From the Golden Age of Hollywood to the present halcyon days of CGI and motion capture, one thing has always been a constant with movie making — everyone wants to recreate Santa Claus.
What began with Santa’s debut in film with the 1930’s “talkie” The Unholy Three, a play on the Wise Men no less but involving a jewelry heist on Christmas Eve, has become an institution of involving Kris Kringle in every fashion a child could — or would never dare — imagine.
Since we are feeling festive in the Movies Matrix, we decided to tackle the most Yuletide of chores and select the top Santas in motion picture history. If you are a ho-ho-ho for the holiday movie, you’ll agree with all of these and maybe have a choice of your own.
But before we begin, some honorable mentions:
Ken Hudson Campbell, Home Alone
Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places
Jeff Gillen, A Christmas Story
Paul Giamatti, Fred Claus
Jim Broadbent, Arthur Christmas
10. David Huddleston, Santa Claus: The Movie
Does Santa look familiar there? This list has to start with a guy that portrayed the image of holiday cheer who would later become a certain Lebowski (yes, that Big one is this guy). Another reason why this is fitting inclusion on this blog because Ilya Salkind made this film…after she was a co-producer of the Christopher Reeve Superman films. The film is mainly about Patch, a diligent but misunderstood elf played by Dudley Moore, but David Huddleston’s beckoning holiday chuckle is always present. You could say the holiday dude abides in this one.
9. Danny Elfman, A Nightmare Before Christmas
Okay, so for some people, “Sandy Claws” was an abomination but dang if you don’t still remember Jack Skellington in Danny Elfman’s portrayal of this character. Yes, he was an actor too. Dude is multi-talented (just like his brother Richard, lead singer of 80s group Oingo Boingo — good trivia for the holidays). And despite what the Pumpkin King should be doing this time of year, he sets out to save Christmas and Halloween all at once. Hey, maybe he’s the reason department stores can’t wait to stock for the holidays in mid-October?!
8. Alec Baldwin, Rise of the Guardians
In what has to be one of the most original takes on holiday movies, we have ‘SANTA’ — not the man, but a mission to battle the nightmare king. Nerds everywhere should have appreciated this, namely if they like the Avengers or Justice League in the comics. This is the Yuletide fairy tale version of them, and this fez-wearing captain of the USSR hockey team is awesome. Who woulda thunk it?
7. Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa
Not all mall Santas are the same and we knew growing up that all parents secretly believed they were like Willie T. Stokes, a washed-up, cantankerous criminal who is trying to scam people. Then, he ends up like that dirty uncle we all meet at family reunions. We want to party with this guy. And then there’s Marcus, his pint-sized friend disguised as what else? A crude elf who somehow keeps Willie in line right through the holidays. It’s crass and so cool.
6. Tom Hanks, The Polar Express
Although Andy Serkis hadn’t yet perfected motion-capture film making, this movie is nothing but magic. Most people who have seen this scene knows the slow-motion appearance of St. Nicholas (played also by Tom Hanks) makes his enigmatic appearance and hypnotizes not only the characters in the film, but also the rest of us watching. And when he tells that punk kid to “Cool it,” we realize this is a great movie and that is a great Santa. Well, most of us.
5. Kurt Russell, The Christmas Chronicles
If you haven’t seen this Netflix original yet, what in the elf is your problem?! This Santa has swag — he jams in jail, reveals why he has such a big hat, shows off his knowledge of every child in the world, and oh yeah… wait until you see Mrs. Claus. This version of Kris Kringle teeters on the nice and naughty list himself. One of the best and most “realistic” versions to the age-old tale in a long while. It was an instant classic.
4. Sir Richard Attenborough, Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
What is remarkable about this movie is that it did not need a reboot, sequel, edits, or anything. The original was perfect (as you will see in a couple of spots); yet, what Richard Attenborough (whom you may remember from Jurassic Park) does for Kris Kringle in this scene is enough to make you want to believe in Santa again. Every child deserves to know what the holiday spirit is, even if it can’t be heard. Surely, it is experienced. Pure magic.
3. Ed Asner, Elf
No, he’s not in this clip because for some reason, there isn’t one hanging out on YouTube for ne’er-do-wells like me trolling for them. Nonetheless, Asner is a classic to small screen fans but he lights up the big screen with a tangible and humble version of Santa Claus who is vexed by the lack of spirit in the world and relies on the songs of a new elf to fuel his sleigh. This leaves grown-ass heteros like me to say nothing more eloquent than “He’s just so cute.” The old curmudgeon is the new lovable Santa. Now enjoy the fake one who stinks apparently.
2. Tim Allen, The Santa Clause
Has there ever been a more salient Christmas truth than “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.” The story of an ordinary dad becoming the extraordinary Father Christmas deserved a trilogy, even if it was one film too long. There’s another truth with these movies — dreams come true, even if you aren’t asleep. Tim Allen may be the ‘Home Improvement’ guy or ‘Buzz Lightyear’ to most, but if you love Christmas movies, he is Scott Calvin — the premiere Santa Claus.
1 Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Imagine some guy playing Santa Claus winning an Oscar for it? That’s precisely what happened to the 71-year-old Edmund Gwenn when he majestically portrayed Kris Kringle. In a time of war, economic plight, and a nation bursting at its seams, we needed to believe in something. Then came Santa, albeit, set up to look delusional only to prove how wrong the rest of us can be. Watch this scene and note how easily paying attention to a child over an adult is to this man. The Sentinel from the North Pole is known for his warmth, and if you can’t feel that watching this movie, then buy an electric blanket you cow because not even the rosy red glow of Kris Kringle’s cheeks could brighten your day.