A Christmas Story Technically Has A Lot More Sequels Than You Think

The irony of Bob Clark's 1983 film "A Christmas Story" was that it was initially intended to be a satire, a wicked deconstruction of the placid, false, Normal Rockwell-ian idyll of 1950s Americana. Christmastime was not a time of peace and ease in "A Christmas Story," but a bitter world of selfishness, childhood greed, bullying, and disappointment. Over the years, "A Christmas Story" grew in estimation to such a degree that it now is run in Holiday-season 24-hour marathons on certain cable TV stations. What was once meant to dismantle nostalgia is now just a new generation's nostalgia.

The film was adapted to a stage musical in 2009, which was, in turn, broadcast on live TV in 2017. Some who pay close attention will also have noted that 2012 saw the release of the straight-to-video "A Christmas Story 2," with actor Braeden Lemasters playing a teenage version of Ralphie, the star of the first film, originally played by Peter Billingsley. Those who pay very, very close attention, however, will find that "A Christmas Story 2" was, in fact, the seventh film in the franchise. The new film "A Christmas Story Christmas," due out on HBO on November 17, is the eighth. Bob Clark's 1983 feature film was, in actuality, the third chapter in the Ralphie Parker saga. 

"A Christmas Story" was based on a humorous 1966 novel by Jean "Shep" Shepherd called "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash," and it was a scattered memoir of Shepherd's own childhood. It also kicked off a slew of adaptations that began as early as 1976.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

The first adaptation of "In God We Trust" appeared on New York television and was distributed by the Public Broadcasting System. Actor David Elliot played Ralphie and Shepherd himself provided the narration. The adaptation was called "The Phantom of the Open Hearth," and it concerned the misadventures of a teenage Ralph in his attempts to ask his biggest high school crush to an upcoming dance event. Ralphie's mother and father, played by James Broderick and Barbara Bolton, are obsessed with their own selfish acquisitions. Mom can't wait to claim a nice set of dishes from a local movie theater giveaway, and dad has won a lamp — in the shape of a woman's stockinged leg — which will soon arrive in the mail from a bowling league. As this is a memoir, then "The Phantom of the Open Hearth" is the original continuity and "A Christmas Story" is a prequel. 

In 1982, PBS and the Disney Channel produced a follow-up to "Phantom" called "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters." Shepherd continued to narrate, but the teen Ralphie is now played by Matt Dillon, already notable for films like "Over the Edge" and "My Bodyguard" and "Little Darlings." The story once again concerns Ralphie's stalled romances as he pursues a new crush, while dad and mom (still Broderick and Bolton) pursue their own interests. In this film, dad is obsessed with acquiring proper fireworks display for Independence Day, and mom seems to now own a dearth of washrags. 

Third in the series is the film everyone knows, Bob Clark's "A Christmas Story." 

Chapters four through six

The Parker family saga had now covered junior prom, Independence Day, and Christmas, so it was high time to look at Thanksgiving. The 1985 PBS special "The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski" saw Pete Cowanko take over the role of Ralphie, with Shepherd still providing narration. Mom was still played by Bolton, but dad had been replaced by George Coe. Ralphie's romance this time was the title role, a new neighbor played by Katherine Kamhi. Josephine was a Polish immigrant which caused a bit of a cultural slash between her family and Ralphie's. Meanwhile, dad went about buying a new car, and Ralphie's little brother Randy prepared for a Thanksgiving pageant. 

In 1988, the Parker epic continued with the Disney/PBS co-production "Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss." In "Ollie," the teen Ralphie was played by an upcoming Jerry O'Connell, and featured a larger budget and wider distribution than the previous TV specials. Shepherd narrates again, and also plays a scary used furniture salesman. The story involves Ralphie's first (miserable) job, a saga with the missing family dog Fuzzhead, and an eventual National Lampoon-style road trip that goes poorly at every turn. Mom is played by Dorothy Lyman and dad is played by James B. Sikking. 

Bob Clark returned to the series in 1994 to direct "My Summer Story" (aka "It Runs in the Family"), a prequel film about a younger Ralphie (Kieran Culkin) concerned with acquiring a particular top — the kind you spin — to defeat a school bully. Meanwhile mom (Mary Steenburgen) has indeed won dishes from the local movie theater, but her set turns out to be nothing but dozens of gravy boats. And dad (Charles Grodin) goes to war with the family's hillbilly neighbors. Shepherd does not narrate.

Chapters Seven and eight

In 1999, Shepherd died of old age. 

In 2012, even the "Christmas Story" series succumbed to the "pick and choose your canon" phenomenon so popular with certain horror franchises, and put out "A Christmas Story 2," a film that ignored the events of "My Summer Story" and "Ollie Hopnoodle." This sequel was also about a teen Ralphie acquiring his first job, this time to earn enough money to buy a car, a 1939 Mercury. Stacey Travis plays mom and Daniel Stern — who provided a very Shepherd-like narration for the 1988 TV series "The Wonder Years" — plays dad. "A Christmas Story 2" is, by all accounts, quite bland. It was directed by Brian Levant who also made "Jingle All the Way" and "The Flintstones."

The next film in this epic journey will be, as said above, "A Christmas Story Christmas" which will see the return of actor Peter Billingsley, also a producer, in the role of Ralphie. Ian Petrella, who played Randy in the 1983 film will return as the adult Randy, and Ralphie's mom will be played by Julie Hagerty (who is only 18 years older than Billingsley). Melinda Dillon played mom in 1983. It seems that Ralphie's dad has passed away, as actor Darren McGavin who played dad in '83, also passed in 2006.

The eighth film will hit HBO Max on November 17.