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Is Hollywood mounting a war on Christmas?

December 7, 2010 |  8:38 am

  Santa
Movie studios to Santa: Drop dead.

For now, anyway.

It's hard to know how much is cultural, how much is financial and how much is cyclical. But whatever the reason, there isn't a single Christmas movie on studios' calendar this December.

There are, of course, a number of movies meant to appeal to family audiences: the Jack Black adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels," the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" installment, a "Tron" sequel. But movies having to do with snow, reindeer, Santa or anything else holiday are nowhere to be found.

There isn't even a darkly comic anti-Christmas movie, like a "Bad Santa" or "Christmas with the Kranks." (The lone Christmas release of any kind, Elle Fanning's "Nutcracker in 3-D," wasn't released by a studio and is a holiday turkey; about seven people have seen it since it came out two weeks ago.)

Things don't change much next year, either. There's only one major holiday release scheduled for 2011, the animated movie "Arthur Christmas" -- and that comes from the U.K.

As my colleague Dawn Chmielewski and I explore in a story in Tuesday's Times, there are plenty of explanations for the trend. Studios don't usually take sides in culture-wars debates. They do, however, pay attention to the shifting winds. And as Joe Roth, the former Disney executive who once shepherded holiday hits like "Home Alone" and "Santa Clause," says, holiday pictures just aren't where the creative or monetary Zeitgeist is circa 2010.

"The way to do a big-budget film these days is to take stories that everyone in the world knows and take them in a new direction,"  Roth told us. "But no one's come up with a fresh way to do a holiday movie, so we're all doing it with other kinds of stories." (Roth is doing just that with "Snow White" and "The Wizard of Oz.")

In past years there have been scads of movies playing off the holidays. In fact, as recently as 2006 we had a sack full of them, from a Danny DeVito comedy ("Deck the Halls") to a Nancy Meyers heartwarmer ("The Holiday"), to a horror movie ("Black Christmas").  That glut has turned, just four years later, into a scarcity. (Whether any of the '06 movies were any good is another matter.)

But don't be quick to blame Hollywood. Most of the movies from that fertile year of 2006 flopped. So right now, Hollywood executives' assumption is that Americans would rather come to theaters to see stories about pretty much anything other than Christmas. Are they right?

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/Zeitchik/LAT

Photo: Billy Bob Thonrton in "Bad Santa." Credit: Dimension Films

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