The Worst Christmas Movies According To Rotten Tomatoes
Making a list of horrible holiday films (and checking it twice) is easier said than done. Most of us have a soft spot for the cinematic Christmas flicks that we grew up with, no matter how campy, poorly-executed, or lacking in spirit. After all, nostalgia can be a powerful thing.
Which is why, at times like this, we all need to consult with more “objective” moviegoers: the critics, whose job it is to protect us from ill-advised attempts at holiday capers, family-reunions, and thinly veiled metaphors about the evils of consumerism. So in a desire to sort the ho-ho-hos from the no-no-nos, here’s a look at the 22 worst Christmas movies out there, according to the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Lumps of coal all around!
Home Alone 3 (1997)
If you’re wondering how the McCallisters could forget their son for a third time, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news: “Home Alone 3” isn’t about Kevin McCallister. The bad news: “Home Alone 3” isn’t about Kevin McCallister.
Instead, this 1997 film (written and produced by John Hughes) follows Alex, a chickenpox-infected nine-year-old who is left home alone during the holiday season when a group of evil spies comes calling to retrieve a missile-cloaking microchip. While “Home Alone 3” does contain an early on-screen appearance from Scarlett Johansson as Alex’s older sister, that still doesn’t raise it up above a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Audiences largely rejected the film, while critics found very little to write home about. All things considered, the absence of Macaulay Culkin’s precocious charm and the general retread of old ground makes for a pretty dull experience (or, as USA Today’s Mike Clark put it: “twice the bad guys, half the laughs”).
Unaccompanied Minors (2006)
Directed by Paul Feig (who would go on to direct the likes of “Bridesmaids” and “Spy”), 2006’s “Unaccompanied Minors” follows five kids who find themselves snowed in at an airport on Christmas Eve. Bored and annoyed, the kids decide to thwart the safety-loving machinations of an “evil” airport official (Lewis Black) with the gall to keep them grounded during a snowstorm.
A cross between “The Terminal,” “Home Alone” and “The Breakfast Club,” it all sounds fine enough on paper, but critics found the Christmas caper a tiresome affair.
With a 29% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, the site concludes that the flick is “simply a rehash of other funnier movies.” By many accounts, “Unaccompanied Minors” leans hard on nonstop, immature energy that never takes a minute to breathe or leave room for endearing character beats. Let this one stay grounded in your watchlist.
The second feature film directed by Bronx-born character actor Chazz Palminteri and featuring the late Paul Walker, “Noel” takes place on Christmas Eve in New York, where a lonely divorced publisher (Susan Sarandon) needs a Christmas miracle to improve the health of her ailing mother.
An ensemble film featuring everyone from Billy Porter to Alan Arkin to Penelope Cruz, other small-scale Yuletide tragedies unfold, from broken engagements to nostalgic daydreams of Christmases past. As is the case with these kinds of Holiday ensemble pieces, the lives of these characters intersect across the night.
With a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s best holiday-themed intentions miss their mark. Rex Reed of The Observer called “Noel”: “one of those unpleasant fiascos meant to lodge a lump in the throat at Christmas,” but instead leaves you fumbling for the remote to escape its cloying cable TV vibe.
Four Christmases (2008)
This 2008 holiday comedy focuses on an unmarried couple (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) caught in a pickle when their plans for a Christmas vacation abroad fall apart, forcing them to spend the holidays bouncing between a quartet of family get-togethers, each one more agonizing and awkward than the last.
Despite the strength of an all-star cast (and supporting legends like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Kristin Chenoweth), “Four Christmases” failed to bring much holiday cheer to anyone, garnering a 25% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. Lacking in any real charm or reason for existing, The Hollywood Reporter dubbed the film “one of the most joyless Christmas movies ever,” criticizing its lazy reliance on clichés and absence of endearing characters.
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
A holiday vehicle for ’90s teen heartthrob Johnathan Taylor Thomas, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” tells the tale of Jake, an 18-year-old attempting to travel from California to New York because his father is dangling one heck of a carrot: a vintage 1957 Porsche. The catch? He has to get home by 6 pm on Christmas Eve for dinner. The problem: a bully strands him in the desert. Shenanigans ensue.
While the phrase “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” may evoke the warm, dulcet tones of Bing Crosby, this film is a real Christmas turkey. Slandered by Roger Ebert as the kind of movie that “will appeal to people who fail to care if nothing good happens in a movie, just as long as nothing bad happens in it,” we should all take the film’s 23% Rotten Tomatoes score as a warning: maybe its best to sit this Christmas out.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
One of those films you sometimes hear referenced more for the outrageousness of its title than anyone actually watching it, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is notable for being long considered one of the worst films ever made — and, oddly enough being the first movie to ever depict Mrs. Claus. It’s also a favorite of not only the MST3K masterminds, but also Elvira, who’ve both riffed off it in the past.
While the vast majority of the films on this list are joyless stinkers, nothing compares to this film’s glorious stench, wherein Santa Claus teaches Martian children the true meaning of Christmas. The plot (such as it is) is so bananas that it’s hard to call it insulting. Despite itself (and its 22% Rotten Tomatoes rating), “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has become something of a cult classic; let’s put it this way, no other film on this list has an “Influence and Legacy” section on its Wikipedia page.
Gloriously inept, filmed (apparently) with a hollowed-out potato, and featuring the aesthetics of a high school musical recording, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is absolutely terrible. Which is why, all these years later, we’re still talking about it.
The Christmas Candle (2013)
With one of the more polarizing critics-versus-audience scores on this list (critics say 21%, audiences say 74%), “The Christmas Candle” is a true gamble.
Remember Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer with the voice of an angel whose take on “I Dreamed a Dream” made her a late-’00s sensation? This is her first (and only) acting role playing something other than herself, and it is set in 19th-century England, telling the tale of a minister (Hans Matheson) whose quest to modernize his village is thwarted by a local belief in “candle miracles” marked by angels.
The result might give you a cavity, its sickly sweet “miracles do exist” aesthetic typically better suited for late night viewing on cable channels that make you seriously consider canceling your subscription. In other words: this is an aggressively PG-rated snoozefest. As Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian put it: “a real Christmas miracle would cause every copy of this film to spontaneously burst into flames.”
Fred Claus (2007)
A film based entirely around the notion that everyone (even Santa) has a relative who causes drama during the holidays, 2007’s “Fred Claus” tells of Jolly Old Saint Nick’s (Paul Giamatti) estranged brother, Fred (Vince Vaughn). Fed up with living in his goody-two-shoes brother’s shadow, Fred has done everything in his power to counteract Santa’s good deeds by working as a repo agent.
The pair are reunited when Santa bails Fred out of jail and together, they work to improve the North Pole and save Christmas from curmudgeonly efficiency experts. Utterly mirthless and devoid of the slapstick schmaltz that sold the likes of “Elf” and “Bad Santa,” “Fred Claus” enjoys a 21% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes and more tonal shifts than a theremin.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
From the director that brought you “Jaws 2” comes this origin story that no one was asking for. The first half of “Santa Claus: The Movie” tells the story of the man (David Huddleston) who would become an immortal gift-giver. The second part gets bored with itself and pivots to modern-day, where Patch (Dudley Moore), an up-and-coming elf, falls in with a bad crowd who wants to squeeze Santa Claus out of the toy business.
While critics panned the family-friendly flick (awarding it a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes), it appears the public has a soft spot for this touching tale (the audience consensus sits snuggly at 66%). Critics like Vincent Canby of The New York Times panned the film as “elaborate and tacky.” All told, the only thing critics and audiences seem to agree on is that John Lithgow’s performance as nefarious toy mogul B.Z. is a hoot.
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (2013)
The larger-than-life Madea (Tyler Perry) joins her niece Eileen on a trip to the small town of Buck Tussel to surprise Eileen’s daughter, Lacey. However, we soon learn the real reason Lacey has been cagey about joining her family for Christmas: she eloped with her classmate (Chad Michael Murray). To avoid the truth, Lacey tells Madea and Eileen that her fiancé is her employee. Naturally, the lie gets out of control.
Once again, critics and audience members do not see eye to eye, with the former coming down hard with a critical consensus of 20% and the latter heaping praise with 70%. The film is crass, accused by the likes of Mark Olsen at the Los Angeles Times of being a “slapdash, lightweight effort … with a few Yuletide flourishes.” That said, while your mileage may vary, if you are a fan of the “Madea” franchise, you might as well check this one out if that audience score is to be believed.
The Perfect Holiday (2007)
Directed by Lance Rivera (of “The Cookout” infamy), “The Perfect Holiday” follows Nancy (Gabrielle Union), a divorced mother of three who always tends to get a little down during the holidays. Noticing their mom is down in the dumps, Nancy’s children decide to set her up on a date with the local department store Santa Claus (Morris Chestnut).
With a 19% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, this film was dubbed a “wretched yuletide comedy” by the Chicago Reader. Offering a parade of tired Christmas clichés and little else, this overcooked goose is stuffed with contrivances, dull jokes, and the same winter romance song and dance we’ve seen a billion times.
Love the Coopers
Think of an actor, any actor. There is a very, very good chance they are in the 2015 festive comedy “Love the Coopers.”
Steve Martin? He’s in it. John Goodman? Yep, he’s here too. Anthony Mackie? Diane Keaton? Marisa Tomei? Timothée Chalamet? Amanda Seyfried? Yep, they’re all in this movie, for some reason that isn’t quite clear, especially after you’ve seen it.
Set on Christmas Eve, “Love the Coopers” unravels the chaos when four generations of the titular clan come together under one roof for the holidays. Sitting not-so-pretty at an 18% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, “Love the Coopers” is an egregious waste of talent and plot beats rendered so predictable you can practically set your watch by them. The family unpacks their respective baggage and grows closer in the process. Been there, done that. Oh, did we mention that this film is narrated by a dog? Because it is.
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
Coming in hot with a not-so-sizzling 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the third (yep, third) entry in the “Santa Clause” franchise. This go-round, the nefarious Jack Frost (Martin Short) is vying to take over Christmas by tricking Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) into wishing he’d never been turned into the gift-giving Santa Claus all those years ago.
Adding to the chaos, the in-laws are visiting. More mindless than a sea cucumber, “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” throws all the special effects bells and whistles at the wall and absolutely none of it sticks. With jokes as stale as last year’s shortbread (“I invented chill,” Jack Frost erupts at a little girl who tells him to chill), this three-quel is missing the key ingredients in any solid Christmas comedy: fun and warmth.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
“Jingle All the Way” wasn’t released in 1996, so much as it escaped.
Directed by Brian Levant, the man responsible for the “Beethoven” films, “Jingle All the Way” is the heartwarming tale of a workaholic father named Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) bending over backwards to fulfill his son’s consumerist fantasies. When he can’t secure his son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) the hottest toy of the season, Howard spends Christmas Eve on the hunt for the season’s most elusive gift.
With a 17% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, “Jingle All the Way” is quite possibly the loudest film on this list; playing for the nosebleeds with exaggerated stunts that are more sickening than spectacular. It’s an off-puttingly cynical, formulaic film that “even the Grinch wouldn’t like,” according to the Austin Chronicle.
A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)
Produced by the Russo brothers (yes, those Russo brothers) 2014’s “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” does what it says on the tin, delivering a half-assed attempt at charm that leaves its audience out in the cold.
Another film featuring actors who should have known better (Lauren Graham, Candice Bergen, Oliver Platt, Wendi McLendon-Covey), it follows Boyd (Joel McHale), who is forced to spend the holidays with his very weird, very estranged family to witness his nephew’s baptism. When Boyd realizes he forgot his son’s gifts at home, he and his father (Robin Williams) embark on a road trip to save Christmas and ensure that Boyd’s son still believes in Santa Claus.
Lacking the nastiness and rick-taking of its edgier peers, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” fails to deliver any form of innovation, leaning instead on time-honored clichés and a talented cast given little to do but be nasty to one another. That this was one of the final films from Robin Williams (released shortly after his passing) only twists the knife deeper on that 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
Black Christmas (2006)
Bob Clark’s original 1974 classic “Black Christmas” is widely regarded as one of the best holiday horror films ever made. Which is to say: the remake had a tall order on its hands.
Sure enough, this gratuitous 2006 retread failed to please both new and old fans alike, throwing gore at the wall without any of the visual pizzaz, biting commentary, or creativity that made the original such a classic. With 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film strands a group of college students in a snowed-in sorority house. There’s a vicious killer on the loose, and it just so happens that the sorority house used to be his childhood home — and he doesn’t take kindly to the new residents.
Judged by the likes of the AV Club’s Scott Tobias as “just another witless trip to the slaughterhouse,” even genre geeks like the folks at Bloody Disgusting found little to enjoy in a film more interested in psychologizing its killer than its protagonists.
An American Carol (2008)
Politics masquerading as parody, this film directed by David Zucker (one of the masterminds behind “Airplane!” “Top Secret!” and the “Naked Gun” films) puts Charles Dickens’ beloved 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” and a parody of liberal documentary filmmaker Michael Moore into a blender. The result? A cautionary tale about a filmmaker obsessed with America’s shortcomings, being visited by three spirits on July 4th eve to rekindle his sense of patriotism.
Unfortunately, the only ghost haunting this movie is a vitriolic mean spirit that makes for a truly tasteless watch. With a 12% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, critics on both sides of the divide seemed to agree that the film doesn’t suffer merely from a political bias, but rather from being (as the Austin Chronicle puts it), “seriously unfunny.”
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Clinging for dear life to its double-digit status with a 10% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, this Steve Martin-led ensemble comedy may make you wish you had a “Nuts” allergy.
Directed by rom-com queen Nora Ephron, “Mixed Nuts” tells of a crisis hotline operator named Philip (Martin), who learns that his landlord is evicting him and his coworkers on Christmas Eve. With such huge comedic names as Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Steven Wright, Garry Shandling, Robert Klein and Rob Reiner all backing up Martin and Madeline Kahn, it’s hard to feel the cast shouldn’t have just tossed the script and made something funnier on the spot.
Panned by the folks at Variety for being “the comedic equivalent of two left feet,” the film is more overstuffed than a Christmas goose (or, as Roger Ebert put it in his review: “too many clowns”). Throw in some tasteless “riffs” on marginalized communities, and it’s unlikely this flick’s RT score will be inflating any time soon.
Surviving Christmas (2004)
In order to survive Christmas, first, you will have to survive this movie. And with a paltry 7% score on Rotten Tomatoes, your odds of survival aren’t looking great.
The film follows Drew (Ben Affleck), a wealthy loner who becomes wistful for his childhood home as Christmas approaches. When he goes to visit on a whim, he finds another family has taken up residence. Then (brace yourselves) he pays the new owners to pretend to be his parents. Because, that happens all the time.
When the family’s attractive daughter (Christina Applegate) arrives, things go increasingly off the rails. Mirthless and filled with un-festive ire, “Surviving Christmas” takes a big swing at a rushed anti-consumerist message and misses — proving that, in the end, money can buy happiness. A compelling cast does not a compelling movie make.
Deck the Halls (2006)
Released into theaters by the grace of some infernal god, “Deck the Halls” sees Christmas enthusiast Steve (Matthew Broderick) in a turf war with his new neighbor Danny (Danny DeVito), who has made it his mission to be the brightest house on the block (and the planet).
Boasting a 6% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, this 2006 “comedy” is the equivalent of having your face shoved into a snowbank for 95 minutes. While usually likable actors go through the motions of their sitcom-thin parts, we’re left to wonder how the heck this turkey got greenlit in the first place. It’s a film that “wants to be both naughty and nice, but just ends up feeling deeply confused,” the AV Club notes.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Directed by Joe Roth (a very talented producer, but one whose directorial career deserves a lump of coal), “Christmas with the Kranks” follows two empty-nesters (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) whose plans to sidestep Christmas traditions are foiled by their holiday obsessed neighbors.
Nearing the bottom of the barrel with a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, “Christmas with the Kranks” is a joyless, cynical, mean-spirited attempt at holiday slapstick. As it turns out, sometimes comedy can be so broad that it barely grazes its target. Panned by the BBC as “the true demeaning of Christmas” and “unrefrigerated ham” by the Washington Post, you’d be wise to leave this stinker out in the cold.
The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)
Also known in some circles as “The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” and in others as “the movie no one should ever have to watch,” this gimmicky clunker arrives in dead last place with a critical consensus of 0%. That’s right, it is in a statistical RT tie for the worst film ever made, pairing it alongside such theater-emptying classics as “Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever” and the Dennis Rodman/Dane Cook action film “Simon Sez.”
“The Nutcracker in 3D” is, as Liam Lacey of the Globe and Mail put it, “one of the most misguided children’s films ever made.” This British-Hungarian co-production adapts the ballet of the same name and then passes it through a sieve of nightmare fuel. Despite its all-star cast (including Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, and John Turturro), “The Nutcracker in 3D” sets its whimsy in a fascist post-apocalyptic reality (you know, for kids) while the film’s use of CGI is (as Slant put it) “not simply a gimmick, but a veritable crime.”
Ugly and almost impressively misconceived (did we mention this film has a Nazi allegory?), “The Nutcracker in 3D” holds a well-deserved spot on this list. Which is to say: straight at the bottom.