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Film / Bad Santa

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Bad Santa is a 2003 American Black Comedy film produced by The Coen Brothers (who also provided uncredited rewrites) and the Weinstein brothers and directed by Terry Zwigoff—his only financially successful movie to date.

Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunk sort-of Jerkass safe cracker who along with his dwarf accomplice Marcus has a yearly routine of getting jobs as a Mall Santa and Elf respectively during the holidays and robbing the mall's safe on Christmas Eve after closing time. During one such stint, Wille meets a kid (who is mostly referred to in the movie as "The Kid") who inadvertently saves him from being raped. After a run-in with the mall's unscrupulous security chief (Bernie Mac) posing as a police officer, Willie, his girlfriend Sue and Marcus move in with The Kid, who lives alone with his senile grandmother (his mother is dead and his dad is in jail for embezzlement). Willie starts to warm up to the Kid and starts acting as a surrogate father... of sorts.


Eminem, who was a fan of this movie, included clips of this into his music video "Just Lose It" with himself playing the titular Bad Santa. A sequel called Bad Santa 2 had been released in theaters on November 23, 2016.

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  • The Alcoholic: Willie is drunk for almost the entirety of the film.
  • Abusive Parents: Willie had an abusive father. He did teach him how to crack a safe, though.
  • Adults Are Useless: Thurman mostly has to fend for himself; his parents are either dead or incarcerated and his grandmother is too senile. Willie does partially avert this trope though by stepping up as an anti-heroic Big Good.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: More justified than most examples, given that the person doing the crawling through the vents is a dwarf.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Much like Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons, Thurman's Cloud Cuckoolander behavior often makes him appear to be autistic or mentally disabled. It is revealed in the sequel that Thurman is not mentally disabled and is "at the top of the spectrum" (i.e. has high-functioning autism).
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  • Anti-Hero: Willie may be a thief, a safecracker, a drunk, and a sex offender, but he still means well for the Kid.
  • Anything That Moves: Willie enjoys chasing girls at every opportunity and has no standards to speak of. He's perfectly capable of scoring with attractive women like Sue, but will also hook up with plus-sized shoppers in the fitting room, hire cheap hookers, and even offhandedly mentions cornholing Thurman's grandma.
  • Asshole Victim: Gin, who blackmailed Willie and Marcus for half their stolen treasure, gets rammed by a 1979 Dodge Van (by Lois) and after Marcus shocks him with a car wire, is buried in the desert. Marcus later remarks, "Store dick's dead! Fuck the fucking store dick!"
  • Auto Erotica: The first time Willie and Sue have sex.
  • Bad Santa: Literally the entire film's plot. He's a Santa who is a thief and safecracker.
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Willie hates having to be Santa.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After robbing the mall in the opening, Willie says he will use his share to go to Miami and open a bar. Marcus replies that this is not gonna happen. We then cut to several months later, where Willie appears to running a bar on the beach, but then it is shown that he merely walks behind the bar to steal drinks.
  • Becoming the Mask: Willie at first disavows he'll ever be a real Santa Claus, but at the end, he tries to deliver the pink elephant Thurman always wanted and narrowly succeeds even though the police shoot a bullet (or even several) through the elephant, but Thurman doesn't seem to mind.
  • Berserk Button: Willie does not like being asked a lot of questions or being interrupted during his lunch break.
    • He also loses it and beats the fuck out of the Kid's tormentors when he sees that one of them blackened the Kid's eye. Willie's own history of childhood abuse probably accounts for this being a sensitive spot for him.
  • Big Bad: Gin seems to be set up as this, but in the end it's actually Marcus himself.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The cops arrive just in time to stop the robbery and save Willie from being killed by Marcus. Though problems still arise because Willie forgot that he tipped them off and they didn't know that he was the one who did so at the time.
  • Big Good: Willie becomes this to Thurman as the movie progresses, since he is able to help Thurman fend off the bullies who torment him everyday after school, gets him the pink stuffed elephant he always wanted, and finally help him attain a proper parental substitute (Sue) to look after him.
  • Bookends: Both the beginning and end play Chopin's "Nocturne", albeit the ending's version is louder and more sophisticated with an orchestra accompanying the piano due to being far more dramatic.
  • Broken Ace: Willy is a brilliant safecracker and skilled fistfighter who, were this any other movie, would be a wisecracking member of a Badass Crew. Since this is not any other movie, Willie is a miserable alcoholic asshole who hates himself and everybody else, and spends much of his time blackout-drunk and soaked in his own piss.
  • The Bully: Thurman deals with one who Willie proceeds to beat within an inch of his life.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Willie testing Marcus's temper with daily "Fuck you"s and many insults about his height and lack of sex life leads to Marcus pulling out a gun on him as soon as he decides Willie helped him rob enough safes for many Christmases to retire.
    • Gin, a security officer, tries blackmailing Marcus for a cut of the spoils on their next heist. Marcus rams him with a car, shocks him, and has Lois run his head over with a car.
  • Butt-Monkey: Thurman, until Willie teaches him to stick up for himself.
  • Camera Abuse: When Willie is thrown out of the bar in Miami, he throws a glass of gin which splashes against the camera.
  • Car Fu: How Marcus and Lois kill Gin. Lois rams into him repeatedly while he's helping to start Marcus' supposedly disabled car.
  • Chekhov's Gun: About halfway through the film, Willie has the kid deliver a letter to the police. At the end, it turns out to contain all the details for the robbery, which allows them to appear and arrest Marcus.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: Hinted by Willie as a possible reason for Thurman's behavior.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Thurman.
    Thurman: "Now I don't want an elephant at all. I want a gorilla named Davy for beating up the skateboard kids who pull on my underwear. And he can take his orders from the talking walnut, so it won't be my bad thing."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: According to IMDB, the word "fuck" is used 159 times (170 in the unrated version). In a Christmas movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Willie and Marcus both.
    • Gin Slagel as well, particularly during his conversations with Bob Chipeska.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: At the beginning of the film, its feel is very cynical (what with dealing with Mall Santas and all), but by the end, while keeping the salty language, the movie's more like "Hey, it's Christmas after all".
    • The movie plays itself as one for Christmas movie tropes. No actual Santa Clause or the magical nature other Christmas films usually carry, by the end of the film it still ends on a rather idealistic note that you don't need any of that cliched stuff to be a better person.
  • Determinator: After fleeing from the police, Willie reaches the kid's house in order to give him his present. Even after being shot eight times, he still tries to crawl to the door with the toy elephant.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: At the end of the final mall job, the only thing Willie has in his possession is a pink stuffed elephant. And the police absolutely riddle him with bullets as he attempts to deliver the gift.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: When he and Marcus first meet Bob Chipeska, Willie becomes distracted by the voluptuous ass of a passing female shopper, so much so that when he returns to the conversation and hears Chipeska uttering the word "performance", he misunderstands (due to his previously lascivious thoughts when he was ogling the woman) and thinks it's a comment on his sexual performance rather than his performance as Santa Claus!
  • The Ditz: Even for his age, Thurman is unbelievably stupid. His vocabulary is very limited, he poorly comprehends things and has poor memory. In any given day, he can't even remember events from the previous day.
  • Does Not Like Cookies: Willie seriously hates sugar, dairy and non-alcoholic carbs. He prefers salads and meat over milk and cookies.
  • The Dragon: Lois to Marcus. She serves as Marcus's getaway driver and physical back-up.
  • Driven to Suicide: About halfway through the movie, Willie tries to kill himself through carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately, he snaps out of his funk when Thurman comes to check on him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Willie tips the cops off about the robbery and gets Marcus arrested. He's given a job as a sensitivity trainer for the police, and also secures a capable adult to watch over Thurman. He also gets the kid a few presents, and Thurman in turn now knows how to handle the bullies.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Willie may be a bastard, but hurting children is low, even for him.
    • He's also aghast at Marcus and Lois' over the top materialism:
    Willie: "You people are monsters. I'm not talking about you taking me out; that part, I get. But look at all that shit. Do you really need all that shit? For Christ sakes, it's Christmas."
  • Extreme Doormat: Bob Chipeska, who lets Willie and Marcus race-card him into not firing them for inappropriate workplace conduct.
  • Face Cam: This occurs as Willie is at one point about to pass out from his own drunken stupor.
  • Fat and Skinny: Thurman is fat, Willie is skinny.
  • Free-Range Children: Thurman wanders around the city and even takes regular trips to the mall all by himself. Justified in that the only person around to raise him is his senile grandmother.
  • Good Feels Good: For a given value of good anyway, but Willie comes to this conclusion when he beats up some bullies who had been harassing Thurman.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: Thurman's grandma reacts to absolutely nothing around her. When she isn't sitting in her chair watching TV, she's fixing up some sandwiches. She ignores a strange man in a Santa outfit and ski mask in her house and also her grandson screaming in pain with his hand bleeding.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Marcus is easily jealous of Willie for being tall and strong enough to sexually assault young women of his choice and eventually score with Sue.
  • Groin Attack: When teaching the kid how to fight, the kid ends up kicking Marcus right in the crotch. This causes Marcus to retaliate against the kid in the same fashion. When Willie raises protest about punching a child in the crotch, Marcus yells "fuck you, Willie!", and punches Willie in the balls — and then Willie punches Marcus in the balls. The scene ends with all three lying on the ground groaning in pain (and trying to kick each other in the balls).
    • When Marcus and Lois kill Gin at the end by smashing him between two cars, they seemingly impale him right in the crotch, but it's off-camera, so it's hard to tell.
  • Grumpy Bear: Willie, especially when he's on a lunch break.
  • Harmless Villain: Willie's an expert safecracker and he's been involved in a lot of mall robberies in the past, but his drunken antics make him more of a liability to The Plan than anything else.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: The Hindustani barfly who attacks Willie in the parking lot while insisting that he is most definitely not gay. All because Willie looked in his direction for a split second.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: The attractive, pear-shaped woman in the mall whom Willie lustfully admires.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Willie at the end.
    • Unlike most Christmas films, though, his personality is still foul-mouthed and sarcastic. But now a better person.
  • Heel Realization: Willie has one when he remembers that he ate all the candy in Thurman's advent calendar and realizes how low that was.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Gin is a security chief who penalizes shoplifting (and unnecessarily roughs up shoplifters), but he's not above stealing either as he blackmails Willie and Marcus for half the spoils from their next heist.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Willie complains about kids pissing themselves on his lap, while he does that himself about half the time he's in his Santa costume.
    • Marcus insults Willie that the latter would fall apart without him. Though it's clear that Marcus needs Willie far more than the other way around, since Marcus's only ambition is to steal money and needs Willie to crack safes, as while Willie was able to leech off Thurman for a car, cash on hand and a place to sleep.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Gin: I could stick you up my ass, small fry!
    Marcus: Yeah? You sure it ain't too sore from last night?!
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Starting off as what seems to some as a pure Jerkass (though he rarely if ever picked his verbal battles), Willie eventually becomes this.
  • Lazy Bum: Willie is incredibly lazy, and also his alcoholism makes him too sleepy or unstable to hold down a paying job. Because of this, he has to steal or leech off others for money and housing.
  • Leaving Food for Santa: Equating Willie to Santa, Thurman keeps offering Willie some milk and cookies or sandwiches. Ironically, Willie doesn't like sugary or starchy foods much (his actor is even a strict vegan who is allergic to wheat).
  • The Mall: Willie's preferred target.
  • Mall Santa: Multiple scenes take place with the main character dressed as Santa in a mall.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Willie in one of the mall dressing rooms — in more ways than one.
  • The Millstone: Marcus begins to view Willie as this since his unprofessional behavior has almost gotten them fired or arrested on numerous occasions. This ultimately leads to him turning against Willie at the end.
  • Morality Pet: The kid serves as this for Willie. Curiously enough, Zwigoff removed most of the scenes with him and Willie in the Director's Cut, making it shorter than the theatrical release. The ending is still one massive Pet the Dog sequence for Willie.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Angry that Willie led the security guard Gin straight into their tracks of mall robberies every Christmas, Marcus decides to shoot Willie at the climax.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Marcus makes this clear when he murders Gin Slagel.
  • Only Sane Man: Marcus spends most of his time doing damage control for Willie and giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech now and then. Subverted when he betrays Willie.
  • Papa Wolf: Willie evolves into somewhat of one, to the point where he gives the bullies who harass The Kid a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Parental Abandonment: The kid's mother is dead and his father is off exploring the mountains (a kid-friendly lie for sitting in prison for embezzlement). His grandmother is his only guardian, but she struggles to stay awake.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Marcus, despite his dwarfism, can tackle Willie with force.
  • Police Are Useless: Justified in that Willie and Marcus always plan out every single half-second of their contingency plans to crack safes and know how to evade arrest, that Willie can get away with robberies even while drunk (but only because Marcus pulls him out of the crime scene every time). Gin came close to busting them, but he tried extorting them for a cut of their loot rather than turn them in - which winds into his own undoing.
  • Refuge in Audacity: It's a Christmas film about an alcoholic, foul-mouthed mall Santa who has "screaming brats" on his lap for about a month and is plotting to rob a store on Christmas Eve, and that's for starters.
  • Repetitive Name: The kid's real name is Thurman Murman.
  • Satiating Sandwich: Averted. Willie doesn't want any. "What is it with you and fixing fucking sandwiches?"
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Willie, which is no surprise, considering his actor. The movie uses 173 uses of the word "fuck", not including the extended version.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When Willie and Marcus first arrive at the mall in Phoenix, the song "Let It Snow" is being played, even though it is warm and the sun is out. Given the black comedy nature of this film, this is likely intentional.
    • Not to mention the soothing, almost hypnotizing classical score that always picks up in tempo during the film's more audacious moments.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: It's very clear that at least by this point in their partnership, Willie and Marcus simply do not like each other - Marcus views Willie as a liability to their scheme due to his alcoholism and sex addiction jeopardizing his role in their annual operation, whereas Willie seldom misses an opportunity to insult Marcus (generally over his dwarfism, and usually in response to whenever Marcus criticizes and insults Willie over his aforementioned issues). Suffice to say, this tense partnership and Willie's increasing incompetence are what drive Marcus to betray and attempt to kill Willie in the climax.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: An ironic variant where the house guest is the victim, not the perpetrator, since Willie depends on Thurman for free room and board, but Thurman is the one who keeps annoying Willie.
  • Threat Backfire: When approached by a little boy's mother for a "lap" request, Willie screams at them that he's on his lunch break and doesn't want to do it now. The mother threatens to report his behavior to the manager, and Willie rebukes her back that he isn't intimidated because he has total dominance over the manager as well.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Thurman, as evidenced by the well-deserved Groin Attack he inflicts on a bully.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Thurman's is sandwiches, Willie's is salads. In the extended version however, Willie was seen eating corn dogs and turkey legs.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Marcus is an African-American with dwarfism. A fact that he uses to his advantage when faced with possible termination.
  • Villain Protagonist: The film's protagonist is Willie, a man who dresses as Santa in order to pull off heists.
  • Volleying Insults: Between Gin and Marcus when they have to handle Willie passing out in the mall.
  • Who's on First?: The banter between Willie and The Kid about why the latter acts slow:
    Willie: What is it with you? Somebody drop you on your fucking head?
    Thurman: On my head?
    Willie: Yeah, well, what, are they gonna drop you on somebody else's head?
    Thurman: How can they drop me onto my own head?
    Willie: No, not onto your own— would— GODDAMN IT, ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME?!
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Lois asks this to Marcus when the latter decides to shoot Willie at the completion of their heist, complaining that she's losing patience and wants to leave already.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Marcus, at the least if said child kicks him in the balls. Willie calls him out on this.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once the safe was cracked and he got everything he wanted out of the mall, Marcus decides it's time to off Willie since he's no longer reliable. Marcus asserts that Willie's behavior was deteriorating from his alcoholism and felt that it was way past time for them to break ties.