible parenting and the "'70s-era mobster cliché, but in modern Malibu" plotline.

The best, most original part of this movie is its leitmotif of inopportunely timed farts.

Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas
Rotten Tomatoes: 18% Fresh

I'd never watched a Madea movie before. I never will again.

It seems like the comedy is supposed to come from Madea herself, a character so aggressively vulgar and filterless—including at work, to strangers—that I worry no one around her has noticed the signs of her rapidly progressing dementia.

Everything that I was supposed to laugh at felt cringeworthy, none of the characters were appealing and the hard-luck town we were supposed to root for was so aggressively in the wrong—their sins include, but are not limited to, insistence on mixing religion into school functions and functional illiteracy among elected officials—that I actually yelled at my TV.

In a strange twist of…my stomach, Larry the Cable Guy makes an appearance as the voice of tolerance…and Prilosec OTC, which he shilled openly in the film.

It might have been the best line of dialogue in the whole thing.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Rotten Tomatoes: 25% fresh

Though reviewers like it slightly more than other entries on this list (there are fans of terrible B-movies in the critical community), there's no way around it: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the ur-schlock of the holiday season.

Of course schlock can be fun. Highlights of SCCTM include green facepaint so poorly applied that it looks uneven even on '60s-era film; a vision of Mars that is essentially "Earth, but, greener, more anal-retentive and with food pills"; and a fight scene ripped straight out of the live-action Batman television show, complete with word bubbles.

The sets look like something you'd see on an elementary school stage—I assumed all the lights were powered by halved potatoes—and the plot feels random at best…which means this movie's about 82% more polished than Happy Christmas.

In the end, Santa is almost a bit player; this is really a movie about an internecine Martian power-struggle, played out by kidnapping Earth Santa (who, incidentally, Earth journalists believe in and regularly cover, TMZ-style).

The only point in the movie where I worried about the outcome was when Santa shared several eerily long laughing sessions with the children he's left alone with all day, every day.

Thank god this movie was made in 1964—in another decade, Santa's obvious grooming of his child victims would have really sucked the fun out of it.

The Perfect Holiday
Rotten Tomatoes: 16% fresh

Before the movie starts, we open on a "charming," slapstick-heavy animation sequence that steals a bit from the Grinch, a bit from Rudolph and a bit from every other derivative holiday special since, to make sure you know exactly how to feel about this movie. And you do: You know it's built entirely from clichés.

Of course there's nothing particularly terrible about The Perfect Holiday. There are hints of misogyny in the stock rom-com plot, but that's true of all insipid rom-coms. And most of the characters could be replaced with signboards proclaiming their purpose in the story—"SASSY FRIEND!" "SINGLE MOTHER JUST LOOKING FOR A GOOD GUY!" "KID WHO DISAPPROVES!"—but the incarnations of each of those stock-figures aren't any worse than anywhere else.

In the end, The Perfect Holiday is just overwhelmingly mediocre. Even the presence of Charlie Murphy—a man so awesome that it hurts me to write this—can't save it from feeling totally forgettable.

Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut are both so profoundly attractive that you do sort of hope they'll get together in the end. And with a movie so unique, it's really hard to guess how things will turn out for them.

Jack Frost
Rotten Tomatoes: 7%

Believe it or not, there are actually two movies with this same title, both terrible. But luckily for the period in Michael Keaton's filmography that made Birdman feel especially soul-tearing, at 20% fresh his turn as a talking snowman is "too good" to make the cut. Which should indicate the quality of the movies that actually did.

No, he has to step aside for a Christmas horror movie that features a snowman raping Shannon Elizabeth to death in a shower. That's a sentence I just wrote.

But forget for a moment, if you can, that an entire room full of people had to OK that scene for it to end up in a movie. Jack Frost is probably aiming for the low-budget, "intentionally bad horror" fan, but the problem with this movie (and with many in that genre) is that most of what makes a B-movie so-bad-it's-good is the unintentional ridiculousness. This movie is both too terrible to watch, and not terrible enough to be funny. It falls into a brutally boring middle-zone of "I see what you were going for there. Oof."

Neither scary nor funny, I was left haunted by just one thought afterwards: Why would Shannon Elizabeth's character spend 20 minutes drying her hair and then get into a bath?

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Rotten Tomatoes: 15% fresh

I haven't seen the first two Santa Clause installments, but based solely on this film and residual fever dreams of Christmas with the Kranks, I feel confident proclaiming: If you want your holiday movie as trite and cliché-ridden as they come, make sure to cast Tim Allen!

The Santa Clause 3 is a Disney production, so it does at least boast an expensively rendered vision of the North Pole, complete with adorable child labor and nightmarish, farting CGI reindeers (take a lesson, Jack Frost).

There just doesn't seem to be any real threat in this movie, which makes the entire thing feel sort of…pointless. Martin Short glams it up as Jack Frost, a legendary figure intent on stealing the show from Santa. His attempts are so blatant, in fact, that all the legendary figures convene specifically to discipline him…then decide to let him apprentice at the North Pole instead.

Conveniently idiotic decisions like that one—and a bunch of tired slapstick gags—drive the entire movie. Tim Allen's eventual return to Santa-dom is so inevitable it barely even registers as a plot point.

But in the spirit of the season, let's end this round-up on a hope-filled note. If you wade through enough Christmas crap, you'll be rewarded with Martin Short, as Santa, performing a Liberace-inspired Vegas number down a glittering, icicle-filled Busby-Berkeley staircase.

I count it among the few blessings not only of this film, but of this entire endeavor.

10 of the Worst Holiday Movies of This or Any Time