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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 directed by Terry Zwigoff—his only financially successful movie to date.

Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunk Jerkass safe cracker who along with his midget 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.


A sequel called Bad Santa 2 had been released in theaters on November 23, 2016.

This film contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Bad Santa: Literally the entire film's plot. He's a Santa. Who is a criminal.
  • 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 he was the one who did so at the time.
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  • The Bully: Thurman deals with one who Willie proceeds to beat within an inch of his life.
  • Butt-Monkey: Thurman, until Willie teaches him to stick up for himself.
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The kid.
    The Kid: "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.
  • 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, he 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.
  • 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 the kid 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.
  • 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.
  • Free-Range Children: The kid 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 the Kid.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: The 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Willie at the end.
    • Unlike most Christmas films though, his personality is still foulmouthed 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.
  • Hello, Nurse!: The attractive, pear-shaped woman in the mall whom Willie lustfully admires.
  • 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.
  • 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 a pure Jerkass, Willie eventually becomes this.
  • 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.
  • 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 (read: in prison).
  • Refuge in Audacity: It's a Christmas film about a child-hating, alcoholic, foul-mouthed mall Santa who 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: "What is it with you and fixing fucking sandwiches?"
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Willie, which is no surprise, considering his actor.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Bernie Mac eating an orange.
  • 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.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Thurman, as evidenced by the well-deserved Groin Attack he inflicts on a bully.
  • 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Marcus, especially 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.

The sequel, Bad Santa 2, contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Willie's mother is a terrible person. She got him involved in all sorts of crimes at a young age, even making him take the fall for her when he was eleven. It's no wonder he turned out the way he did.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Marcus uses a garbage chute and an air vent in order to spy on the charity's CEO.
  • The Alcoholic: Willie yet again, but also Diane to the point they attend an AA meeting.
  • Anything That Moves: Willie is so promiscuous his own mother claims that even as a child he would "try to fuck anything with a butt."
  • Bad Santa: The entire film's premise is that the main character portrays Santa for most of the film in order to rob an arguably corrupt charity.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Willie after Thurman asks him if he's going to pop his cherry now that he's 21.
  • The Determinator: Thurman's loyalty to Willie knows no bounds. He takes a bus cross-country to Chicago without any plans for food or shelter and with no warm clothes, just to spend Christmas with Willie.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In the very first scene, Willie gets fired from his valet job for ogling a breastfeeding mother and crashing into the valet stand. Doubles as a the Un Reveal, as the audience discovers Willie isn't driving his car, and is not doing as well as it seems he is in the opening few moments.
  • Driven to Suicide: Willie tries killing himself twice in the film's first five minutes. First by sticking his head in an oven (before realizing it's electric, not gas), then by hanging himself with a toaster's power cord.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Subverted hilariously when Willie refuses to rob a charity...because there's no way they have $2 million.
  • Fan Disservice: We get a glimpse of Thurman's bare ass as he's changing into a Santa outfit.
  • Happy Ending Override: The reasonably happy ending of the first film didn't last for Willie, and he ended up becoming just as miserable as before, even attempting suicide.
  • Kavorka Man: Willie still has his inexplicable sexual magnetism and he seduces Diana and Gina without even trying.
  • Manchild: Thurman hasn't matured a day since the first film, and is just as wide-eyed and innocent as he was ten years ago.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Willie accuses another Santa of being one when the two of them are having a turf war. He may not have been wrong.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Diane is very well-endowed.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Willie gives one to an overenthusiastic Santa during the Mistaken for Pedophile scene mentioned above.
  • Satiating Sandwich: Just like the first film, Thurman is obsessed with sandwiches, and now works at a sandwich shop which he constantly reminds people of.
  • Sex as a Rite-of-Passage: Willie promises to get Thurman laid on his 21st birthday by setting him up with his favorite hooker, Opal. It doesn't go well.
  • Shout-Out: Willie meets a gamer whose wish list includes Minecraft, Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Project X Zone 2, Assassin's Creed: Chronicles, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Grand Theft Auto V.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Willie's mom is not only willing to shoot Thurman, she shoots her own child.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Both Marcus and Willie's own mother try to pull this on Willie.


Example of: