'Bad Santa': Billy Bob Thornton Almost Lost Out on His Role to Another Famous Bill

Bad Santa is one of the naughtier holiday movies, but it’s favored by many people, regardless. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, the movie follows the drunken, professional heist man Willie Stokes, who gets a job as a mall Santa just so he can rob the shopping center later on. 

Bad Santa released in 2004 to widespread praise for its plot, humor, and well drawn characters, but as it turns out, Thornton wasn’t the first pick for the movie.

Another famous Bill was the first choice for the lead role in ‘Bad Santa’

It might be hard to imagine anyone else playing Willie other than Thornton, but he actually wasn’t the first person tapped for the movie. 

“When Bob Weinstein called me and said who do you want to star in this, I said, I think Bill Murray might be good,” writer and director Terry Zwigoff told The New York Times.

In February 2002, The Guardian reported the Ghostbusters alum was in “final” talks to appear in the lead role. However, it ultimately didn’t work out.

Zwigoff thought he and Murray had entered an oral contract to do the movie, according to author Robert Schnakenberg’s book The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation Of The World’s Finest Actor (via CinemaBlend). However, when the time came to do the actual paperwork, Murray had allegedly “completely disappeared.”

“I left several messages on his answering machine, but after a few weeks of hearing nothing, we eventually moved on,” Zwigoff is quoted as saying (via The Chive).

He told The Times that after meeting Thornton, he knew he’d be a great fit for the part. “He was very quick, very smart, very funny,” he said of the Monster’s Ball actor.

It is believed that Bill Murray passed on ‘Bad Santa’ for another film

It doesn’t appear that Murray has ever commented on his lost role in Bad Santa. But Vulture reports that he passed on it for Lost In Translation — a 2003 romantic comedy-drama that focuses on the blossoming relationship between aging movie star Bob Harris (Murray) and friendless newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) after they meet in Tokyo.

Lost In Translation was both critically and commercially successful, earning rave reviews for its narrative structure and character performances, and drawing over $100 million at the global box office (via Box Office Mojo). It was also an award magnet and has been considered some of Murray’s work.

‘Bad Santa’ was also a box office success

Though Lost In Translation ultimately seemed to be a bigger deal, Bad Santa performed impressively, too. It has decent ratings on websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and was able to bring in more than $70 million at the global box office (via Box Office Mojo). It even competed against Lost In Translation at the 2004 Golden Globes and earned a sequel in 2016.

So when you really think about it, this worked out well for both Murray and Thornton.

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