Bad Santa is a comedy film released in 2003. It starred Billy Bob Thornton, Lauren Graham, Cloris Leachman, Tony Cox, John Ritter, and Bernie Mac. The movie was widely criticized for its excessive use of profanity, sexual content, and overall sleaze, while others praised it as an antidote to standard feel-good Christmas movies and television shows.


SPOILER: Plot details or story follow.

Willie T. Stokes(Thornton) works the holiday seasons as a mall Santa with his dwarf friend, Marcus(Tony Cox), who works as Santa's elf. In reality, he is a drunken, foul-mouthed, perverted, crooked Santa who is also a con-artist and a common criminal. He is also Vietnam War vet, who grew up with a drunken, abusive father who was as much of a crook as he is. Not only is Marcus in on the same burglary racket, but so is Marcus's wife Lois(Lauren Tom). Nevertheless he's a skilled safecracker. Every Christmas Eve they disable the security alarm after hours and rob the mall; afterwards, Marcus returns to living with his wife. In the meantime, after Willie finally pulls off what he thinks is going to be his last

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heist in Milwaukee, he's convinced he's going to quit the low life, and live the high life at an outdoor bar in Miami, but instead spends all his money on alcohol and other hedonistic, self-destructive and usually illegal pursuits.

The next year at a new mall in Phoenix, Arizona, Willie's alcoholic rants arouse the suspicions of mall Manager Bob Chipeska(John Ritter), who asks Security Chief Gin Slagel(Bernie Mac) to investigate. Willie meets bartender named Sue (Lauren Graham), who despite being Jewish, has a Santa fetish, and they begin a relationship. He also meets a pudgy, preteen boy with a runny nose, whom he nicknames "the Kid," during their visit in the mall. When he leaves a bar a psychotic man accuses Willie of making sexual advances towars him then attacks him, but the Kid stops the man from beating Willie. A lonely, unpopular boy who is frequently bullied by a group of skateboard punks, the Kid lives with his senile grandmother(Cloris Leachman); his mother is dead and his father is in prison for embezzlement. Willie takes the Kid home and breaks into the safe, taking the money and his father's BMW 7 Series sedan.

Irritated by Willie's reckless behavior, Marcus berates him for his new car, his alcoholism and his flirtatiousness with customers. Later, Chipeska discovers Willie in a sexual tryst with an overweight female shopper, which displeases him even more. Threatening to fire Willie and his partner in crime, they both play the race card on him, so he buckles. When Gin breaks into Willie's motel room posing as a police officer, Willie moves in with the Kid. During his time spent with the Kid, Willie starts to show small signs of kindness, offering the Kid advice on fighting and playing checkers. Nevertheless, Willie causes more trouble at the mall but continues to spend time with Sue and the Kid. Marcus is continually disgusted by how unreliable Willie has become. Gin, meanwhile, discovers the history of the criminals and he demands half of the loot, creating further friction between Willie and Marcus. Willie goes to the mall drunk and destroys a nativity display, in a manner reminiscent of The Twilight Zone epsiode Night of the Meek. Marcus and Gin try to cover it up, but get into an argument over how to do so.

The next day, Willie tries to commit suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning, and gives the Kid a letter explaining the mall robbery. He changes his mind when he sees how the bullies have blackened the Kid's eye; Willie beats up the lead bully and threatens the rest of his gang. Willie feels that he did something good for the first time in his life. To make sure the Kid can defend himself, Willie and Marcus try to teach him how to box. The Kid gives Willie a Christmas present in advance: a wooden pickle he bloodied when he cut himself carving it. He gives Willie a low-grade report card, hoping to make him happy. Willie learns the Kid's name is Thurman Merman. Thurman asks for a pink stuffed elephant this year, since he has not received any presents for the past two years.

That night, Marcus and Lois murder Gin with their van when he refuses to take less than half the money. On Christmas Eve, Sue helps Willie and Thurman decorate their house for Christmas. Willie leaves to rob the mall with Marcus. After cracking the safe, which proves to be more difficult than he expects it to be, Willie takes a stuffed elephant for Thurman, only to find Marcus pointing a gun at him with the full intent of killing Willie because he is too unreliable. Willie tries to coax Marcus and Lois out of the types of ill-gotten gains they seek, but fails. Fortunately for Willie, the police arrive, having been tipped off by Willie's letter that Thurman gave them. Willie flees and speeds (to the sound of Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in the background) to Thurman's house to give him his present; he arrives at the house but the police shoot him eight times in front of the neighborhood. Willie survives and avoids prison time because of the letter and the fact that an unarmed man dressed in a Santa suit getting shot eight times in front of screaming children would cause an outrage more severe than the Rodney King beating by the Los Angeles Police Department. The police arrest Marcus and Lois. Sue is legally given guardianship of Thurman and Willie receives a sensitivity trainer job for the police department. The movie closes with Thurman walking outside to fix his new bike. The bully from earlier in the movie is waiting outside his house and confronts him, but Thurman kicks him in the testicles and rides away with a carefree attitude for the first time in his life.

Spoilers end here.


  • John Ritter died suddenly prior to the release of this movie. While it is dedicated to his memory, Ritter actually had more work released after his death, such as voice work for "Clifford, the Big Red Dog, episodes of King of the Hill running into 2004, and the 2006 straight-to-video Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up
  • An "unrated" version known as "Badder Santa" was available on DVD for a while.

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