A Christmas Story Christmas, “the long-awaited follow-up to holiday favorite,” is now out on HBO Max. The thing is, this simple-enough description conveniently ignores the fact that there have already been numerous other follow-ups to A Christmas Story, all of them with different casts, and all of them taking place at different points in Ralphie’s life. Overall, there have been a total of nine movies and TV movies in the “Parker Family Saga,” which is the name for the fictionalized stories based on the life of radio personality Jean Shepherd, who also voiced the older Ralphie in A Christmas Story

I absolutely adore A Christmas Story and consider it to be an utterly perfect Christmas classic. And while I was more than a bit skeptical about the release of A Christmas Story Christmas, I decided to check out all six of the sequels to A Christmas Story as well as the two TV movies that preceded it (though they took place when Ralphie was a teenager, so they’re technically sequels too, I guess).

It was a Grinchian task that left me exhausted and with a foul taste in my mouth, but it wasn’t without its surprises and occasional holiday cheer — even if that holiday cheer was no longer exclusive to Christmas. For suspense purposes, I’ve arranged the list below from best to worst. Either way, I highly recommend watching A Christmas Story for the 400th time before sinking to the depths these sequels require.  

The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982)

 

This was Shepherd’s second TV movie about the Parker Family, and it was released a year before A Christmas Story. The rhythms aren’t quite there yet — The Old Man seems too mean, and Ralphie, who is awkwardly played by Matt Dillon, is a teenager, which isn’t nearly as charming as him as a tween. Nevertheless, it’s an adventure that stands on its own merit and has a few genuinely funny moments, including one runaway fireworks sequence that made me laugh out loud.

A Christmas Story Christmas (2022)

 

I was fully prepared to hate this movie, but to my great surprise, I kind of liked it. I watched it after I watched everything else and having Peter Billingsley back as Ralphie, particularly after watching more than a half dozen other Ralphies, was a delight. Even though it’s decades later, he still feels like the same character.

The movie also has smart nods to the original without merely repeating the same jokes. It might never get out of the shadow of the original, but it doesn’t really try either. It’s a nice walk down memory lane that also manages a few laughs and some welcome surprises. 

The Phantom of the Open Hearth (1976)

 

This was Shepherd’s first TV movie, and it’s pretty dull, though I’m a bit forgiving because it was his first outing. James Broderick played The Old Man in this and The Great American Fourth of July, and again, I tend to think he’s a little too mean in the role. What’s so great about Darren McGavin as The Old Man in A Christmas Story is just how hilariously dead inside he seems. The Phantom of the Open Hearth also suffers because so much of the story is re-used in A Christmas Story — particularly the leg lamp bit — so the whole movie almost feels like an early draft of A Christmas Story

An interesting bit of trivia about Broderick is that he’s the father of Matthew Broderick, who plays the adult voice of Ralphie in The Christmas Story Live!, which, regrettably, I’ll be getting to soon enough.

The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1985)

 

The first TV movie after A Christmas Story, The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski feels much more like the TV movies that preceded A Christmas Story than anything else, perhaps because A Christmas Story wasn’t a hit when it first came out and only became popular a decade or so later. It’s another less charming story with a teenage Ralphie, though the chunky(ish) face of Pete Kowanko felt more like Ralphie to me than the other teenage Ralphies did. 

Most of the story is about Ralphie lusting over the new Polish girl in town, and he goes on and on about Polish girls and Polish food. Perhaps I’ve not met the right Polish girl, but it seemed strange to have this lovey-dovey talk intermixed with references to kielbasa. There was one part at the very end that made me laugh: When Ralphie’s kid brother Randy played a turkey in the school play, Shepherd’s narration referred to it as the “high point” of Randy’s entire life.

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988)

 

Oh my god, this was so fucking boring! Of all the various entries in the Parker Family Saga, four of them operate as direct follow-ups to A Christmas Story, but none of the sequels consider any of the other sequels canon. Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss, however, is the first to act as a direct sequel, yet it’s done very poorly. 

In it, the Parkers go to the lake for the summer. Jerry O’Connell is the young Ralphie, but he lacks the spunk Billingsley had. The biggest letdown, though, is The Old Man, played by James Sikking, who portrays the patriarch entirely without edge. While some of the previous takes on The Old Man make him a bit too mean, it’s much worse for him to be such a boring nice guy.

It Runs in the Family: My Summer Story (1994)

 

My Summer Story was the last time Shepherd would narrate Ralphie before Shepherd’s death in 1999, and it was the rare theatrical release in the Parker Family Saga (A Christmas Story being the other). But don’t be fooled, just because it once played on a big screen doesn’t mean it’s worth watching. 

I thought maybe with Charles Grodin as The Old Man, there could be a laugh or two, but nope. The film, which features Kieran Culkin as Ralphie and Mary Steenburgen as his mom, is utterly lifeless from beginning to end. Even Shepherd, whose charming prose was always the lifeblood of these stories, seems highly disinterested in the proceedings. 

A Christmas Story 2 (2012)

 

A Christmas Story 2 was a blatant attempt to cash in on the fact that A Christmas Story had now become a bona-fide classic. A guy named Nat Mauldin does a serviceable job filling in for Shepherd as the narrator, and Daniel Stern (aka Marv from Home Alone) was pleasant enough as The Old Man. 

Everyone else, however, makes the movie unwatchable. There’s a fine line between a “heightened” performance and “Disney Channel Acting,” and A Christmas Story 2 is overflowing with the latter. It also does that annoying thing some sequels do where they repeat all the classic jokes from the original — including its own spin on the “Flick licks the flagpole” joke, which inflicted as much pain upon me as that frozen flagpole inflicted upon Flick.

A Christmas Story Live! (2017)

 

Lemme tell you: A Christmas Story in song is some kind of torture on the ears — and eyes. 

Seriously, this thing was over two hours of people singing classic scenes from A Christmas Story. There’s even a song called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” and as insufferable as that sounds, I promise you that it’s much, much worse. In fact, if I ever have to sit through A Christmas Story Live! again, I’ll be sure to ask for my own Red Ryder BB gun so I can shoot my eyes out beforehand.

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