Everyone knows that Santa keeps "naughty" and "nice" lists. Presumably, if you wind up on the "naughty" list, you don't get any presents. Some sources say you get a lump of coal. No one wants that, unless, of course, you're really into coal. As always the movies can teach us valuable lessons about how to be naughty and nice. Here is our cross-check of naughty and nice Christmas movies. We've made this list and checked it twice, though chime in below if we have forgotten anyone.
Naughty and Nice Former SNL Alumni
Naughty: Bill Murray in Scrooged (1988)
It's funny: even though Frank Cross is actually staging a big budget, live production of "A Christmas Carol" for television, no one ever once equates the fictional character of Scrooge with Cross himself. This is probably not one of Murray's deepest performances, but he clearly has a ball being bad, pretending to be shocked at the general stupidity and ineptitude of everyone around him. But when it comes time for his transformation, he makes it a breathless, joyous event, not easy to resist.
Nice: Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)
Buddy the elf (Ferrell) is probably the culmination of Ferrell's persona; he's like a little kid, probably more girlish than boyish, taking great joy in simple things and completely misunderstanding grown-up issues. Buddy is a sweetheart, but he's so completely endearing that he doesn't even need to go through any kind of character change; it's his job to impart innocence and goodwill on all those grumpy people around him. (He's even nicer than Santa Claus!)
Naughty and Nice Santas
Naughty: Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (2003)
Bad behavior in Christmas movies has never been so extensive and so hilarious. Willie T. Soak (Thornton) is like an "R" rated version of W.C. Fields. He hates children and animals and loves to drink. But he goes all the way to the limit, seducing fat ladies in the dressing rooms and peeing his Santa pants. The "Badder Santa" version of the movie goes even deeper into his depravity, but Terry Zwigoff's shorter director's cut is even darker.
Nice: Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Gwenn plays the real, honest-to-goodness Kris Kringle in this great holiday classic. While the movie has its lump-in-the-throat scenes, it gets by with a kind of streetwise, New York feel, much grittier than it is gooey. Gwenn's job is to stay ambiguous: is he a nice, crazy old man, or the real Santa? But even if he's crazy, he's still awfully nice to be around.
Naughty and Nice Holiday Horror
Naughty: Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante's grisly black comedy was actually released as a summer blockbuster, with Steven Spielberg's name slathered all over it, like it was another E.T. Nonetheless, the movie, set at Christmastime and filled with snow and colorful scarves as well as wicked creatures, was a huge hit. Except that parents were outraged by one thing: Phoebe Cates delivers a monologue about the Christmastime demise of her father that has the power to scar children for life.
Nice: The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
This Val Lewton-produced "B" movie was supposed to be a sequel to the hit Cat People (1942), and it is, but it has very little actual horror in it. Instead, it's a lovely little story about child psychology and "imaginary friends," in a beautiful, snowy Christmastime setting (it even has carolers). Even some scenes set in a creepy old house are more sad and lonely than they are scary.
Naughty and Nice Bob Clark
Naughty: Black Christmas (1974)
Four years before Halloween, Bob Clark's Black Christmas was arguably the first real slasher film. Set in a sorority house just before Christmas break, it makes superb use of the dark, snowy night, offset by colorful lights. The big house offers plenty of hiding places for the killer, who also likes to make obscene phone calls. We also get the lovely Olivia Hussey, the hilariously bitchy, drunken Margot Kidder, and a mind-blowing ending. (Avoid the 2006 remake.)
Nice: A Christmas Story (1983)
Inexplicably, less than ten years after the horrific Black Christmas, Clark made this enduring, funny, family classic (even stranger, he made it the same year as Porky's II: The Next Day). A closer look at the shopping mall sequence, however, reveals that Clark did not quite get all the Christmas horror out of his system. A Christmas Story was not an immediate hit, but rather picked up steam over the years as it ran on cable. Now it's an undisputed classic.
Naughty and Nice Christmas Cult Films
Naughty: Female Trouble (1974)
John Waters' 1974 cult classic starts off at Christmastime. Dawn Davenport (Divine) wakes and opens her presents beneath the brightly-colored tree. But when she fails to get her coveted Cha-Cha Heels, there's trouble. "I hate you and I hate Christmas!" she screeches, before embarking on a life of crime, depravity, and debauchery. Waters never did get Christmas out of his system: in 2004, he released the album, "A John Waters Christmas," a compilation of all the weirdest, most annoying tracks imaginable.
Nice: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
This 1964 movie has become a cult classic by virtue of the fact that it's so hideously bad, but thankfully, it's the so-bad-it's-good kind. It starts off with the song "Hooray for Santy Claus," which, if you ever hear it, you will never get it out of your head. And Santa doesn't even really "conquer" the Martians; rather, he kindly brings them their own version of Christmas on Mars, even after they have rudely kidnapped him. A young Pia Zadora stars as "Girmar," the very clever shortening of "Girl Martian."
Naughty and Nice Holiday Indulging and Partaking
Naughty: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)
This terrific new holiday classic opens with Kumar visiting Santa at the mall, whisking him away to the parking lot, buying some pot, stuffing it into Santa's pipe, and blowing 3D smoke clouds at the camera. Out searching for a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, the reunited friends just keep getting deeper into trouble, and the depravity just gets deeper as well. It may not be good clean fun, but it's definitely fun!
Nice: The Thin Man (1934)
Based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, this murder mystery takes place over the holidays, with a stopover on Christmas morning for Nick Charles (William Powell) and Norah (Myrna Loy) to open their presents. (Even Asta the dog gets something.) But on Christmas and throughout, Nick is almost constantly drinking, preferably martinis, but really, whatever he can get his hands on. Nonetheless, he's one of those warm, funny drunks, rather than a mean one, and his detecting skills are always at their peak.
Naughty and Nice Seasons Beatings
Naughty: Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard is fast becoming a holiday classic of the It's a Wonderful Life magnitude, and essential annual holiday viewing in many homes. Bruce Willis spends his holiday running around a high-rise, knocking off terrorists. It's great, but not exactly festive. Rather than "God bless us, everyone," it's "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf-----." His Christmas card reads: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho." The less-loved sequel Die Hard 2 also takes place during the holidays.
Nice: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Chevy Chase isn't exactly an action hero like Bruce Willis, and here he's facing visiting relatives rather than terrorists, but he takes just as many lumps. He gets attacked by a squirrel, crashes a high-speed toboggan, nearly gets electrocuted, is nearly smashed by an 18-wheeler, crashes through the attic, gets raided by a SWAT team, and eats a dry turkey. But he remains cheerful throughout, and especially melts when he watches his old Christmas home movies.
Naughty and Nice Classics
Naughty: Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951)
Ebenezer Scrooge is the ultimate Christmas meanie; he's so mean it takes four ghosts to set him right again. There have been perhaps dozens of Scrooges in the history of TV and movies, but the English actor Alastair Sim (1900-1976) is probably the preferred specimen, starring in Brian Desmond Hurst's 1951 film (entitled Scrooge in England and A Christmas Carol in the U.S.). Sim is perfectly scowly and spindly, and looks just as if Dickens had imagined him to life.
Nice: George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
The ultimate Christmas nice guy? James Stewart, of course. If there was a drinking game which involved George Bailey's good deeds in this movie, no one would ever make it through the movie sober. Even when George loses faith in humanity for a brief period, he's never totally lost; this is the ultimate dream movie in which we can believe that good deeds are indeed unpunished. No one but Stewart could have played the range and depths of emotion that George required.