Five Christmas Movies With Inadvertently Terrible Messages

'Tis the season to abuse, belittle, and abandon.

by Laura Donovan

It’s no secret that the holiday season produces out trite and sentimental movies each year. Though these films consistently receive terrible reviews, they at least encourage decent values and morals every once in a while. But some Christmas flicks don’t even attempt to include pleasant behavior or examples of non-sociopathic human interaction. We’re not talking about irreverent comedies like Bad Santa that own their flaws, but rather the Christmas movies that frame shallow, greedy, and otherwise unhealthy behavior as acceptable and praiseworthy. As Christmastime nears, don’t use these films as models for your behavior, unless you want to drive everyone to drink even more.  

1. Just Friends, 2005

Just Friends is based on every high-school reject’s dream: move across the country, acquire celebrity status, have a glamorous and successful career, and become “Sexiest Man Alive” Ryan Reynolds. Former fat kid Chris is a high-profile Los Angeles record producer whose December flight to Europe is forced to make an emergency landing in his New Jersey hometown. He bumps into childhood his crush, Jamie, the high-school golden girl who “peaked” senior year and lives with her parents at twenty-eight. You see where this is going: Chris still has feelings for Jamie, but she only responds after he’s lost several hundred pounds and become successful — and the movie seems to imply that this is totally respectable on her part. The beauty of adulthood for ex-dorks is creating a totally kick-ass future, not returning to the past via the crush who messed with your head for years and shot you down in front of all your classmates.

2. Love Actually, 2003

Workaholic Sarah has been in love with her supervisor, Karl, for years, but spends much of her free time tending to her mentally-ill brother, Michael. We cheer for Sarah when she finally hooks up with her hot colleague, but just as their encounter intensifies, Michael cock-blocks her with a desperate phone call. Sarah leaves to help her sibling and it’s implied that this decision sparks the conclusion of her very short-lived relationship with Karl. The audience is expected to believe he’s warranted in taking off, demonstrating how Sarah’s dedication to her needy family member holds her back in life, but how hard would it have been for Karl to say, “It’s cool, let’s do a rain-check?” Unless he really, really hates the mentally ill.

3. Christmas with the Kranks, 2004

Christmas with the Kranks stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as the proud parents of a self-involved only child named Blair. When she leaves her Midwestern hometown to serve in the Peace Corps, Arthur and Nora are so broken up that this will be their first Christmas without their little girl that Allen’s character suggests he and his wife go on a cruise. Their overly-festive neighbors turn on them for running away from Christmas, attacking the Kranks as greedy and selfish, then protesting by chanting Christmas carols outside their window. (Weirdly, this is pretty much what the FBI did at Waco.) This movie basically paints Christmas as a set of fetishized rituals that, when ignored, imperil the well-being of your family and neighborhood.

4. The Holiday, 2006

Hollywood producer Cameron Diaz and journalist Kate Winslet abandon friends and family during the holidays in response to their womanizing boyfriends. After being similarly burned by their respective lovers, Diaz and Winslet sign up for a house-swap program that sends them each across the pond. Now, I have no sympathy for cheaters, but I have almost as little for entitled women who decide to shirk all responsibility because of heartbreak. Amanda leaves her co-workers hanging, and Iris abandons her widowed brother. You have every right to be livid at your unfaithful ex, but please don’t pretend that this excuses neglecting those who do matter.

5. The Family Stone, 2005

Sarah Jessica Parker is a rigid businesswoman who visits her boyfriend’s large family for Christmas. Her boyfriend’s sister had already met SJP, and talks the entire family into attacking her relentlessly. It’s nerve-wracking enough to meet a significant other’s entire clan, so the constant harassment is immature and senseless no matter how odd SJP’s character may be. No one is particularly likable here, but it’s hard to side with people who gang up on an inherently fearful lady during Christmas. And that’s just the warm-up: the rest of the movie focuses on a couple-swap that is just bizarre: what better way to spend the holidays than by trading significant others with family members?

Commentarium (44 Comments)

Dec 19 11 - 1:10am

I wonder which came first, the nation full of shallow, greedy, and self-absorbed people or the movies that celebrate their behavior? Either way, this country is sick to its core and lets its awful movies do its thinking for it. Harmless escapism my ass. America is a slave to its entertainment.

Dec 20 11 - 10:39am
Sal LaManga

I don't know about that but I do know that both of them came before the arrival of smug holier than thou internet jerks.

Dec 20 11 - 2:16pm


Dec 22 11 - 11:17pm
The Profit Muhammad

Allah be praised! We will burn your infidel nation to the ground! Just as soon as we can immigrate over there.

Dec 19 11 - 1:33am

I don't think that the Christmas with the Kranks message was unintentional. I think it was really trying to say "If you don't celebrate Christmas you're a bad person."

Dec 19 11 - 2:14am

It was pretty much the worst movie I've ever seen with "Christmas" in the title. Misleading fucks.

Dec 23 11 - 9:50am
Bill Peschel

Oh, it's even more horrible if you read the John Grisham novel it's based on ("Skipping Christmas"). I wrote a really pissey review about it.

Dec 19 11 - 2:12am

I see the point being made about Love Actually, but I really liked the rest of that movie.

Dec 19 11 - 9:27am

I see the point the author's trying to make about Karl in Love Actually, but I think it was really more about how Sarah was never going to have time for anyone else because her brother was always going to come first--and while his response means he's not a saint, I don't think Karl was a bad person for having the response he did.

Also, as for Holiday, sometimes you just gotta get away. People will survive without you. Besides, no one does any work over the holidays, anyway.

I do wonder why Four Christmases wasn't on this list, though.

Dec 19 11 - 3:53pm

The other problem with Love Actually is the power dynamic in many of the relationships. Ever notice that? The movie is largely about two men who fall in love with their secretaries (or at least kinda want to bone them), and one man who falls in love with his maid. Yes, there are other relationship dynamics at play but the gender role stereotypes are ridiculous. What is this, 1952?

Dec 19 11 - 7:10pm

Well done you, yes it is. Essentially all the men main characters have happy endings and the two females, Linney and Emma Thompson end in despair. It's a horrible, horrible film. Even in the Martin Freeman/Jo Page story, it's all about Freeman's reaction to the date, not hers. It could have been worse. In the deleted scenes its revealed Anne Reid is caring for her lesbian partner played by Francis De La Tour whose dying of an incurable disease.

Dec 20 11 - 4:53am

In Love Actually, this particular scene I viewed more as Sarah both caring for her brother, but also using him as a crutch for her fear of relationships. If I remember right, the "emergency" wasn't that important, and even someone who's significantly mentally ill can be trained to not be dependent on you constantly.

Why had she not asked Karl out before this? Why didn't she even hesitate to search for other options? If I had been in Karl's shoes, I would have been more lenient... but as an omniscient viewer it was apparent to me that the relationship would never work.

Dec 20 11 - 2:19pm

Love Actually was such a piece of shit film. I cannot believe how popular this was. It's up there with Crash (the Scientology guy's film, not the one based on the J. G. Ballard book) in terms of most expensive, awful films I've had the misfortune of seeing.

Dec 20 11 - 2:41pm

Well said. How is it even humanly possible to make a film so horrible that Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Martin Freeman and Rowan Atkinson combined can't save it? A staggering achievement for sure.

There's one actor and one actor alone worth watching in that entire travesty against cinema and good taste--Bill Nighy. His scenes are a hoot. Everything else was an ungodly horrific waste of time.

Dec 19 11 - 2:51am

This is why I like Christmas movies like Bad Santa, that don't pretend to have a good message. (although, even Bad Santa did that in the last 5 minutes of the movie)

Dec 19 11 - 11:17am

I thought the message in the last 5 minutes of Bad Santa was "Shit Happens When You Party Naked."

Dec 19 11 - 3:37am

Umm...I don't agree with your assessment of "Love Actually" at all.

Dec 19 11 - 4:24am

I agree. I had the feeling that maybe Mr. Hot and Laura Linney would get together when he was able to deal with the sick brother thing, and she could distance herself a bit. If I remember correctly, this storyline ended with a meaningful look from across the room, or some such nonsense, so I might be just reading into things.

Dec 19 11 - 2:43pm

I have to concur as well. I'm not a big fan of the movie, but my wife loves it, so I probably end up watching it a couple times a year (truth be told, I actually did enjoy it the first time I. Repeated viewings? Not so much. Take that for what it's worth).

But it's way off point to say this movie has a bad Christmas message because a secondary character decides to not pursue a relationship with Laura Linney (or even worse, he hates the mentally ill?). That's just reading way too much into it. I mean the film has like 10 or 15 interlocking love stories...of course there's going to be some short hand and failure to explore the emotional depths of every character that appears on screen. That's not a bad message, that's just the nature of narratives.

If you want to talk about crappy/lazy Christmas movies, how about every movie that incoporates some message about faith/belief in Santa...but then gives the main characters concrete proof that Santa really exists. That's not faith, that's evidence.

Dec 19 11 - 4:26am

The only decent movie on here is Love Actually (and that one is a quintessential guilty pleasure).

Dec 19 11 - 4:38am

Your article contains grammatical errors and all the movies you mentioned are terrible, year-end, empty, lonely chick movies. I regret wasting the 2 minutes it took me to read this on my iPhone that would have been better spent fucking my girlfriend....or shit, playing Skyrim. Even that would have been a better use of my time.

Dec 19 11 - 9:58am
Aw shit,

we got a badass over here!

Dec 19 11 - 10:55am
Bangsi says

Tyler (if that in fact is your real name)--it is best to refrain from flaming on a writer's grammatical errors until one has mastered commas between independent clauses and the use of the ellipses. Even Strunk (or White) would like us to be polite with one another in regard to the vicissitudes of our shared written word.

Apropos of the article, Bangsi has not seen any of the truly horrid movies listed here, preferring to watch _Die Hard_ (preferably over and over again on TNT, with commercials) to get into the holiday mood.

Dec 19 11 - 6:46pm

BRAVO!!! You sir, deserve an applause!

Dec 19 11 - 7:08pm
Tyler Durden

haha what an unbelievable douche. i can believe the iphone and skyrim (because EVERYONE has those things) but i call bullshit on the girlfriend and the implication that your time is even somewhat valuable.

Dec 20 11 - 12:36pm
Johnny Utah

And if I were going to play the "fuck my girlfriend" card, I would definitely say I spent three minutes reading the article. Two and half, for sure.

Dec 20 11 - 11:27pm

Haha, if you only spend two minutes fucking her then I hope she's fucking someone else. Besides, why the hell if having sex is an option would you go, "Just a minute, let me read this random article I'm going to bitch about on my iPhone that I have to tell everyone I have as if it's so super awesome." Jackass.

Dec 19 11 - 11:04am
Winston El-Crapos

Die Hard is argubly the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

Dec 19 11 - 11:47am

The worst Christmas movie of all-time is "Four Christmases." It's actually the worst movie of all-time, period.

Dec 19 11 - 7:10pm
Tyler Durden

that part where they're playing taboo is actually chuckle worthy

Dec 19 11 - 12:52pm

Some movies on this list don't deserve to be here; not for the reasons given. If you are going to distill a complex story line down to just one narrative, misinterpret it, and label it terrible, then you are grasping at straws.

How 'Four Christmases' is not on here is beyond me. The message of that flick was don't get over yourself, don't forgive your family - people who love you - because they did one tiny little thing that offended/embarrassed you. Because it's all about you. Ignore the fact that your parents are happier than they've ever been before and you're the one who is being a pompous ass and a selfish brat.

Dec 19 11 - 12:53pm

"Just Friends" nicely encapsulates what I hate about so many high-school-love-type movies. (Come on, Duckie 4EVER!)

Dec 19 11 - 1:29pm

I don't see what the problem with The Holiday was. Two women wanted to take a break from problems in their lives. And while I can agree that Diaz's character was annoying, Winslet was rather sweet.

Dec 19 11 - 2:08pm

No mention of The Flintstones Christmas Special or An Ice Age Christmas? They both have animated characters celebrating the birth of Jesus thousands or millions of years too early. Or did they already know about Jesus from The Oracle in The Matrix?

Dec 19 11 - 4:47pm

Yeah the Love Actually analysis was off, as the movie was about all kinds of love, including love for family. The point wasn't Karl, it was that she loved her brother enough to set her own things aside and go take care of him (although there is some codependent behavior on her part)

Dec 19 11 - 5:00pm

Beat me to it!

Dec 19 11 - 4:58pm

We watch 'Love Actually' every year at my house now .... maybe it is a guilty pleasure too. While the relationship failing between Sara and Karl is always sad to watch that is not the message I thought was intended. Granted this is a romantic comedy (the only one I own, in fact) but the directors said they wanted to make a movie about the many kinds of love we experience, which included familial, friendship, unrequited etc.

I never thought the love story for Sara was about her and Karl, it was about Sara and her brother Michael. Taking care of her brother was her priority and it was affecting her personal life throughout the movie. That love prevented her from having an adult relationship and it was an example a different love story we don't really think about. It was sad and it wasn't made to seem ok - it was the choice she made and she did not attempt to rekindle anything with Karl later. Not all the stories in this movie have happy endings. Of course there are absolutely silly perfect endings for a lot of the couples, but Sara's and few others seemed to stay closer to the realm of reality. Again this is just a romantic comedy that we watch to mostly laugh and feel good about. I just don't think that was the take away message from that characters story line.

Dec 19 11 - 5:31pm

I actually enjoyed "The Holiday"...Kate Winslet was charming as hell, especially the scenes between her and Eli Wallach. Also, it's probably the only film I've ever seen with Jude Law where he hasn't come across as a skeevy jerk.

Dec 19 11 - 5:36pm

I haven't seen any of these films, but I have read the novel that "Kranks" was based on. In the book, Arthur has one guilt trip after another laid on him, and Nora can barely handle the heavy requirements for nurturing behavior. Maybe ignoring the overload that Christmas has become imperils one's neighborhood, but participating in it can definitely imperil oneself.

Dec 19 11 - 8:13pm

Yay, I'm going to go rent Die Hard!

Just Friends is one of those movies I don't want to admit having seen, but I still think the author got it all wrong. This movie isn't really about the girl that "messed with your head for years", and I find it strange that the article condemns Jamie for being "just" best friends with the kid nobody else will talk to. It's Ryan Reynolds' character who assumes Jamie will want him now that he's lost all the weight and is successful (initially, she doesn't). Every character except Jamie is a total douchebag (which is fine, as I don't think this is really a "message" movie anyway). Now that I've spent way more time thinking about this movie than anyone ever should...

Dec 20 11 - 10:58am

The Love Actually analysis seemed way off to me. I watch it every year, a total guilty pleasure and I feel it depicts that there is all different kinds of love out there and love manifests in many ways no matter who or how dysfunctional you are. I found the storyline with Karl and Sara sad because it was an opportunity lost.

And I have to say I love The Family Stone and I think the author missed the mark here as well. The message of this movie was most definitely not that they were ganging up on her and a couple swap. The message was twofold, one don't marry or couple up just for the sake of doing it or because it is what your supposed to do, make sure it is the right person and right situation for you. The other is that it was the mother's wish to see all her children, happy, loved and settled before she died. She knew she would not be there for the next Christmas so there is an air of desperation there that came out with some horrible behavior. While they were a little overzealous and mean with trying to make him see that she wasn't right, their mother inheritly knew that SJP's character was not right for that particular son and that her sister was a better match.

Dec 20 11 - 2:42pm

I agree that you should not abandon the people who do matter, but it is not as if Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet flew off with the goal of never returning, so heartbroken that they had to resort to permanently abandoning their former lives and all of the people who were a part of it. What's the harm in taking a fun, short-term vacation because you were screwed over and just need to get away for a bit? Though you need to care for others, you need to care for yourself too. If house-swapping was the activity they decided they needed to engage in to try and find some new happiness, then more power to them; and it made for, in my opinion, quite a cute movie. I don't think The Holiday warrants a slot on this list of Christmas movies with terrible messages.

Dec 20 11 - 7:41pm

It is straight up HILARIOUS how many people rushed to the defense of Love Actually.