When that yuletide feeling grabs you and you’re in the mood for a sleigh-load of holiday cheer, there’s nothing quite like a good Christmas movie. So hang up your stockings, put on your most hideous knitted jumper, and have a great big spoonful Christmas spirit on us as we count down these festive facts about some of our favorite Christmas movies.
44. Humble Beginnings
It’s a Wonderful Life’s origins can be traced back to a Christmas card. Philip Van Doren Stern struggled for years to sell his short story, “The Greatest Gift,” to publishers, and eventually just printed 200 copies of the story and sent them to some of his friends as a Christmas card. Producer David Hempstead ended up getting a hold of it, purchased the rights, and later sold them to Frank Capra’s production company for $10,000.
43. Let it Snow!
Prior to It’s a Wonderful Life, most productions used painted cornflakes as fake snow. This presented an audio problem for Capra, who wanted to record the sound live during the snow scenes; the crunch of the cornflakes underfoot usually rendered this almost impossible. Together with special effects supervisor Russell Shearman, Capra engineered a new kind of artificial snow for the film made up of a mixture of foamite, sugar, and water.
42. It’s a Not-So-Wonderful Reception
Though now quintessential Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was actually kind of a box office bomb on its release. It lost $525,000, and left director Frank Capra struggling to finance his production company’s next film, State of the Union.
41. Communist Propaganda?
The FBI was not a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life. The film is mentioned in a 1947 memo issued by the Bureau as a potential example of Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The memo specifically cites the villainous depiction of a banker (Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter) as a common trick used by Communists.
40. John Candy Was One of a Kind
The late, great John Candy’s role in Home Alone was inspired by his character in John Hughes’ Planes, Trains & Automobiles, which was released three years earlier. He shot all of his scenes over a continuous 23-hour stint on set, and the story about forgetting his son at a funeral home was entirely improvised by him.
39. Not-So-Happy Home
Home Alone director Chris Columbus had storyboarded an entire dream sequence in which the house came to life and started tormenting Kevin, complete with evil toy nutcrackers and the basement furnace chasing him up the stairs on all fours. The sequence was ultimately deemed too expensive and only the evil furnace remained, but remained stationary. It was brought to life with fishing lines and flashlights.
38. Buzz, your girlfriend, Woof!
Columbus thought using an actual girl’s photo for the scene where Kevin recoils at the sight of Buzz’s girlfriend would be a little too mean, so the art director’s son was done up to look like a girl and used instead.
37. Merry F***** Christmas
Not really known for a family-friendly back catalogue, Joe Pesci ended up accidentally dropping the f-bomb a number of times during his Home Alone scenes. Columbus suggested using the word “fridge” instead.
36. From One Classic to Another
Home Alone tips its hat to It’s A Wonderful Life; the family is shown watching it on TV in their Paris hotel room.
35. Almost an Entirely Different Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins
2003’s festively hilarious Will Ferrell vehicle Elf was pretty well ready to go in 1993, with Jim Carrey attached to star. Obviously, that didn’t end up happening.
34. The Four Main Food Groups
Ferrell ended up having trouble getting any sleep while filming Elf due to the immense quantities of sugar he was consuming.
33. Son of a Nutcracker
Unfortunately, despite the incredibly high demand, Ferrell refuses to make a sequel to Elf. He was reportedly offered $29 million to don the tights for round two, but he turned it down. Asked about it again in 2013, he said “I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf.”
32. Another Christmas Story
Peter Billingsley, the former child star who played Ralphie in 1983’s A Christmas Story, has a cameo in Elf as one of the supervisors in Santa’s workshop.
31. A New Era for the Muppets
The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie made after the death of creator Jim Henson. His son, Brian Henson, took his place in the director’s chair for what was his first directorial effort, and Steve Whitmire took over the role of Kermit the Frog.
30. Taking it Seriously
Among The Muppet Christmas Carol’s many joys is the central performance of Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, who never once winks at the camera or displays anything less than utter sincerity in the role. Caine told Henson that he was going to play Scrooge as if he were working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and as if he was not surrounded by muppets.
29. Dancing Difficulties
The shot of Kermit (playing Bob Cratchit) walking and dancing down the street with Robin (playing Tiny Tim) on his shoulders singing “Tis The Season” was very difficult and time-consuming to achieve. It involved blue screen, 10 puppeteers, and a rotating drum under Kermit’s feet covered in fake snow.
28. Miscasting the Muppets
Originally, Scooter was supposed to appear as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Miss Piggy was considered for the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Gonzo for the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, but ultimately, the team opted to use new Muppet creations for the ghosts. Scooter didn’t appear at all, Miss Piggy ended up playing Mrs. Cratchit, and Gonzo (an unlikely candidate) was chosen to portray Charles Dickens.
27. Welcome Back, Bill
Released in 1988, Scrooged was Bill Murray’s first major role following a self-imposed four-year hiatus from Hollywood.
Carol Kane, who played the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged, grabbed Murray’s lip so hard that she actually injured him, which stalled filming for several days.
25. A Family Affair
All three of Bill Murray’s brothers (John, Joel, and Brian Doyle-Murray) appear in Scrooged at some point.
24. Operation Transformation
Transforming Tim Allen into Mr. Claus for 1994’s The Santa Clause took three hours.
23. Triple Threat
1994 was a good year to be Tim Allen. For one week during The Santa Clause‘s box office run, Allen had the number one movie, the number one rated TV show (Home Improvement) and the number one book on the New York Times bestsellers list (Don’t Stand too Close to a Naked Man).
22. Ten is All You Need
Love Actually director Richard Curtis ended up cutting four of the original 14 love stories he had planned to include in the film. One of these featured the school headmistress’s long-term relationship with her lesbian partner.
21. Cut the Fat
Curtis had originally envisioned Hugh Grant and Colin Firth’s respective stories in Love Actually as separate movies, but ultimately thought it better “to do the 30 best scenes from ten movies instead of one movie with three good scenes.”
20. It’s Turbo Time!
The Turbo Man toys that set the plot of Jingle All the Way into motion were actually sold at Wal-Mart at the time to coincide with the film’s release. 200,000 figures were produced and sold for $25 at 2,300 Wal-Mart stores.
19. Right Place, Right Time
Dustin Hoffman’s cameo in The Holiday was never actually supposed to happen. A good friend of writer-director Nancy Meyers, the actor was driving by the Blockbuster seen in the film and decided to stop and investigate when he saw all the production equipment. Meyers ended up creating a cameo for him right then and there.
18. Creative Colouring
The Grinch was depicted in black-and-white in the original Dr. Seuss book. It was director Chuck Jones’s idea to make him green for the 1966 animated feature.
17. Yippee Ki-yay
Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This is a fact, and I challenge you to suggest otherwise. It’s also a fact that Alan Rickman’s role as the evil Hans Gruber was actually his first in a feature film.
16. Yippee Ki-What??
During a scene that has Bruce Willis’ John McClane shooting through a table to kill one of the terrorists, the gun he was firing used extra-loud blanks. Because of how close the shots were to Willis’ face, he ended up two-thirds deaf in his left ear as a result.
15. German Gibberish
In the theatrical version of Die Hard, the “German” that the terrorists are speaking is just incoherent gibberish. This was later fixed for the home video release of the film.
14. Too Much?
Not the most child-friendly film as it is, Chris Columbus’ original script for Gremlins was much darker. Earlier scenes included the Gremlins eating Billy’s dog, decapitating his mother and then throwing her head down the stairs. Warner Bros., director Joe Dante, and producer Steven Spielberg all agreed that the gore should be toned down in order to appeal to a younger market.
13. Amblin’s First Appearance
Spielberg’s iconic Amblin Entertainment logo has become a familiar sight for moviegoers, but Gremlins was the first movie in which it appeared.
12. They’re Not Wrong
2003’s Bad Santa was titled “Santa is a Pervert” in the Czech Republic.
11. A Very Different Bad Santa
When Bad Santa was originally announced, Bill Murray was lined up to play the titular role. He dropped out to do Lost in Translation instead, and the role went to Billy Bob Thornton.
10. A Festive First
The Polar Express was the first ever film to entirely use performance capture.
9. Childhood Shoutout
Near the beginning of The Polar Express, a conductor says “11344 Edbrooke.” This is a reference to director Robert Zemeckis’ actual childhood home in Chicago.
8. Christmas in May
Despite being a Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street was released on May 2, 1947. 20th Century Fox chief Darryl Zanuck wanted to recuperate his budget, and supposed that more people went to the movies in the summer. He wasn’t wrong, and the film ended up grossing $2,650,000 in the United States alone.
7. The Real Deal
Natalie Wood was eight years old when she starred in Miracle on 34th Street, and she believed that her co-star Edmund Gwenn was actually the real Santa Claus.
6. Holiday Medley
The inspiration for The Nightmare Before Christmas came largely from Tim Burton’s memory of both Halloween and Christmas decorations briefly occupying stores at the same time as the seasons changed when he was a child.
5. Stop-Motion Madness
Due to the laborious stop-motion process, a minute of footage for The Nightmare Before Christmas took a crew of over 120 people a full week to film.
4. Keeping the Festive Flame Burning
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’s second assistant director was Frank Capra III, the grandson of It’s a Wonderful Life director Frank Capra. In the film, Rusty is watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV when the relatives arrive.
3. Real-Life Romance
In 2006’s The Holiday, Kate Winslet’s character is hopelessly enamored with Rufus Sewell’s insufferable D-bag. The two had actually previously dated in real life.
2. It’s Not Easy Being Green
While filming The Grinch, Jim Carrey had to enlist a CIA specialist who helps agents endure torture to help him deal with the pains of wearing his makeup. Carrey said that wearing the mounds of prosthetic makeup for the Grinch was like “being buried alive.”
1. Better Be Worth It
Jim Carrey’s suit for How the Grinch Stole Christmas was made up of individually dyed yak hairs sewn onto a spandex suit. It took legendary makeup artist Rick Baker four months to make it.
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