Face-Off: Bad Santa vs. Elf

With December comes all the Christmas spirit you could hope for and then some. Whether you're a fan of the holiday or can't wait for it to be over, the cloying cheer throughout every mall, restaurant, and city street is palpable, accented by nonstop Christmas songs on the radio and the same old movies on TV. Strangely enough, 2003 produced more than one quirky Christmas comedy featuring mall employees working the holiday display. While BAD SANTA and ELF are about as tonally different as two thematically similar movies can be, both films feature the mall at the holidays and plenty of similar character archetypes. Which film shines the brightest, though? Let's find out!
Billy Bob Thornton as Willie. We've seen this character a hundred times before but rarely so purely rotten and pessimistic as Willie. Moreover, putting such a dark persona at the center of a Christmas comedy makes it that much more unsettling. Thornton is perfectly cast as someone who can be simultaneously funny, frightening, human, and just charming enough to get away with it all.
Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. This one's a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have Will Ferrell very loudly being Will Ferrell. If that's not your thing, Buddy's antics can be a bit much to sit through. On the other hand, Buddy's absolute optimism is extremely refreshing. Where most films strive for cool and/or troubled characters, Buddy's unapologetic Christmas cheer and love of all things is heartwarming and even a bit inspirational.
Lauren Graham as Sue
Tony Cox as Marcus
Lauren Tom as Lois
Brett Kelly as The Kid
Cloris Leachman as Grandma
Bernie Mac as Gin
John Ritter as Bob Chipeska
Zooey Deschanel as Jovie
James Caan as Walter
Mary Steenburgen as Emily
Daniel Tay as Michael
Bob Newhart as Papa Elf
Ed Asner as Santa
Faizon Love as Gimbel's Manager
"Want me to fix you some sandwiches?"

"F*ck me, Santa! F*ck me, Santa! F*ck me, Santa!"

"I was thinking I wanted a purple stuffed elephant, not pink. But now I changed my mind. 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."

"You're an emotional f*cking cripple. Your soul is dog shit. Every single f*cking thing about you is ugly."

"I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself. It was like I did something constructive with my life or something, I dunno, like I accomplished something."

"It's Christmas and the kid's gettin' his f*ckin' present."
"I'm a cotton-headed ninnymuggins."

"Have you seen these toilets? They're ginormous!"

"Smiling's my favorite!"
"Make work your favorite. That's your new favorite."


"You sit on a throne of lies! You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa."

"He's an angry elf!"

"You did it! Congratulations! World's best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody! It's great to be here."

"I think you're really beautiful and I feel really warm when I'm around you and my tongue swells up."
Terry Zwigoff does a fine job directing here, but not much stands out as memorable or noteworthy. At times, some of the jokey quick cuts and close ups can feel a bit too 90's. It should be noted that for all its facets, BAD SANTA feels controlled and consistent.
Jon Favreau's overall style and direction is really where this movie shines. Maintaining a bright color palette, employing Rankin-Bass style stop-motion characters, and casting the likes of Newhart, Asner, and Caan all go a long way to giving ELF that timeless, classic feel.
After being betrayed by Marcus, Willie nearly gets himself killed in an attempt to give the kid his present. While the ending itself isn't spectacular, to start with a character as ugly and irredeemable as Willie and believably turn him even part way around is quite a feat.
Buddy and friends spread enough Christmas cheer to make Santa's sleigh go. It's a perfectly lovely ending, and the performances sell it, but it's nothing special for a film that starts off so strong and unique.
IMDB: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% (Audience Score: 75%)
Metacritic: 70 (User Score: 8.6)
IMDB: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (Audience Score: 78%)
Metacritic: 64 (User Score: 8.7)
Given that these are such different movies, it largely comes down to whether you prefer something dark and filthy or something light and ridiculous. That said, ELFs unique style and quotable lead have left it with a bit more of a legacy. Neither film is going anywhere, though, as BAD SANTA 2 is shaping up to hit theaters next year, and ELF has spawned both a Broadway musical as well as an animated NBC special. What say you, internet? Which of these will you be enjoying this season? Do the holidays have you watching irreverent dark comedies or more family friendly fare?

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].



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