Thanksgiving and Christmas Turkeys: The Worst Holiday Movies of All Time


Holiday movies tend to follow the same strict recipe: a plucky child and their tight-knit family battle with a grinchy nemesis, sprinkled with a heavy portion of whimsical magic. With an undemanding audience who are only really after a warm feeling of nostalgia and mildly entertained children, screwing up a holiday movie is quite a feat—yet it happens every winter like clockwork.

Using data from critical review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, as well as user-submitted reviews from IMDb, we’ve compiled a list of the worst holiday movies ever made. It’s a lesson in barrel-scraping desperation, cynical commercialism and deeply questionable decision-making; less of a cozy fireside gathering and more of a bleary 3 a.m. dash around Walmart’s toy section.

The premise alone of some of the worst movies makes you wonder whether The Grinch is really a Hollywood executive. In Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, aliens kidnap Kris Kringle along with two earthling children in order to give the alien children a sense of fun. The already rickety plot of the "yuletide science fiction fantasy" descends into further confusing madness before order—and Santa Claus—is restored on Earth.

There’s also been a series of deeply unfortunate attempts to shoehorn the Nazis into holiday movies. In 1989’s Elves, a young woman discovers that the Nazis want to create a race of supermen by mating her with one of Santa Claus' elves, while The Nutcracker in 3D features a distasteful Holocaust motif.

The fact that holiday movies are not the time or place to tackle serious subjects seems to be lost on an alarming number of filmmakers. Mixed Nuts tries to rouse the holiday spirit at a mental health crisis hotline call center, while the young protagonist of Jack Frost has to see his tragically dead father suffer the indignity of being reincarnated as a snowman.

Another oft-committed holiday movie blunder is the hammering home of religious and patriotic symbolism, driving the movie into a preachy, reactionary liturgy rather than demonstrating any of the love and generosity which they claim to be espousing.

These are the 50 biggest, juiciest cinematic turkeys of the holiday season, from murderous Santas to a grumpy cat.

01 Dutch
Dutch: Twentieth Century Fox

50. Dutch (1991). Total score: 47.1%. Directed by: Peter Faiman. Written by: John Hughes. Starring: Ed O'Neill, Ethan Embry, JoBeth Williams. 
Plot summary: To get to know his girlfriend's son, a working-class good guy volunteers to pick him up from a prep school, only to learn that her son isn't the nicest kid.
What the critics said: "Hughes, a man more prolific than Stephen King and less inspired than Aaron Spelling, has produced yet another forgettable project. This movie shouldn't even be allowed on planes." Desson Thomson, Washington Post.

02 Four Christmases
Four Christmases: New Line Cinema

49. Four Christmases (2008). Total score: 47%. Directed by: Seth Gordon. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Mary Steenburgen, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw. 
Plot summary: A couple struggles to visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas.
What the critics said: "When will filmmakers learn that if you start with Bad Santa and finish with It's a Wonderful Life, you just end up with curdled eggnog?" Ty Burr, Boston Globe.

03 Fred Claus
Fred Claus: Warner Bros.

48. Fred Claus (2007). Total score: 46.7%. Directed by: David Dobkin. Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey. 
Plot summary: Fred Claus, Santa's bitter older brother, is forced to move to the North Pole to help Santa and the elves prepare for Christmas in exchange for cash.
What the critics said: "[Fred Claus] has apparently studied Elf and figured out everything that could have gone wrong with its fish-out-of-water Christmas fable." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

04 Free Birds
Free Birds: Relativity Media

47. Free Birds (2013). Total score: 46.3%. Directed by: Jimmy Hayward. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler, George Takei. 
Plot summary: Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history, and get turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu for good.
What the critics said: "Even setting aside the film's disregard for time-travel paradoxes and genocide metaphors—trust me, you don't want to wade into either of those—Free Birds just isn't funny." Alonso Duralde, TheWrap.

05 Unaccompanied Minors
Unaccompanied Minors: Warner Bros.

46. Unaccompanied Minors (2006). Total score: 46.3%. Directed by: Paul Feig. Starring: Dyllan Christopher, Tyler James Williams, Gia Mantegna, Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama. 
Plot summary: A group of unaccompanied minors bond while snowed in at the midwestern Hoover International Airport during the holiday season and ultimately create a makeshift holiday themselves.
What the critics said: "Where's John Hughes when you really need him?" Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter.

06 Ernest Saves Christmas
Ernest Saves Christmas: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

45. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988). Total score: 46%. Directed by: John R. Cherry III. Starring: Jim Varney, Douglas Seale, Oliver Clark. 
Plot summary: Ernest is a cab driver in Miami and finds himself escorting a burned out Santa Claus around town helping his search for a replacement so he can finally retire.
What the critics said: "To say this is the best of the Ernest series is no great compliment, but there are enough knowing film jibes here, and ample seasonal tomfoolery, to keep a family in their seats." Mark Ellen, Empire

07 Paul Blart- Mall Cop
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: Columbia Pictures

44. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009). Total score: 45.7%. Directed by: Steve Carr. Starring: Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell, Jayma Mays. 
Plot summary: As the holidays approach, a shopping mall is taken over by a gang of organized crooks masquerading as Santa's Little Helpers, so it's up to a mild-mannered security guard to save the day.
What the critics said: "To call this Kevin James comedy fatuous might be misinterpreted as an attack on the star's girth—so how about inane, tepid, lazy, puerile, phony, and unfunny?" Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader.

08 Friday After Next
Friday After Next: New Line Cinema

43. Friday After Next (2002). Total score: 45%. Directed by: Marcus Raboy. Starring: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Terry Crews. 
Plot summary: Craig and Day-Day have finally moved out of their parents' homes and gotten an apartment together. After a bogus neighborhood Santa Claus robs their apartment, the pair gets jobs as security at a mall to pay for Christmas gifts.
What the critics said: "'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the 'hood, Friday fans were wishing the new sequel was good." Scott Von Doviak, Fort Worth Star-Telegram/

09 Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever
Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever: Lifetime Movie Network

42. Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever (2014). Total score: 45%. Directed by: Tim Hill. Starring: Grumpy Cat, Megan Charpentier, Daniel Roebuck, Aubrey Plaza (as the voice of Grumpy Cat). 
Plot summary: Grumpy Cat is a lonely cat living in a mall pet shop. Because she never gets chosen by customers, she develops a sour outlook on life, until one day during the holidays, a 12-year-old girl named Chyrstal enters the pet store and falls in love with her after realizing she is the only person who can hear this unique cat talk. As the two develop a close friendship, Grumpy reluctantly thwarts the kidnapping of a dog she dislikes. Will Grumpy learn the true meaning of Christmas? Or will it be, in her words, the "Worst. Christmas. Ever."?
What the critics said: "The best way to describe the film as a whole would be if Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, Home Alone, Garfield, icanhascheezburger, product placement, commercial breaks, outdated cultural references, suburban community theater, and acid had a baby." Libby Hill, AV Club.

10 Santa's Slay
Santa's Slay: Media 8 Entertainment

41. Santa's Slay (2005). Total score: 43.9%. Directed by: David Steiman. Starring: Bill Goldberg, James Caan, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Saul Rubinek, Fran Drescher. 
Plot summary: Santa Claus is actually a demon who lost a bet with an Angel, so he becomes the giver of toys and happiness. But when the bet is off, he returns to his evil ways.
What the critics said: "It's cheap, it's goofy, but it's surprisingly smart and endlessly entertaining." David Cornelius, Hollywood Bitchslap.

11 A Christmas Star
A Christmas Star: Entertainment One

40. A Christmas Star (2017). Total score: 43.9%. Directed by: Richard Elson. Starring: Robert James-Collier, Suranne Jones, Bronagh Waugh, Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson. 
Plot summary: Born under the Christmas Star, Noelle believes she has the gift to perform miracles, so when conniving developer McKerrod threatens her peaceful life she and her friends determine to use this gift to thwart his plans and save their village.
What the critics said: "This is a children's film made by adults who think they know what children want." Kate Muir, The Times.