Inspired by real-life Christmas toy sell-outs for products such as the Cabbage Patch Kids and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the film was written by Randy Kornfield. Producer Chris Columbus rewrote the script, adding in elements of satire about the commercialization of Christmas, and the project was picked up by 20th Century Fox. Delays on Fox's reboot of Planet of the Apes allowed Schwarzenegger to come on board the film, while Columbus opted to cast Sinbad ahead of Joe Pesci as Myron. Jingle All the Way was set and filmed in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul at a variety of locations, including the Mall of America. After five weeks filming, production moved to California where scenes such as the end parade were shot. The film's swift production meant merchandising was limited to a replica of the Turbo-Man action figure used in the film.
Although some critics felt the film was good family entertainment, it was met with a broadly negative response. Much criticism was attached to the film's script, its focus on the commercialism of Christmas, Levant's direction and Schwarzenegger's performance. Nevertheless, it proved a success at the box office, generating $129 million worldwide, and it receives regular broadcasts on television during the Christmas season. In 2001, Fox was ordered to pay $19 million to Murray Hill Publishing for stealing the idea for the film; the verdict was overturned three years later.
Howard Langston is a workaholic mattress salesman with no time for his wife, Liz, and his 9-year-old son, Jamie — especially when compared to next door "superdad" divorcee, Ted Maltin, who continually puts Howard in a bad light. After missing Jamie's karate class graduation, Howard resolves to redeem himself by fulfilling Jamie's ultimate Christmas wish: getting an action figure of Turbo-Man, a wildly popular children's TV superhero toy. Along the way, Howard meets Myron Larabee, a postal worker dad with a rival ambition, and the two soon become bitter competitors in their race for the action figure. During his search, Howard repeatedly runs into Officer Alexander Hummel, a police officer who at the beginning of the film pulled him over for traffic violation. After several failed attempts to find the toy in a store, Howard attempts to buy a Turbo-Man from a Mall of America Santa, who is actually the leader of a band of counterfeit toy makers. When he accuses the Santa of undermining the values of Christmas (having been ripped off and sold a defective toy that falls apart the moment he opened the package), Howard ends up in a brawl with the gang. He narrowly escapes when the police raid their warehouse and gets out by posing as an undercover detective using a toy badge.
Later, Howard arrives at Mickey's Diner and uses their phone to call home. As he tried to get a hold of Liz, he unintentionally scolds Jamie on the phone over Turbo-Man. Jamie, in turn, rebukes his father about how he never keeps his promises, and hangs up. Liz overhears the argument and becomes disappointed in her husband. Howard then encounters Myron at the diner. As they sat down and talk, Myron tells Howard about the time when his father was unable to get him a Johnny Seven OMA toy on Christmas. They hear on the KQRS radio station that the D.J. is running a Turbo-Man competition. When they get to the studio, they find out they can only win a gift certificate. They are nearly arrested, but Myron bluffs the police into backing off by threatening them with a package (which he claims is a mail bomb, unaware that it really is one). Officer Hummell tries to open it and it blows up in his face. After his car is stripped by thieves, Howard is ultimately forced to return home empty-handed. Upon seeing Ted in his house placing the star on his tree, Howard gets angry and attempts to steal the Turbo-Man doll from Ted's house that he had bought for his son Johnny (E.J. De La Pena), but changes his mind at the last moment as he could not see himself stealing from a child. He is attacked by Ted's pet reindeer but manages to lock him up but he unintentionally sets some of his stuff on fire he tires to put it out but kicks it outside the window. this commotion leads him to be caught by Ted and a distraught Liz. Liz and Jamie leave for the local Wintertainment Parade with Ted and Johnny; Howard follows, aiming to make amends. At the parade, Ted makes a pass at Liz, but after seeing what he really is, she turns him down by hitting him with a thermos of eggnog.
Howard runs into a bandaged Officer Hummell and accidentally drenches him with hot coffee after he caught ted making a pass on liz. In the ensuing chase, Howard runs into a preparations room for the parade and is mistaken for a replacement for the actor who will play Turbo-Man on a parade float. As the "real" Turbo-Man, he presents the coveted limited-edition Turbo-Man doll to his awed son. Before he recognizes his father, Jamie is chased by Myron, who has dressed as Turbo-Man's arch enemy Dementor (having caught, tied up and gagged the real actor). As the crowd assumes this is all part of the show, Howard attempts to rescue his son by utilizing the Turbo-Man suit's equipment.
Howard catches Jamie as he falls from a roof and reveals himself to his son. Officer Hummell gives the doll to Jamie, then is shocked to discover that Howard was Turbo-Man; Howard then apologizes to Officer Hummell about everything. Myron is arrested while ranting about having to explain his failure to get the Turbo-Man toy for his son. Touched by Myron's words, Jamie gives the doll to him and tells Howard that he does not need it since his father is "the real Turbo-Man". Howard is crowd-surfed away as Liz, Jamie and Myron happily look on.
In a post-credits scene, Howard puts the star on the top of his tree and shares a great Christmas spirit with Jamie and Liz until he realizes he also forgot to get a present for Liz. Howard stares in shock at the camera before the fadeout.
The film draws inspiration from the high demand for Christmas toys such as the Cabbage Patch Kids and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which often led to intense searching and occasional violence amongst shoppers. Randy Kornfield wrote the film's original screenplay after witnessing his in-laws go to a Santa Monica toy store at dawn in order to get his son a Power Ranger. While admitting to missing the clamor for the Cabbage Patch Kids and Power Rangers, producer Chris Columbus experienced a similar situation in 1995 when he attempted to obtain a Buzz Lightyear action figure from the film Toy Story, released that year. As a result, he rewrote Kornfield's script, which was accepted by 20th Century Fox. Columbus was always "attracted to the dark side of the happiest holiday of the year", so wrote elements of the film as a satire of the commercialization of Christmas. Brian Levant was hired to direct the film. Columbus said Levant "underst[ood] the humor in the material" and "was very animated and excited, and he had a vision of what he wanted to do". Levant said "The story that was important to me was between the father and son...it's a story about love, and a father's journey to deliver it in the form of a Turbo Man doll. The fact that I got to design a toy line and do the commercials and make pajamas and comic books was fun for me as a filmmaker. But at its root, the movie's about something really sweet. It's about love and building a better family. I think that's consistent with everything I've done."
Arnold Schwarzenegger was quickly cast. He became available in February 1996 after Fox's remake of Planet of the Apes was held up again; Columbus also exited that project to work on Jingle All the Way. The film marks Schwarzenegger's fourth appearance as the lead in a comedy film, following Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Junior (1994). Schwarzenegger was paid a reported $20 million for the role. He enjoyed the film, having experienced last-minute Christmas shopping himself, and was attracted to playing an "ordinary" character in a family film. Columbus initially wanted Joe Pesci to play Myron. Comedian Sinbad was chosen instead, partly due to his similar height and size to Schwarzenegger. Sinbad was suggested for the part by Schwarzenegger's agent, but the producers felt he was unsuited to the role of a villain as it could harm his clean, family-oriented comedy act and reputation, although Sinbad felt the character would generate the audience's sympathy rather than hate. Furthermore, he missed the audition due to his appearance with First Lady Hillary Clinton and musician Sheryl Crow on the USO tour of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Columbus waited for him to return to allow him to audition and, although Sinbad felt he had "messed" it up, he was given the part. He improvised the majority of his lines in the film; Schwarzenegger also improvised many of his responses in his conversations with Sinbad's character.
Filming took place in Minnesota for five weeks from April 15, 1996; at the time, it was the largest film production to ever take place in the state. Jingle All the Way was set and filmed in the Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minnesota at locations such as Bloomington's Mall of America, Mickey's Diner, downtown Minneapolis, Linden Hills, residential areas of Edina and primarily downtown Saint Paul. Unused shops in the Seventh Place Mall area were redecorated to resemble Christmas decorated stores, while the Energy Park Studios were used for much of the filming and the Christmas lights stayed up at Rice Park for use in the film. The Mall of America and the state's "semi-wintry weather" proved attractive for the studio. Although Schwarzenegger stated that the locals were "well-behaved" and "cooperative", Levant often found filming "impossible" due to the scale and noise of the crowds who came to watch production, especially in the Mall of America, but overall found the locals to be "respectful" and "lovely people." Levant spent several months in the area before filming in order to prepare. The film uses artistic license by treating Minneapolis and Saint Paul as one city, as this was logistically easier; the police are labeled "Twin Cities Police" in the film. Additionally, the city's Holidazzle Parade is renamed the Wintertainment Parade and takes place on 2nd Avenue during the day, rather than Nicollet Mall at night. Levant wanted to film the parade at night but was overruled for practical reasons.
The parade was filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood in California on the New York Street set, due to safety concerns. The set was designed to resemble 2nd Avenue; the parade was shot from above by helicopters and stitched into matte shots of the real-life street. It took three weeks to film, with 1,500 extras being used in the scene, along with three custom designed floats. Other parts of the film to be shot in Los Angeles, California included store interiors, and the warehouse fight scene between Howard and the criminal Santas, for which a Pasadena furniture warehouse was used. Turbo-Man was created and designed for the film. This meant the commercials and scenes from the Turbo-Man TV series were all shot by Levant, while all of the Turbo-Man merchandise, packaging and props shown in the film were custom made one-offs and designed to look "authentic, as if they all sprang from the same well." Along with Columbus and Levant, production designer Leslie McDonald and character designer Tim Flattery crafted Turbo-Man, Booster and Dementor and helped make the full-size Turbo-Man suit for the film's climax. Principal production finished in August; Columbus "fine-tun[ed] the picture until the last possible minute," using multiple test audiences "to see where the big laughs actually lie."
TVT Records released the film's soundtrack album on Audio CD on November 26, 1996. It features only two of composer David Newman's pieces from Jingle All the Way, but features many of the songs by other artists included in the film, as well as other Christmas songs and new tracks by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Intrada Music Group released a Special Collection limited edition of Newman's full 23-track score on November 3, 2008.
As Schwarzenegger only signed on for the film in February and the film was shot so quickly, only six and a half months were available for merchandising, instead of the ideal year. As such, merchandising was limited to a 13.5 inch replica $25 Talking Turbo-Man action figure and the West Coast exclusive Turbo-Man Time Racer vehicle, while no tie-in promotions could be secured. Despite this, several critics wrote that the film was only being made in order to sell the toy. Columbus dismissed this notion, stating that with only roughly 200,000 Turbo-Man toys being made, the merchandising was far less than the year's other releases, such as Space Jam and 101 Dalmatians. The film's release coincided with the Tickle Me Elmo craze, in which high demand for the doll during the 1996 Christmas season lead to store mobbing similar to that depicted for Turbo-Man.
The world premiere was held on November 16, 1996 at the Mall of America in Bloomington where parts of the film were shot. A day of events was held to celebrate the film's release and Schwarzenegger donated memorabilia from the film to the Mall's Planet Hollywood. Opening on November 22 in 2,401, Jingle All the Way made $12.1 million in its first weekend, opening at #4 behind Star Trek: First Contact, Space Jam and Ransom; it went on to gross $129 million worldwide, recouping its $75 million budget. The film was released on VHS in October 1997, and in November 1998 it was released on DVD. It was rereleased on DVD in December 2004, followed by an extended director's cut in October 2007, known as the "Family Fun Edition". It contained several minutes of extra footage, as well as other DVD extras such as a behind the scenes featurette. In December of the following year, the Family Fun Edition was released on Blu-ray Disc. The film was released in the United Kingdom on December 6, 1996, and topped the country's box office that weekend.
The film received a 17% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, where it has 35 negative reviews out of 42 counted. Emanuel Levy felt the film "highly formulaic" and criticized Levant's direction as little more advanced than a television sitcom. Although he felt Hartman, Wilson and Conrad were not given much opportunity to shine due to the script, he opined that "Schwarzenegger has developed a light comic delivery, punctuated occasionally by an ironic one-liner," while "Sinbad has good moments". Neil Jeffries of Empire disagreed, feeling Schwarzenegger to be "wooden" and Sinbad to be "trying desperately to be funnier than his hat" but praised Lloyd as the "saving grace" of the film.
The New York Times critic Janet Maslin felt the film lacked any real plot, failed in its attempt at satire, should have included Myron's only mentioned son and "mostly wasted" Hartman, while Levant's direction was "listless". Similarly, the BBC's Neil Smith criticized the film's script, its focus on the commercialization of Christmas, as well as Schwarzenegger's performance which shows "the comic timing of a dead moose," but singled out Hartman for praise. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Wilmington panned the film, wondering why the characters (primarily Howard) acted so illogically: "Howard Langston is supposed to be a successful mattress manufacturer, but the movie paints him as a hot-tempered buffoon without a sensible idea in his head." Jack Garner of USA Today condemned the film, finding it more "cynical" than satirical, stating "this painfully bad movie has been inspired strictly by the potential jingle of cash registers." He wrote of Levant's directorial failure as he "offers no...sense of comic timing," while "pauses in the midst of much of the dialogue are downright painful." Trevor Johnston suggested that the film "seems to mark a point of decline in the Schwarzenegger career arc" and the anti-consumerism message largely failed, with "Jim Belushi's corrupt mall Santa with his stolen-goods warehouse...provid[ing] the film's sole flash of dark humour."
IGN's Mike Drucker praised its subject matter as "one of the few holiday movies to directly deal with the commercialization of Christmas" although felt the last twenty minutes of the film let it down, as the first hour or so had "some family entertainment" value if taken with a "grain of salt". He concluded the film was "a member of the so-corny-its-good genre," while "Arnold delivers plenty of one-liners ripe for sound board crank callers." Jamie Malanowski of The New York Times praised the film's satirical premise but felt it was "full of unrealized potential" because "the filmmakers [wrongly] equate mayhem with humor." Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars, writing that he "liked a lot of the movie", which he thought had "energy" and humor which would have mass audience appeal. He was, though, disappointed by "its relentlessly materialistic view of Christmas, and by the choice to go with action and (mild) violence over dialogue and plot." Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures concluded that while the film is not very good, as a form of family entertainment it is "surprisingly fun."
Brian Levant was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Director, but lost to Andrew Bergman for Striptease; Sinbad, however, won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor in a Family film.
In 1998, Murray Hill Publishing sued 20th Century Fox for $150,000, claiming that the idea for the film was stolen from a screenplay they had purchased from high school teacher Brian Webster entitled Could This Be Christmas?. They said the script had 36 similarities with Jingle All the Way, including the plot, dialogue and character names. Murray Hill President Bob Laurel bought the script from Webster in 1993, and sent it to Fox and other studios in 1994 but received no response and claimed the idea was copied by Kornfield, who was Fox's script reader. In 2001, Fox were found guilty of stealing the idea and ordered to pay $19 million ($15 million in damages and $4 million in legal costs) to Murray Hill, with Webster to receive a portion. Laurel died a few months after the verdict, before receiving any of the money. On appeal, the damages figure was lowered to $1.5 million, before the verdict itself was quashed in 2004 after a judge decided the idea was not stolen, as Fox had bought Kornfield's screenplay before he or anybody else at Fox had read Could This Be Christmas?.
A stand-alone sequel, Jingle All the Way 2, was released straight-to-DVD in December 2014. Directed by Alex Zamm and produced by WWE Studios and 20th Century Fox, the film has a similar plot to the original, but is otherwise not connected and none of the original cast or characters returned. The lead roles were instead played by Larry the Cable Guy and Santino Marella.