15 Hard-Knock Facts About Annie

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Little Orphan Annie has been a part of American pop culture for nearly a century now—first as a comic strip which made its debut in the summer of 1924, then as a popular radio show in the 1930s, which spun off into a couple of film productions later in that decade and a hit Broadway musical in 1977. Though the musical version has been adapted to the big-screen a few times over the years, most recently in 2014, the 1982 version—starring Aileen Quinn as the titular orphan—is the best known big-screen version. On the 35th anniversary of its release, here are some things you might not have known about Annie.

1. AT THE TIME, IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MUSICAL EVER MADE.

Though the final budget varies from source to source, most agree that it cost about $40 million to produce Annie, with a large part of that budget (about $9.5 million) spent on buying the rights to the popular 1977 Broadway play the film was based on. There were also the not insubstantial costs of advertising the film and producing prints, which, according to a 1982 edition of the Los Angeles Hollywood Examiner, were around $9 million. Unfortunately, the movie’s revenue didn’t even come close to recouping its expenses.

2. THE CREATOR OF THE ANNIE MUSICAL HATED THE MOVIE.

Getty Images

Martin Charnin, conceiver, director, and lyricist of the Broadway hit, had nothing good to say about what producer Ray Stark and director John Huston did to his play. When he sold the rights, he relinquished all creative control. The result, Charnin told the Hartford Courant, was this: “Warbucks, played by Albert Finney, 'was an Englishman who screamed.' Hannigan, played by Carol Burnett, was 'a man-crazy drunk.' And Annie was 'cute-ed up.' Worse, the emotional relationship between Annie and Warbucks was distorted. They even downplayed the hit song "Tomorrow'' because 'Stark thought it was corny.'"

3. JOHN HUSTON WAS HIRED TO DIRECT BECAUSE OF HIS SIMILARITIES TO DADDY WARBUCKS.

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If you wanted darkness, grit, and intrigue in your film, you got John Huston to direct it. The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Beat the Devil, ... Annie? Huston was an odd choice, but producer Stark insisted. To Stark, the grizzled, then-76-year-old director was the embodiment of Daddy Warbucks, the gruff billionaire who shouts, “I love money, I love capitalism! I do not and will not ever love children!” (Of course there is also the rumor that Huston only agreed to do such a far-flung project because he was desperate for money.)

4. ALBERT FINNEY WAS HARDLY THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY DADDY WARBUCKS.

While Bette Midler was the first choice to play Miss Hannigan (a role that went to Carol Burnett), there were many actors ahead of Albert Finney on the Daddy Warbucks lineup. Finney had Hollywood experience, but the stage was more his realm. Reportedly, Sean Connery was approached, but didn’t want to appear bald. Even Cary Grant, who would have been in his late 70s at the time and hadn’t made a movie since 1966, was asked.

5. “EASY STREET" WAS ORIGINALLY A HUGE, OUTDOOR NUMBER.

The first incarnation of the show-stopping “Easy Street” was literally performed in a street, with the three enthralling villains of the film—Miss Hannigan (Burnett), Rooster (Tim Curry), and Lily (Bernadette Peters), displaying their joyous greed against a backdrop of dozens of dancing street vendors. After it was shot, Huston decided it wasn’t intimate enough and, more importantly, the setting distracted from the three enormous personalities at the center of it. Burnett, Curry, and Peters were more interesting to watch just by themselves than in a whole studio full of performers. (You can see some grainy bits from the original version here.)

6. THE RE-SHOOT OF "EASY STREET" WAS MILDLY COMPLICATED BY BURNETT'S CHIN SURGERY.

After primary shooting, Carol Burnett underwent surgery to correct her overbite and align her jaw. When she was called back to re-shoot “Easy Street,” she had a new face.  As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, she told her director about her concerns. "Mr. Huston," she remembered saying, "Two months ago, when I went into the closet, I didn't have a chin."

"Dear," he responded, "just come out looking determined."

7. NEW JERSEY'S GOVERNOR SIGNED A LAW TO ALLOW CHILDREN IN THE CAST TO WORK AT NIGHT.

Annie’s climactic scene was partly shot on the Passaic River’s NX railroad drawbridge, which had been abandoned in the raised position in 1977. The scene called for Annie to climb the bridge like a ladder with Rooster following in a murderous rage. All of this took place in the dead of night, and New Jersey's child labor laws prohibited children employed in making films from working after 11:30 p.m. and before 7 a.m. More night hours would be needed to complete the shoot, and the state government was accommodating, with Governor Brendan Byrne helicoptering to the set to sign a bill amending the law, which now allows the Commissioner of Education “the authority to amend the hours of the day during which a minor may work but not the total hours.”

8. THERE WERE AROUND 500 DIFFERENT PRODUCT TIE-INS FOR THE FILM.

Annie’s merchandising began three years before the film was released. Producer Ray Stark knew that the whole world was anticipating his movie, and he intended to use that interest toward a licensing boom. Tie-ins included contracts with Crayola, Random House, Marriott hotels, Sears Roebuck & Co., Knickerbocker Toys, Procter & Gamble, and Ken-L-Ration dog food. The products would include umbrellas, wigs, lunch boxes, dog accessories, a Parker Brothers board game, a line of Marvel Comics, Annie ice cream, Annie cookies, Annie designer jeans, and hundreds more.

9. AROUND 8000 GIRLS AUDITIONED TO PLAY ANNIE.

Two years before the film version, Aileen Quinn was in the Broadway production of Annie. She was a “swing orphan,” meaning she was trained to play any of the orphans except Annie (who, at the start of Quinn’s tenure, was Sarah Jessica Parker). Auditions for the film began in 1980 and took an entire year.

The casting director had a clever way to speed the process along, according to PBS's “Lights, Camera, Annie!” Annie hopefuls lined up and each girl sang a part of “Tomorrow,” with the next girl picking up where the last left one off. Quinn was called back eight times until the production team was totally convinced she was the perfect combination of grit and sweetness. “I was completely in shock," Quinn remembered. "I didn’t believe it until the casting agent showed me the production schedule, and I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s when I believed it!"

10. FINNEY HAD LITTLE EXPERIENCE WITH SONG AND DANCE.

Finney was a trained Shakespearean stage actor and widely regarded for his dramatic roles. He’d only ever sang and danced once before in a performance, in the 1970 musical Scrooge. As a crotchety Scrooge, his singing and dancing came out more like cleverly inflected growls and splay-footed leaps. Annie didn’t require him to become Baryshnikov with the voice of Pavarotti, but it did call for ballad singing and a tap dance routine.

"One of my favorite memories of him is [Albert] learning to really sing for the first time," Quinn said. "He did that beautiful version of 'Maybe' ... As he was taking singing lessons on the set, I can remember him with a cigar out of his mouth and going 'la la la la la la la,' pause, 'la la la la la la la.'" This, plus Finney’s habit of putting bottle caps under his loafers to practice his tap routine, thoroughly charmed the 10-year-old Quinn. "He was, like, in it to win it ... so adorable."

11. THE WARBUCKS MANSION WAS A REAL HOUSE, BUT ONLY BRIEFLY.

It was hard to find the right place for Oliver Warbucks to call home. Many of the grandest homes of the Gilded Age had been turned into museums, and the others had been overly featured in other movies and on television. Then Huston found Shadow Lawn, a 130-room New Jersey palace built in 1927 for Hubert Templeton Parson, the then-president of Woolworths. It was designed by Horace Trumbauer and his assistant Julian Abele, considered by some to be the first African American architect in America.

Within 10 years, Parson went broke and his home was appropriated by the city. After that, according to The New York Times, it served as a military academy, a military hospital, and a school for girls, but never again as a private home. In the 1950s, Monmouth College bought the mansion and its 108 acres, and it remains a part of the school's campus today.

12. AILEEN QUINN USED TO TEACH AT THE UNIVERSITY THAT OWNS THE “WARBUCKS” MANSION.

Years after filming her performance in Annie, Quinn returned to the scence of her childhood stardom when she began teaching at Monmouth University. According to a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

"A couple years before I started teaching, I went there for a big fundraiser to help them raise money for education. So I went back for the first time and actually got very emotional. It’s that staircase that does it. After I gave my speech they had me go up the stairs and I sang “Tomorrow." That was so surreal. I was walking down that staircase again, and even though they had tables set up for the gala, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my god, that’s where I karate chopped and that’s where I was on his shoulders.” I actually was flashing back, and that got our wheels spinning: this is an obvious match. There were some conversations afterwards and they asked if I would be interested in teaching, and I said I would actually love that. Next thing I knew, I was teaching a theater course. 

13. THE "ORIGINAL" ANNIE MOVIE WAS NOT THE FIRST BIG-SCREEN INCARNATION OF THE LITTLE ORPHAN.

As even the most casual fan of A Christmas Story knows, Annie was a radio program before it was a movie (and she wanted you to drink your Ovaltine). But that wasn’t even close to the beginning of America’s relationship with the sassy Little Orphan Annie. The original Annie as we know her appeared in a comic strip started in 1924 by Harold Gray. It was going to be “Little Orphan Otto,” but a friend convinced Gray to change it based on James Whitcomb Riley’s even older 1885 poem “Little Orphant Annie,” which in turn was based on a real orphan child living with the Riley family, Mary Alice Smith.

The comic strip ran for decades and limped along for about 40 more years after Gray’s death. Annie of the comics was Nancy Drew crossed with Dick Tracy; she spent a lot of her time fighting Nazis and uncovering communist plots. And those round, empty eye sockets? Those were on purpose, according to Gray. “The blank eyeballs served to enhance reader involvement with the strip: not seeing what is going on in the eyes of the characters, readers could impose their own fears and concerns into the narrative.”

In the 1930s, two Annie adventure movies were made. The Broadway play released in 1977 was the most successful incarnation of Annie since her days of being shot at by gangsters. It was followed by the 1982 movie, a made-for-television remake in 1999, and a 2014 reboot.

14. 10-YEAR-OLD AILEEN QUINN WON BOTH A RAZZIE AND A BEST YOUNG ARTIST FILM AWARD FOR HER PERFORMANCE.

It is indicative of how puzzled people were with Annie that they couldn’t decide if its tiny star was a prodigy or a freckle-faced misery. She was awarded the Razzie for Worst Actress in a lead role, but took home a Best Young Artist Award, too. She also received a Golden Globe nomination.

15. TIM CURRY SIGNED ON FOR THE PART OF ROOSTER BECAUSE MUSICALS WERE SOME OF THE ONLY MOVIES HE WAS ALLOWED TO WATCH GROWING UP.

Tim Curry was the son of a Royal Navy Chaplain and a school secretary. He described his childhood as “strict,” and that fact might have had an effect on his career choices. During this unedited interview, a very bored, jet-lagged looking young Curry describes his desire to be in Annie“Long time ambition really, to do a Hollywood musical. [They] were one of the movies I was allowed to see. I had a very strict childhood, but Hollywood musicals were all right.” But wait, if you want to see a tiny flash of the man who brought Pennywise, Frank-n-Furter, and Darkness to life, skip to 3:30, where he describes his character, Rooster.

The 36 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events
The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events

There’s a difference between a Christmas movie and a movie that happens to be set at Christmastime. One evokes the spirit of the holiday—the atmosphere, the charity, the awkward family meals—while the other shows snow falling and the occasional Santa hat to set the mood. This key difference is why the debate surrounding Die Hard being “a Christmas movie” is always so heated. Is it solely a matter of the calendar or does a true Christmas movie need to reflect the soul of the season?

It’s also a genre that’s oversaturated with new, harmless movies every year seeking to thaw icy hearts and let them grow three sizes after a tub of popcorn. Which makes the enduring legacies of the very best Christmas movies that much more impressive.

We all have our own lineup of movies, old and more recent, that instantly leaps to mind when you think of Christmas. Movies that you watch on repeat without fail this time of year. Movies that have achieved Christmas immortality. Here are some of the best movies that, in our opinion, capture the heart of Christmas (listed in alphabetical order, as we love them all too much to play total favorites).

1. The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in 'The Apartment' (1960)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Shut up and deal, everyone. A sloppy Christmas party is the catalyst of this legendary dramatic comedy, featuring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon as office works who would fall in love if they could just get their lives together. Maybe the most melancholic of the holiday romps, few films capture both the loneliness of the holidays and the life-saving power of human connection as well.

2. Babes In Toyland (1961)

There were more than a few adaptations of Victor Herbert’s operetta before this one, but the Disneyfication of the fairy tale mash-up created a Technicolor jolt of Christmas adventure. Mouseketeer Annette Funicello shines as the secret heir to a fortune, but the movie’s best weapon is Ed Wynn as the Toymaker, pouring pure delight on everything he touches. (The movie is currently streaming on Disney+.)

3. The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Nia Long, Terrence Howard, and Melissa De Sousa in The Best Man Holiday (2013)
Michael Gibson - © 2013 - Universal Pictures

Just as The Hangover II is just The Hangover but in Thailand, and the sadly never-filmed Beetlejuice 2: Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian would have been Beetlejuice but in Hawaii, The Best Man Holiday takes the characters we loved hanging out with from the first film and puts them all together for Christmas. It’s got every emotion under the sun, including a lot of laughs and a lip sync dance number to “Can You Stand the Rain,” and the rest of the soundtrack is smart enough to include a Christmas tune from Mary J. Blige. It’s also further proof that Terrence Howard should be added to movies if only just to spout gruff one-liners, throw cell phones, and roll out.

4. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This may be the only romantic comedy where a handsome young man helps a beautiful woman stay with her slightly cranky husband. Of course, Cary Grant is actually a handsome young angel whose mission is to help a Bishop (David Niven) in the midst of raising money for a new cathedral. Sometimes you pray for help and God sends the hottest actor in Hollywood to take your wife ice skating in order to remind you that kindness isn’t about funding a fancy new building.

5. Carol (2015)

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol (2015)
WILSON WEBB / © 2015 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Todd Haynes’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s romance takes some dark, personal turns while still reveling in Christmas cheer. In it, Cate Blanchett plays Carol, a woman who falls for the store clerk (Rooney Mara) who advises her to buy a train set for her daughter’s Christmas present. The intensity of their budding romance is set against Carol’s difficult divorce proceedings, creating a whirlwind story filmed with the lushness of a holiday department store display.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A still from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The shortest of the movies on this list, Charles M. Schulz’s holiday special left an indelible mark on pop culture in less than half an hour. The animated wonder simultaneously gave us the best Christmas monologue about the crappiest tree and a jazzy Christmas soundtrack courtesy of Vince Guaraldi.

7. Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Warner Home Video

Elizabeth Lane lives an ideal WWII-era life of domestic bliss on a picturesque farm with an adoring husband, sweet baby, and a host of pleasing recipes she shares with her magazine readers. Unfortunately, that’s the lie she’s living in order to keep her job as a writer. Her reality is as a single, city-dweller which is all well and good until her boss suggests she host a war hero for Christmas at the totally real and not-at-all made up Connecticut farm she’s always writing about. Cue the mad scramble. Barbara Stanwyck is fantastically charming as Lane, double life and all, and the holiday setting allows her to both search for love and discover the power of being herself.

8. A Christmas Story (1983)

A still from 'A Christmas Story' (1983)
Warner Home Video

There’s a reason TBS plays this on a loop for a full 24 hours heading into the big day. Endlessly quotable, the youthful memoir is stacked with iconic moments involving tongues on flagpoles, risqué leg lamps, a sadistic Santa, and a super safe BB gun. Go ahead and shout out all your favorite lines right now. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

9. The Christmas Toy (1986)

Long before Buzz and Woody, Jim Henson produced a movie about an overconfident toy tiger who puts a playroom full of toys at risk because he can’t handle being supplanted by a new favorite toy. They all come to life when people aren’t around, and flop down when the playroom door opens, but they get frozen forever if a human touches them out of their original place. It’s a funny, imaginative gem, and I wore out the VHS when I was a kid.

10. Christmas Vacation (1989)


Warner Home Video

The blessing! More outright embarrassing and less sardonic than A Christmas Story, the Griswold family’s suburban misadventures lovingly devolve into the kind of chaos that requires a SWAT team. If you’re hosting your whole family, a flaming, flying set of plastic reindeer may just be the best symbol for the season. Fun fact: Mae Questel (who stole scenes as Aunt Bethany) sounds familiar because she was the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.

11. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Yup, it’s on the list. Not merely set during Christmastime, John McClane’s harrowing rescue of his wife’s office mates is a bit like an action version of Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts off cranky and hateful of the season but remembers the true value of love and kindness after being visited by multiple people with guns who teach him to share what he has with others and give selflessly to those in need.

12. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Johnny Depp stars in 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The first film in Tim Burton’s Christmas Trilogy, this Gothic love story set in the artificial snow challenges a suburban wonderland when an unfinished Frankenstein’s monster descends from the castle at the top of the hill. Another assault on commercialism, Edward Scissorhands is the misunderstood, gentle creature thrust into a harsh world of neighborly envy and hormonal bullying. Burton followed it up by subverting Christmas with Batman Returns and celebrating more misunderstood holiday creatures by writing and producing The Nightmare Before Christmas.

13. Elf (2003)


Warner Home Video

There is no tamping down Buddy the Elf’s enthusiasm. Like a retelling of Big with yellow tights and a green, pointy hat, Will Ferrell navigates the big city world of cynics to help them locate their inner child and believe in Christmas again. The main gag is how ridiculous Ferrell is as a giant elf, but the movie turns to magic because of its refusal to be even slightly mean-spirited. It’s like taking a big bite out of spaghetti topped with M&Ms, marshmallows, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup.

14. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

A still from 'Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas' (1977)
The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events

It’s “The Gift of the Magi” with singing river otters. That’s an automatic win on the adorability scale, but Jim Henson’s tale of family togetherness glides by on sheer sweetness and joy, revealing that you don’t have to have expensive equipment (or even a good band name) to create beautiful harmonies.

15. Frosty The Snowman (1969)

The tip top of children’s Christmas movies is dominated by Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and Rankin/Bass, who stepped away from stop-motion animation for this story based on the wildly popular holiday tune. It’s wondrous, but it’s also more harrowing than you remember. As soon as Frosty is given life, he’s aware of his own melting mortality, and the entire plot of the story is about figuring out how he can survive. It’s also impressive for having a mediocre children’s party magician as the villain.

16. The Holiday (2006)

Cameron Diaz and Jude Law star in 'The Holiday' (2006)
Columbia Pictures

The purity and heart are what make Nancy Meyers’s Christmas-set house-swapping romantic comedy an annual must-watch. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet’s characters trade cities for the winter and both discover that new Google Map directions are exactly what they need to put them in the path of the right guy. It sticks to the formula, leaving its stars to swoon, act goofy, and proposition Jude Law for sex.

17. Home Alone (1990)


20th Century Fox

John Hughes must have suffered some kind of vacation-based trauma, because this and Christmas Vacation both focus on the hilarious worsts of time away from the office. For the Griswolds it’s living beyond their means and needing more lights. For Kevin McCallister, it’s about neglect that should demand a call to Child Protective Services. The lesson of every elementary schooler’s dream of independence is that it’s ok to order your own cheese pizza—as long as you also buy more toothpaste and fight off violent robbers. And if you love seeing Home Alone on this list but bristle at Die Hard’s inclusion, think twice, because they’re essentially the same movie.

18. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Why they keep trying to improve on perfection is beyond comprehension. Keep Jim Carrey. Keep Benedict Cumberbatch. Give me Chuck Jones’s animation team featuring Boris Karloff and the legendary voice talent June Foray. It’s a madcap comic masterpiece with a message of kindness served up piping hot next to the roast beast. Sadly its sequel (which was written as a prequel), Halloween is Grinch Night, never quite caught on.

19. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)


Paramount Pictures

Like most of you, I often fantasize about what It’s a Wonderful Life would be like starring The Grinch. I mean, who’s The Grinch’s guardian angel? Obviously, Frank Capra’s classic tale of redemption is in the eternal top five of Christmas films thanks to Jimmy Stewart’s mournfully enthusiastic performance and its overall message that one life matters. It, more than just about any other movie, has come to represent Christmastime itself—a ubiquitous presence on TV screens everywhere throughout December.

20. Jingle All The Way (1996)


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Tons of Christmas movies share the true meaning of the holiday with otherwise jaded individuals, but few punish their protagonists so thoroughly as this tale of a father who waits until the last minute to get his son the hottest toy of the year. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mattress-selling Howard Langston goes through consumerism hell to try to snag an elusive Turbo-Man doll. He fights with police, almost blows up, and has to dress up in spandex all over a piece of molded plastic. It should be required viewing on December 1 for every parent.

21. Joyeux Noel (2005)

Daniel Brühl and Gary Lewis in Joyeux Noël (2005)
Nord-Ouest Production, Senator Film Produktion, Joyeux Noel Ltd., Artemis Productions, MediaPro Pictures, TF1 Films Product

A prestigious epic chronicling the famous Christmas truce of 1914, wherein German, French, and British soldiers crossed into the No Man’s Land to stay the fighting and exchange gifts. The film is a sentimental melodrama that uses the perspectives of several different characters (both Allied, Central Powers, and civilian) to celebrate peace’s possible existence even in the hellish, frozen waste of war.

22. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Showcasing Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell crooning “Silver Bells” while strolling down a New York City street, this gem is the rare Christmas movie with a twist ending. It’s also the rare Christmas movie where a con artist abuses our natural affinity for charity during the season until he realizes that doing honest, good work is far more fulfilling. Who knew all you needed to set a bunch of misdemeanoring baddies straight is to stuff them in Santa suits and give them a bucket?

23. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens in The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Kerry Brown - © Garlands Films DAC

Surprisingly deft and sweet, Scrooge meets his maker in this film about Charles Dickens and the apparent parallels of personality he shared with one of his most famous characters. Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens really shines as Dickens, slapping on a charming presence even in the midst of an existential breakdown and every writer’s worse nightmare: a deadline. The strangest element is Christopher Plummer as Scrooge in direct communication with his author, but like a ghost of Christmas past, it works to stunning effect. The movie, the man, and the manuscript all hinge on whether Dickens can accept that people can change.

24. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
MGM

Judy Garland’s musical extravaganza ticks all kinds of holiday boxes. A great Halloween movie. A great World’s Fair movie (why isn’t this a subgenre?). An excellent Christmas movie. It chronicles a wealthy family’s eventful season as two daughters vie for romance with their respective suitors and burst into song at every opportunity. We have it to thank for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but no snowman is safe during the film.

25. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Not just one of the best Christmas movies, but one of the very best films of its release year, Miracle on 34th Street soars with a charismatic performance from Maureen O’Hara and precocious side eye from a young Natalie Wood. Is Santa real? And is he the old gentleman you helped get a job at the department store? Cynicism is incinerated by this infectiously warm movie—one of the only films in history where the US Postal Service acts as Deus Ex Machina.

26. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

A scene from The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Walt Disney Studios

Undoubtedly controversial, everyone has their personal favorite version of Charles Dickens’s important treatise on humanity and self-inflicted loneliness. The 175-year-old story has been adapted more than 100 times counting movies, TV, radio, and graphic novels. Maybe 1951’s Scrooge is your favorite, maybe you like George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart best. The Muppets and Michael Caine, though, brought a fresh, playful flavor that allowed a rat to co-narrate.

27. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What’s this? What’s this? It’s Henry Selick’s perfect stop-motion celebration of Christmas cheer through a Gothic lens. With so many Christmas movies, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is defiantly different. Mostly because it has werewolves, a singing sack filled with bugs, and a ghost dog who saves the day. So many movies focus on Christmas getting canceled because Santa gets detained, so it’s nice to see a movie about the ghouls who detain him.

28. Period Of Adjustment (1962)

Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton in Period of Adjustment (1962)
Warner Home Video

Jane Fonda sporting a molasses-thick Southern accent stars with Jim Hutton as two newlyweds who fight about almost everything. The movie is about “that agonizing pause between the honeymoon and the marriage,” but it also takes its holiday setting to showcase the pause that Christmas often offers to reflect and talk and evolve. Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, the quarreling lovers swap grievances with another couple while drinking heavily and absorbing fully the stress and release of the holiday season.

29. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Onni Tommila in Rare Exports (2010)
Oscilloscope

Do you know the real origin of Santa Claus? If you said, “Giant goat beast buried a mile underground in Lapland,” consider yourself on the Nice List. This Finnish flick starts as a horror film, but evolves into a winter adventure featuring a bunch of naked old men, naughty children stolen from their homes, and a standing-ovation-worthy explanation for how every mall in America gets its own Santa.

30. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The epic story of a misfit caribou who finds purpose because of what makes him unique, this Rankin/Bass tale is the longest continuously aired Christmas special of all time. It’s shown up on screens every year since 1964, thrilling young and young-at-heart viewers alike with vibrant animation, fun songs, and, for some awesome reason, an abominable snowman.

31. The Santa Clause (1994)

Tim Allen and Paige Tamada in The Santa Clause (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures

So many great Christmas movies follow Dickens’s blueprint of transforming someone skeptical into a true believer, and this Tim Allen comedy goes one step further by converting the crank into Kris Kringle. It’s ostensibly an argument against growing up too soon (or at all), and it established the Highlander-esque rule that if Santa dies from falling off your roof, you become Santa.

32. Scrooged (1988)


Paramount Pictures

Another stellar adaptation of Dickens, Richard Donner’s manic spree recasts Scrooge as a power-hungry television president played by a breathless Bill Murray. Beyond its intrinsic entertainment value and Carol Kane’s national treasure status, it also gives us all a break from a season of sentimental stories. It’s also a reminder that we should petition to make “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” a real thing.

33. The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Warner Home Video

Jimmy Stewart is the secret ingredient for a great Christmas movie. He and Margaret Sullavan are naive romantic magic in this movie about two store clerks who despise each other but don’t know they’re secretly falling in love through anonymous letters. If that sounds familiar, it was the basis for the AOL-era You’ve Got Mail, right down to the cafe meeting where Stewart learns that his nemesis is also his love and bugs her with a healthy dose of espresso and dramatic irony as she waits for her real crush.

34. 3 Godfathers (1948)

There aren’t enough Christmas Westerns. Thankfully, John Ford crafted one that replaces the wise men with three cattle rustlers who help a young woman give birth just before she dies. With a promise to keep the baby safe no matter what, and considering the Biblical symbolism of their predicament, they make a harrowing journey across inhospitable land to New Jerusalem. John Wayne brings his John Wayneness to the picture as one of the cattle thieves, but faith even in the face of dehydration is the real star.

35. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places (1983)
Paramount Home Video

One of the best comedies ever made is also one of the best Christmas films—one that is shot through with generosity while thumbing its nose at greed. It features two crusty stockbroker brothers who play God with the lives of a young, well-heeled gentleman and a poor hustler when they make a bet to see if nature wins out over nurture. They effectively switch their lives (tacitly proving that having money is a big help in making more money) but don’t count on their prince and pauper teaming up to fight back. The narcissistic brokers get what they earn, but you have to wait until their cameo appearance in 1988's Coming to America to see them back on top.

36. White Christmas (1954)

There’s just nothing better than opening those big stage doors to discover the snow you’ve waited months for has finally arrived on Christmas Eve while Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye croon about our days being merry and bright. The songs and dance routines are fantastic, the story is nostalgic and goofy, and the charm is on full blast. Even growing up in a place where it never snowed, this was the ideal.

8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas

A Krampus figure in Heimstetten, Germany
A Krampus figure in Heimstetten, Germany
FooTToo/iStock via Getty Images

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. Krampus

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on the region and what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. In recent years, the tradition has spread beyond Europe, and many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. Jólakötturinn

A representation of Jólakötturinn in Iceland
A representation of Jólakötturinn in Iceland
Atli Harðarson, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat; in fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this was mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores. A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. Frau Perchta

A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta circa 1910
A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta from 1910
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. Belsnickel

An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm Museum
An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm Museum
gsheldon/iStock via Getty Images

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. Hans Trapp

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. Père Fouettard

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. The Yule Lads

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls, that is.

8. Grýla

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this list originally ran in 2013.

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