Christmas is a time of giving. Warm thoughts of parties with friends, family and loved ones float through the mind. But for movies (and real life) the truth is that without a villain (or at least a gaggle of relatives with irritating habits) we would never know just how joyful the season can be at times.
Fortunately, Hollywood understands that. Taking a cue from Charles Dickens who figured it out decades before the movie industry was born, films have provided us with many yuletide bad guys, some misguided and other truly evil. Most of these villains, to tie this to a financial theme, are motivated by greed, some just because they hate Christmas.
Here are AdvisorOne’s Top 10 Christmas Movie Villains:
10. The Martians: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964)
We couldn’t resist this Santa meets sci-fi flick. The Martians weren’t really evil, they just wanted the best for their kids. And who better than Earth’s Santa to provide just that?
Fortunately, Santa, played by John Call, prevails and a Martian Santa takes his place on the Red Planet allowing Earth’s children to get the jolly fat man back in time for Christmas.
A bonus for movie nerds is the adorable toddler Girmar played by Pia Zadora, who grew up to be a D-List screen sex icon and winner of back-to-back Razzie awards in the 1980s for worst actress (just in case you wanted to know).
9. Hans Gruber: “Die Hard” (1988)
Not strictly a Christmas movie, this action pic, though, is set during a Christmas office party in a gleaming new high-rise. Alan Rickman plays the villain Hans Gruber bent on pulling off a mega robbery. What he doesn’t count on is Bruce Willis stopping at nothing to save his estranged wife.
There’s no Santa in the film, but there is a scene where Willis' character, in the spirit of the season, delivers to Gruber a dead villian dressed with a red Christmas hat and note pinned to him that reads: "Ho. Ho Ho." Oh, and there are plenty of bullets, explosions and flying glass--in the spirit of the season. And unlike many holiday films there’s no redemption for Gruber, only justice. The holiday and the loot are saved.
8. Marv & Harry: “Home Alone” (1990)
When 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left alone during the holidays, robbers played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern see their plans to pilfer the house go awry.
Spoiler Alert! The Christmas Eve shenanigans end with the robbers foiled and Kevin’s reconciliation with his family.
7. Santa: “Bad Santa” (2003)
Billy Bob Thronton takes the title role and does a star turn in this dark tale of a mall Santa who uses the holiday to ransack department stores--every year.
Complications ensue (don’t they always in holiday movies?) and Bad Santa learns the lesson of the season. But unlike most yuletide fare made for the silver screen, this one does not lay the sugar on too thick.
6. Frank Cross: “Scrooged” (1988)
Maybe this film should be lumped in with the “Christmas Carol” entry, but Bill Murray’s comic riff on the classic tale deserves its own spot.
Murray plays a cynical, mean-spirited TV exec who gets a rude awakening when the TV version of Dickens’ story visits him in real life. The modernization works well and Murray carries off the Humbug and his awakening to the spirit of the season with aplomb.
5. Arthur Shaw: “Tower Heist” (2011)
Alan Alda tried his hand at the holiday Grinch role in this year’s “Tower Heist.” He plays a sort of Bernie Madoff knockoff who swindles his employees out of their pensions.
Ben Affleck and Eddie Murphy lead a band of misfits who, against a backdrop of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, try to set things right in time for everyone to enjoy the holiday season. Well, everyone but Arthur Shaw, of course.
4. District Attorney Thomas Mara: “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
Is any Christmas complete without at least one viewing of “Miracle on 34th Street?” There are many memorable scenes, from Santa directing Macy’s customers to arch-rival Gimbel’s for the right gift, to the U.S. Post Office delivering sacks of letters to prove the man on trial is truly St. Nick. (How times change! Would anyone take the Post Office’s word as gospel these days?)
But that courtroom scene would never have happened without the zealous DA, played by Jerome Cowan, trying prove the character played by Edmund Gwenn was insane. The villain comes to his senses with the help of his political boss and drops the case.
3. Henry F. Potter: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic draws sharp reactions from moviegoers. Some can watch it over and over (and for a time in the 1980s it seemed every TV station managed to show it at least once in December), while others find it treacly.
Still, no one can deny the strong performance of Jimmy Stewart, who moved away from his pre-war persona into darker roles. And his George Bailey needed a villain to play off, a role filled wonderfully by Lionel Barrymore as the mean banker Henry F. Potter. Potter doesn’t get what he wants, but neither is he changed. A twist on the Scrooge story.
2. The Grinch: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)
To some, Dr. Seuss' classic character could be the top film villain or at least tied with the top guy.
Known to children for decades through the book and animated TV special, Jim Carrey brought the story to the big screen in a loud and somewhat annoying version in 2000.
Fortunately, as in all holiday movies, order is restored and the Grinch doesn't steal Christmas and happiness reigns throughout Whoville.
1. Scrooge: “A Christmas Carol” (1951)
Without Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” there just might not be the plethora of yuletide villains, including the Grinch, that abound at this time of year. The 1843 novel has spawned several movies over the years, too.
Alistair Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge is considered by many as the definitive characterization. Others, including Jim Carrey (the only actor to be mentioned twice on our list) in 2009 as an animated Scrooge, Reginald Owen in 1938 and Albert Finney in 1970 have offered their own take on the role. And let’s not forget the TV version starring Mr. Magoo.
So, God bless us, everyone!
Top 10 lists from AdvisorOne: