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 would receive negative reviews. In his attempt to manipulate the film’s ratings, he poked the Internet hornet’s nest.
Upset that Saving Christmas was anything but immediately beloved, 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 1.5 (1 is the lowest rating), the #4 lowest in history. 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, which the AV Club brilliantly described as “the largest turd in [Lifetime’s] crap crown of original programming,” 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. Christmas Caper, 2007
“She was the best thief in the business, until a bad job and a horrible hurricane sent her to the one place she feared the most—home for the holidays!” Sounds like the opening to a satirical South Park trailer for this Shannon Doherty TV movie, in which the former soap star doesn’t even bother making an attempt at coming off as a believable diamond thief, because c’mon, that wasn’t going to happen. Now her plan to get back on her feet revolves around stealing and pawning all of the family’s Christmas presents (really).
Most festive offense: I love this logic: You’re a wanted criminal on the run from the law, and you need to find a place to hide out. Where better than your own home town, in your sister’s house, under your own name? Who would think to look there?
17. 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.
16. 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?
15. Black Christmas, 2006
The original 1974 Black Christmas by A Christmas Story director Bob Clark was actually a pretty influential little horror flick, one of the first true slashers and an originator of the “calls are coming from inside the house; trope. The 2006 remake, on the other hand, is an utter dearth of inspiration, almost fascinating in the sheer pointlessness of its existence. Watching it will actively scrub any original ideas you’ve had lately from your brain. It’s only interesting for the cast of young sorority sisters, who are all actresses famous either before (Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert) or after (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) the film was released. It would not surprise me if any of them have forgotten by this point that they ever made it.
Most festive offense: One of the characters is killed randomly not by the villain but by a small icicle that falls off the house and pierces through her head. I’d say they were riffing on Ralphie’s fabrication for BB gun injuries from Bob Clark’s Christmas Story, but I don’t think anyone involved in this film was that clever.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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?