Garry Marshall, once the legendary writer-producer of hits like Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy (and also responsible for well-regarded movies like Beaches, The Princess Diaries, and Pretty Woman) has spent the 2010s reintroducing himself to a new generation of film viewers, who now know him as "the guy who seemingly has dirt on everyone in Hollywood, because he strong-arms them all into starring in sappy epics, each featuring an on-the-nose holiday theme and title."
His latest, Mother's Day, is already sinking fast at the box office, but at 81, Marshall seems unstoppable: just wait until 2019, when Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Downey, Jr., Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, Scarlett Johansson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson all star in Arbor Day.*
Are Marshall's films the worst "holiday" movies of all time that don't involve Christmas (since putting in the worst Christmas films would be a list all its own)? We did a completely scientific study to find out.
Here are The 11 Worst Holiday-Themed Movies Of All Time.
*Yes, that's a joke.
12 Father's Day (1997)
Given how missed Robin Williams has been lately, you might feel kindly disposed to this comedy starring him and Billy Crystal as two possible fathers trying to track down the runaway teenage son of their mutual old flame. (Though the suicidal nature of the character Williams plays is a little sobering now.) There's not much of a story beyond the pitch, a weird criminal subplot and the pronounced odd-couple dynamic between the two (Crystal as the responsible one and Williams as the over-emotional mess).
On the too-rare occasions where the film lets Williams and Crystal do their thing together, the two veteran comedians are as effective as you'd expect. But as Roger Ebert put it, they face a "screenplay cleverly designed to obscure their strengths while showcasing their weaknesses."
11 Mother's Day (2012)
One factor weighing against Mother's Day's long-term success? There was another Mother's Day release just four years ago (and a remake at that). Three bank-robbing brothers head home to find that the bank's foreclosed on their house and they take the new owners and their housewarming guests hostage, but things really take a turn for the worse when their mother shows up.
The supporting characters (good and bad) are idiots and the director seems to think that having directed the first three Saw sequels is something to be proud of, but the movie does have one big ace in Rebecca de Mornay's title-role performance, which approaches Nurse Ratched's high standard of matronly cinematic evil. "You see, rules are what make order out of chaos." Not advisable as a Mother's Day gift, in case you were wondering.
10 Funny Valentine (2005)
...Okay, it's tempting to just stop there (after all, it does take a special kind of chutzpah to announce right in the title that your movie is "Funny," especially since so few movies who do announce it live up to the claim), but let's give you a little more to go on. Released in the same year as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this movie seems to have resulted from someone rewriting that script and saying "Yeah, but what if his friends were complete womanizing assholes and he was a street performer?"
In a twist that you'll never see coming unless you've watched movies before, Josh (Anthony Michael Hall) begins to realize that the one he's truly meant to be with was right under his nose all along. Hall acquits himself well, but that basically just means you feel sorry for him. And mad at his agent.
9 Valentine's Day (2010)
The first of Marshall's holiday exercises is, we grudgingly admit, the best. The sheer ambition of following two dozen couples, who represent romantic love in (allegedly) all its shades, from childhood to old age, is a treat for a while, and it's clear that this vast array of stars trusted Marshall as a director to bring the whole thing together.
Unfortunately, their trust is in vain, and there's only so much that collective star power can do about the fact that none of these stories are explored in enough depth to justify the film's one inarguably great line - "Love is the only shocking act left on the planet." Not true: for a once-great writer-producer to have fallen this far is pretty shocking, too.
8 New Year's Evil (1981)
A very orderly species of serial killer has announced (by calling up a news program, as you do) that he will kill four people this New Year's Eve, representing the four major time zones of America as it strikes midnight in each. (Sure, he could have killed people to represent Alaska and Hawaii, too, but that's a whole lot of extra trouble to go to. What do you take him for, some kind of extremist?)
If you've already guessed that his final victim will be the hostess of the news program he called to announce this plot in order to make some oblique point about media, you got it in one. Our hearts go out to her, and we do hope she survives in the last thirty minutes: being accompanied by a second-rate punk rock soundtrack is no way to die.
7 An American Carol (2008)
Here's a genuinely clever idea: do the Ebenezer Scrooge story, but swap Christmas out for the Fourth of July. If you then screwed it up by making Scrooge into a parody of Michael Moore, structuring it like a screwball comedy and filling it with conservative bloviating instead, you'd end up here.
Writer-director David Zucker helped build three comedy franchises: Airplane, The Naked Gun... and, er, Scary Movie... but because he has no genre to parody this time, one has to assume he really believed that because Moore had attacked American corruption in his movies, he hated America enough to recruit Taliban soldiers to destroy it.
It's that with-us-or-against-us, criticism-is-treason attitude that poisons so much of modern politics, but it's even deadlier to comedy, as Zucker should know. Not that his joke ideas for this one would've been funny in any case, but it would've been nice if they'd had a chance.
6 Memorial Day (2008)
There are an alarming four theatrical releases from the last two decades that all have the title Memorial Day. The 2011 one is sort of decent if preachy, a meditation on what the memories of war mean to veterans as well as survivors of those fallen in battle.
The 1998 one is a bizarre actioner where the US military is trying to manufacture a terror cell so it can keep Clinton from slashing its budget. The 2004 one is a generic slasher flick that just happens to take place on Memorial Day, presumably because "Friday the Thirteenth" was already taken (and no, Friday the 13th isn't a real holiday).
But at the bottom of the pile is this shaky-cam polemic about young rapists who become disgraceful soldiers, shock value mistaken for pointed critique in 2008, a year that anything anti-Abu Ghraib would've gotten some praise no matter how exploitative. Director Josh Fox deserved a visit from Zucker's three spirits more than Michael Moore ever did.
5 Mother's Day (2016)
Jennifer Aniston plays Sandy, who is... a Jennifer Aniston-type: an unappreciated, harried woman who's been kicked to the curb when a much hotter woman caught her husband's eye (just like Brangelina! How topical! Don't these people realize People Magazine just voted Aniston the most beautiful woman in the world??) Don't worry, though, she has a young hunk on the horizon too.
There are many more characters, far too many for Marshall to explore in any depth, and the only time they're not drowning in sentimentality or resolving life's complex problems with insulting ease, they're delivering chunks of expository dialogue like "I have abandonment issues!" Some critics optimistically describe Marshall's three holiday movies as a "trilogy." If only. Give your mom tickets to Civil War instead.
4 April Fool's Day (2008)
You would think that a horror movie set on a holiday devoted to bare-faced lies and fake-outs would have at least a few surprise twists. And you'd be right if you were talking about the 1986, Canadian version of this movie, which didn't make this list: it runs out of steam too early but at least plays some funny pranks and then some Joker-style funny murder-pranks. The "remake" barely retains anything from the original and doesn't seem to understand what April Fool's Day is for.
Here's a hint: it's not for rehashing the basic pitch of Pretty Little Liars using only one liar and blood and guts instead of manipulation and tension. Do you ever wonder whether the creators of some of these slasher movies were bitter about being snubbed by the popular girls in high school? If so, at least making a movie like this is marginally more productive for society than posting misogynistic screeds on Tumblr. Marginally.
3 New Year's Eve (2011)
Like the other two Marshall films, this is a well-meaning, star-studded, overcrowded, predictable, cliche-ridden snooze. We're placing it lowest because movies about Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are at least supposed to be sentimental fluff, while a "New Year's Eve" movie should by all rights be about partying, drinking, bad decisions and doomed resolutions.
What's honestly depressing about these movies is that they really could be amazing, given the talent on display. But a plot revolving around a technical glitch that might keep the Times Square ball from dropping is never going to be the centerpiece of a comedy classic.
2 Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Overall, though, it turns out that even Marshall hasn't yet hit the rock bottom that is the sixth film and "conclusion" of the Halloween franchise (before Rob Zombie's quick-fix reboot). We could've stuffed this list with Halloweens, but figured it'd be more fair to include just the worst example, and this is it.
Lazy editing, outdated-in-1995 slasher cliches and too-hokey-for-X-Files twists doom what could have been an interesting attempt to stop "the next Michael Myers" before he started. A sense of obligation to tie up the loose ends of the last three movies weighs the enterprise down further.
The only bittersweet pleasure here is in character actor Donald Plesence's final performance, in one of his most famous roles: Dr. Sam Loomis, Myers' most persistent and worthiest nemesis. But just as Myers usually overwhelms Loomis, so does this story.
1 Honorable Mention: Thanksgiving
We would be remiss here if we didn't bring up Eli Roth's gruesome, twisted faux-trailer for Thanksgiving. Made to fit between the features of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse double bill, Roth's trailer both parodies and pays homage to the holiday-themed horror films of the '70s and '80s, like Black Christmas, Halloween, and My Bloody Valentine.
While Roth's oeuvre as a feature film director might be a bit spotty, this trailer suggests that in another decade, perhaps he could have just edited trailers for exploitation movies.
Did we mis-rank or forget any awful holiday movies? Do let us know in the comments!