What do a speaking snowman, a suicidal father, a Terminating toy-hunter and a Ghostbuster all have in common? They've all played their parts in creating the best and worst Christmas movies ever made.
Yes, it's that time of year again when we plonk ourselves in front of the TV, stuffed to the hilt, and watch re-runs of festive films we've all seen dozens of times. But, where some melt our hearts with the pure pleasure of the Christmas spirit, others make us wish we were locked outside with our tongue stuck to a frozen lamppost.
How can we tell if a movie is a Christmas classic or a big flapping turkey? Is it the presence of the fat, red-suited man himself jollying above chimneys with his horned-and-hoofed entourage? Or perhaps a sinister tale that ends with a heart-wrenching humanitarian message? Either way, both formats have had their fair share of successes and flops at the box office.
So, to make your viewing schedules a little less stressful this holiday period, we've teamed up with movie expert Nikki Baughan - the editor of Film Review - and big screen critic Frankie Mathieson to get to the bottom of this mistletoed mystery, and present - in descending order - the ultimate list of Christmas movie hits... and misses.
Fresh from his turn as cocky charmer Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, Bill Murray leapt into another ghost-meddling role with Scrooged. Playing on the comic's ghoulish links from the smash hit four years earlier, the movie's tagline screamed, "He's back among the ghosts, only this time, it's three against one." A tacky marketing ploy, you'd presume, but the Groundhog day actor made his mark as one of Tinseltown's cleverest and subtlest funnymen, which helped this modern take on Charles DICkens' classic novella A Christmas Carol become the biggest Christmas film of the 80s. And, as a bonus, it still remains in the top ten biggest grossing holiday releases of all time.
Film Review's Nikki Baughan says, "By putting a modern spin on Charles DICkens' yuletide classic Scrooge, and with a deliciously pantomime performance by Bill Murray at its heart, this cracking comedy effectively updated the Christmas fable for a whole new audience."
5. The Santa Clause
Tim Allen may have turned this festive franchise into a Disney cash cow, but his turn in the first of the trilogy has everything; an endearing dysfunctional family, Santa, his reindeer and the North Pole all thrown in for good measure. After hearing someone stomping around on his roof, divorced dad Scott Calvin - Tim Allen - gives the supposed intruder a good rollicking. Which in turns makes the trespasser fall to the ground. Unfortunately, Calvin has just killed Kris Kringle himself, and, as part of the erm, Santa Clause, he must now fulfill the role of the jolly gift-giver. Struggling to balance normal life with his new duties, the new Santa muddles through, making some rip-roaring gaffes on his way. The Santa Clause became a box office sensation, and has kept Allen on his bank manager's good boys' list ever since.
Making your way from a U.S. TV comic to bringing home the big screen bucks is a tough task - and no one has done it better than Will Ferrell. Yes, before Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy made him a sure-fire money-maker for movie bosses, Ferrell thrilled legions of kids, and their parents, with this modern classic. Raised by elves, yet very much human, Ferrell's Buddy character feels out of place amongst Santa's tiny townsfolk and decides to head to the Big Apple in order to find his real dad. Not surprisingly, discovering that a 6 foot four man in green tights and pixie boots is your son comes as quite a shock to his biological dad, played by James Caan. New Yorkers are aghast as naive Buddy tries to learn about city life - with hilarious consequences. The release in November 2003 became an unexpected smash, rocketing its way into fourth position on the list of the biggest grossing Christmas movies in history, scooping a festive bonus of 220 million worldwide. Film Review editor Nikki Baughan says, "Director Jon Favreau is one of modern cinema's most exciting filmmakers and his spot-on tone, together with Will Ferrell's laugh-out-loud, no-holds-barred, stripy-attired turn as the man who thinks he's an Elf let loose in the real world, make this one of the best modern Christmas movies out there."
3. Home Alone
Who would have thought a movie about a cheeky little brat getting grounded and left alone while his family rush to the airport would become one of the most popular movies of all time. MACaulay Culkin shot to fame after starring in Home Alone - the story that made kids whoop with excitement and parents hyperventilate with fear at the mere thought. The title says it all; Kevin MCCallister gets grounded after a fight with his obnoxious bully brother the night before his extended family fly to sunnier climes for their Christmas break. But in the mad morning rush, Kevin is forgotten and wakes up to an empty house. Things couldn't be better, until a pair of goon burglars target the MCCallister house for a spot of thievery. The slapstick which follows made Culkin the biggest child star since Shirley Temple, and put the film's chief villain Joe Pesci on the map as a brilliant comic actor. Home Alone went on to tempt in over $285 million in gross global gatherings - staying in America's top 10 until April the next year (92). Film Review's Nikki Baughan is also a fan: "The film that launched MACaulay Culkin's career is a perfect example of family filmmaking. It combines all the ingredients for a perfect Christmas Day movie; a strong premise (eight year old kid left to defend his house from burglars), slapstick comedy (said burglars being hit in the face by various objects) and a strong emotional core (there's nothing so important as family)."
2. Miracle on 34th Street
Is there really a Santa Claus? You bet your bottom dollar there is, and that's exactly what an old loony, claiming to be Kris Kringle, sets out to prove - in court. This heartwarming tale was remade as a vehicle for Lord Richard Attenborough, but the true magic of this movie stems back to the 1947 classic, starring Maureen O'Hara as a single mum who helps hire Santa lookalike Kringle after her own MACy's department store replica gets drunk. Proving such a hit, kids flock to see the loveable old chap, but the store's bosses have other ideas when Kringle goes around telling the wide-eyed children he REALLY is the main man. Legal proceedings follow, with a faithful lawyer battling a state system intent in institutionalising Santa. This film provides an Oscar-winning performance from Edmund Gwenn, who epitomises everything we imagine the jolly, fat man to be while teaching us about understanding and open-mindedness. Tis' the season to be jolly - tis' when this is part of your Christmas day viewing. Nikki Baughan says, "There's nowhere on earth quite like New York City and, despite being in black and white, this feel-good movie captures all of the city's Christmas magic. And its story of a young lawyer determined to prove that a department store Santa is the real thing is utterly charming, ensuring George Seaton's film remains a timeless family classic.
1. It's A Wonderful Life
Oscar-nominations, millions in video and DVD sales, cult status and the honour of being one of the 100 best U.S. films ever made, according to the American Film Institute (AFI), It's A Wonderful Life couldn't fail to be our ultimate Christmas classic. James Stewart's suicidal character in this tearjerker failed to get the post-war crowds into cinemas, and bombed at the box office. But, throughout the following decades, its goodwill message of appreciation and hope shines out like a beacon among other vacuous Christmas baubles. Driven by shame and stubbornness, businessman and father George Bailey tries to take his life on Christmas Eve after losing thousands of dollars in business revenue. Thinking life would have been better for everyone he knows if he'd never been born, a guardian angel gives George the chance to see what the world would have been like without him. Realising how loved and cherished he is, the film's hero returns home to the best Christmas present he could ever have imagined. Film Review's Nikki Baughan says, "Director Frank Capra is a master of celebrating the very best of humanity, and James Stewart's passionate performance as the man who discovers the true meaning of Christmas makes it a seasonal classic. And there's even an angel called Clarence."
6. Jingle All The Way
Back before Arnold Schwarzenegger was the main man in California politics, he was an actor - and a bad one at that. Even so, our favourite muscle-bound Austrian muddled his way through Hollywood, garnering some pretty impressive notches on his movie bedpost as an anti-hero with a penchant for guns and saving the world. But Arnie started to lose his grip on the macho man mantle when he took on holiday howler Jingle All The Way. Here, the Terminator star declares war against stand-up comic Sinbad to make sure his precious son gets the year's must-have gift - a Turbo Man action figure. Unfortunately, between the Roadrunner-style slapstick and awful acting, Schwarzenegger couldn't hear his Hollywood movie career screaming for mercy. Amazingly, the film pulled in $130 million worldwide, but was quickly forgotten by all as the Governor's dirty little secret. Film Review's Nikki Baughan explains, "Arnold Schwarzenegger is a master at playing the action hero, but his attempts at comedy fall woefully flat. Add to that a flimsy seasonal premise - father tries to get sell-out toy for his son, mayhem ensues - and you've got one Christmas comedy misfire."
5. Santa Claus: The Movie
Nostalgia means an awful lot at this time of year, but it has no place on this list of gift-wrapped garbage - meaning 80s classic Santa Claus: The Movie's sweet-as-Christmas pudding storyline won't save it from a naming and shaming. British funnyman Dudley Moore plays hapless elf Patch, who desperately tries to impress his boss, Santa, with a nifty toy making machine. Unfortunately, Patch's machine is as useful as a plucked turkey without an oven, and kids throughout the world are left with a bunch of broken goods. Spurred on by his plan to please Mr. Claus, the eager little elf leaves the North Pole and falls into the manipulative clutches of John Lithgow, who plays an evil toy manufacturer. But even Lithgow's magically malevolent turn as the baddie failed to pull in the punters - the movie only recouped half its estimated $50 million budget, making its tagline 'Seeing Is Believing' seem sadly ironic. Nikki Baughan says, "Ushering in a new era of modern Christmas movies was Dudley Moore's rather ham-fisted turn as Patch, an elf who strikes out on his own - a role that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. True, the kids might like it, but its childish humour and lacklustre effects certainly haven't aged well."
4. Black Christmas
The cruel winter winds of 2006 blew a revamp of the seminal 1974 slasher Black Christmas into cinemas. This grisly tale sees a deranged serial killer ruin a group of sorority girls' holiday spirits by killing them off one-by-one. Slammed by critics and Christians alike, this film stirred up controversy from those who insisted Jesus Christ's birthday was no time for a madman to be set loose on the eggnog. Seems the God-fearing folk were right - despite studio bosses at Dimension stating the film was created to counteract the usual sentimental yuletide offerings, people simply didn't want to watch a set of beauties get slashed after their turkey lunch - or at any other time. The remake took in a frighteningly low $22 million worldwide. Film Review editor Nikki Baughan says, "Why anyone chose to remake the 1974 seasonal slasher is a mystery; a knife-wielding maniac doesn't exactly say Merry Christmas. And the story of a serial killer picking off the members of a female sorority house isn't remotely scary, so it fails on both counts."
3. Jack Frost
Batman Michael Keaton reincarnated as a snowman after a tragic accident? A scriptwriter gone mad you say? Well, that certainly didn't stop movie bosses churning out this creepy Christmas yarn. Sludging across the set as a sinister-looking "world's coolest dad", spouting corny one-liners, such as "My balls are freezing", finally spelled the end to Keaton's era as filmmaker Tim Burton's pre-Johnny Depp muse. Even more tragic, Warner Bros. bosses blew a mammoth $50 million on the movie, which received a frosty reception at the U.S. box office, only grabbing back $35 million in ticket sales.
2. Deck The Halls
A movie about bulbs may not scream box office smash, but that didn't stop Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito giving this festive flop a green light. Sarah Jessica Parker's husband and Hollywood's shortest star played warring neighbours in this supposed comedy, battling it out to become the town's "Mr. Christmas". Inevitably, the pair can't compete in realistic ways, like getting a new lawnmower, so they transform their homes into blazing Christmas havens, so brightly lit they can be seen from outer space. Their obsessions with lights goes a tad too far though, after Broderick tries to blow up his former pal's house, and surprise, surprise, sets his own house on fire! Despite scraping in a measly $35 million at the U.S. box office, Deck The Halls did manage to bag a string of award nominations - at America's Golden Raspberry Awards. The 'Razzies' listed this atrocious outing in its Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment category, as well as a Worst Supporting Actor nod for DeVito. Nikki Baughan comments: "Christmas is all about loving and giving, so the fact that this so-called comedy had two deeply unpleasant characters at its heart did it no favours at the box office. Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick are two fine actors, but are let down by a miserable script about two neighbours at war over Christmas lights. Where's the love, guys?"
1. Surviving Christmas
Ben Affleck has had a tough time enticing fans to see his big screen ventures in recent years, and his 2004 festive fare Surviving Christmas didn't help matters. The Pearl Harbor star's performance as a conceited, lonely millionaire who rents a family for the holiday period was lampooned by critics, with Empire magazine saying an "unbearably irritating, shouty, gurning Affleck takes the anaemic script and injects it with strychnine". And despite a stellar cast, including James Gandolfini and Christina Applegate, the movie only took $11 million in its five-week theatre run - earning it a place on Entertainment Weekly and People magazine's worst films of the year (04). Film Review's Nikki Baughan says, "Before Ben Affleck reinvented himself as a filmmaker with the exceptional Gone Baby Gone, he took this strange role as a lonely millionaire who pays the family inhabiting his childhood home to spend the season with him. With a cast of annoying characters and humour so forced its painful, it's a real Christmas pud."