Top 10 Movie Santas of All-Time


There are 24 days until Christmas and I can deny my yuletide spirit no longer. I adore this time of year and I look forward to every tradition with building anticipation from the Black Friday shopping to putting up too many decorations; from the pumpkin pie to the roast beast. As I’ve grown older and my life has gotten busier, I’ve found that many of these traditions  get lost in the mix. However, the one Christmas tradition that I will never cease to partake in is the watching of Holiday films.

I am going to save my list of essential Christmas movies for closer to the Holidays, but I thought it was time I did a list that fit the season. One of the most memorable characters this Holiday season on film and television, is the legendary Santa Claus (aka Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, and Julemand). According to IMDb, Santa Claus has been portrayed on film and television a total of 738 times, with the first time being in the 1912 silent film Ida’s Christmas.

So I thought it would only be appropriate to compile a list of my favorite interpretations of the man of the season.

Top 10 Screen Santas of All-Time

10) The Wooden Santa With the Lovable Voice
Stan Francis in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)

Whenever I think of how Santa must sound, I imagine the various portrayals of Santa in the classic stop-motion animated television specials. I think a large number of mall-Santas and community theatre interpretations of St. Nick harken back to this full-voiced Santa from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or the similar “Year Without a Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” You don’t get a lot of psychology out of this Santa, but the cardboard cut-out (or rather wooden sculpture) presentation of Santa will never be hard to love.

9) The Frustrated, Emotionally Unsatisfied Santa
Paul Giamatti in Fred Claus (2007)

What a missed opportunity Fred Claus was. Paul Giamatti’s interpretation of Santa Claus subtly came across as a man stuck in a lifetime career that does not fulfill his deep psychological needs. There is even a decent subplot about Santa’s “busines”s closing that could have allowed for some great moments with Santa introspectively examining his soul, true Giamatti style. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t a Santa search for self, but a horribly scripted kid’s film that gave Vince Vaughn too much screen time (which even he couldn’t fill).

8) The Psycho Killer Santa
Robert Brian Wilson in Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

If any Santa will destroy a child’s innocence the murderous man in a suit from this film will. In the height of the slasher movie heyday of the 80s comes one of the most-loved bad movies of all-time. A little boy who watches his parents get murdered by a man in a Santa suit, grows up to be psychologically taken over by the Christmas season – donning a Santa suit and ax-murdering people he views as “naughty.” If this Santa doesn’t destroy your innocence he will at least ensure that you eat your vegetables and are nice to you siblings.

7) The Lovable, Flawless Santa
Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

I think its impossible for Richard Attenborough to portray anything but a lovable character. Even in Jurassic Park, where he creates a world that of mayhem that causes the deaths of several people, he is still insatiable. However, his most lovable role has to be his interpretation of Kris Kringle in the John Hughes produced remake of Miracle on 34th Street. His performance is so fluffy that when he is supposed to “snap” and hit a man with his cane, it doesn’t even look real. However, you can only wish that every mall Santa could be as jolly and enthusiastic as Attenborough.

6) The Cocky, Kind of a Prick Santa
John Call in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Thanks to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 I was exposed to this dismal film about Santa Claus getting kidnapped by martians who want their children to get presents. In this movie it shouldn’t be so easy to side with the martians, but because of how over-confident John Call makes Santa seem, you can’t help but hope for St. Nicholas’ demise.

5) The Sinister Santa With a Heart of Gold
Boris Karloff in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)

Everybody knows the story of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In a lot of ways the Grinch’s Santa is the ultimate anti-Santa performance. By posing as St. Nick and stealing the gifts, the Grinch proves that Santa Claus is just a symbol of the season and the real meaning of Christmas comes from the fellowship and joy of the season.

4) The Corporate Santa
Tim Allen in The Santa Clause (1994)

Whatever you think about Tim Allen, the one role that he was undeniably excellent for was Scott Calvin aka Santa in The Santa Clause (the first one, not the crappy sequels). He bitterly stumbles into the role of St. Nick from the background of the corporate executive. It’s entertaining to watch him transition from annoyance and disbelief to truly believing in Santa Claus. Even after he becomes Santa he still approaches the role with a corporate mindset, attempting to refine the operations at the North Pole. Not a great film, but entertaining nonetheless.

3) The Terrifying Mall Santa
Jeff Gillen in A Christmas Story (1983)

I think Jeff Gillen’s portrayal of the mall Santa in A Christmas Story is the best example of why kids are afraid of the man in the red suit. He yells “ho ho ho” at young children as he frantically tries to get through as many kids as possible. The direction in the Santa scene is also fantastic as the camera swoops in to Santa’s face and the angry elves to imitate the overwhelming feeling that children feel when they finally get to meet Santa.

2) The Drunk, Hateful Santa
Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (2003)

The worst Santa ever portrayed on film is also one of the most entertaining. Billy Bob Thornton is the Santa that you never want your children to see, but want to watch other people’s children to suffer through. This movie makes me wonder how many mall Santas out there seriously hate children and are just showing up for the paycheck. I also wonder how many mall Santas are drunk when they show up for work.

1) The Real Santa. Seriously, He’s Real
Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Whenever I was a child and would get into arguments with other boys about the existence of Santa, I would constantly reference Edmund Gwenn’s performance. “Oh yeah?” I would say “if Santa isn’t real how come he’s in a movie?” Gwenn won an Oscar for portraying Santa Claus in what is arguably the most famous portrayal of the character. Even as an adult when I revisit this classic film I want to believe that Santa Claus is real and Edmund Gwenn is him.

There you have it. What are your favorite film portrayals of Santa Claus? Is there any actor who you think needs to play the man in red?

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  • Beth

    Brings back lots of memories, but some of these I have never seen?? Thanks for sharing!

  • awww…love this time of year

  • Jolie Moira Jessalyn Dawson

    What about a Top Ten Mrs. Clauses in film, for next year? My favorite is the one in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

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