Santa Claus is coming to town, but who are the 10 best movie Santas? Here’s Tom Jollife’s picks…
It’s the season to be jolly. Soon we’ll all be leaving mince pies and cookies out for Santa Claus. It’s a festive time of good will and time for watching movies. We’ve all got our Christmas traditions and favourites, be it Die Hard (yes…it is!!) or Home Alone, but there have also been plenty of films about, or featuring, Father Christmas.
So today we’re going to look at the ten best movie Santas. Let’s jingle those bells and kick things off…
Billy Bob Thornton – Bad Santa
Is there a more quaint and festive rendition of Santa than Billy Bob Thornton’s charming portrayal? Okay, maybe not that charming or quaint, and Bad Santa revels in its Grinchiness. It’s a Christmas tradition for me. Thornton is pitch-perfect as a seasonal Santa with an alcohol problem and burglary sideline. The film is hilarious, to the point it sometimes hurts watching. Billy Bob is brilliantly supported by Tony Cox, Brett Kelly and the late great Bernie Mac and John Ritter. This isn’t a warm and fuzzy Santa, but it’s a brilliant riff on the notion of a mall Santa’s barely hidden misery. By the end, the film sees Thornton finding his Christmas spirit.
Douglas Seale – Ernest Saves Christmas
I have to throw a curveball into the mix. Film fans of a certain age may well have a soft spot for the antics of Ernest P Worrall. Jim Varney as his bumbling creation starred in such classics as Ernest Goes to School, Ernest Goes to Africa, Ernest Goes to Jail and my favourite, Ernest Goes Straight to Video (Simpsons fans will get that). In Ernest Saves Christmas, Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) is getting long in the tooth and needs to find a replacement. His search finds him crossing paths with Ernest who then has to help Seale, who much like Dick Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street, finds himself jailed and unable to convince the cops he’s Santa Claus. This isn’t the most sophisticated comedy you’ll ever see, but Seale is a suitably gentile and fuzzy Santa, and Ernest at his best always provides affably goofy entertainment, knowwhatimean?
Richard Attenborough – Miracle on 34th Street
This Christmas staple, and remake of the original classic (with an equally great Santa in Edward Gwenn) sees Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle who has fallen foul of authorities over his vehement claims of being Santa Claus. With the threat of institutionalisation, Kringle is aided by a lawyer, whose daughter takes a particularly wondry-eyed shine to Kringle, believing his story entirely. It’s a saccharin sweet and completely charming Christmas classic that’ll leave you wholly in the mood for Crimbo. Attenborough is perfection.
David Huddleston – Santa Clause: The Movie
Santa Clause: The Movie is not a good film by any objective metric. Fans tend to be of a certain age with warm nostalgic feelings for the film stemming from watching it as a kid. Count me in that circle. For all its faults though, it’s endearing and enjoyable. John Lithgow is brilliant as the megalomaniacal toy exec devoid of any morals, as is Dudley Moore as the misguided Elf who abandons the workshop to prove his individual worth. Lots of fun ensues and one thing many agree on, even those who don’t particularly enjoy the film, is that David Huddleston is a really great Santa. He’s suitably grand, bombastic and amiable Claus with the requisite presence to make it a memorable take. If anything one of the films key failings was the fact it wasn’t particularly about Santa at all, despite the title.
Kurt Russell – The Christmas Chronicles
Kurt Russell is so synonymous with a range of badass action movie and John Carpenter characters, that the idea of him playing Santa probably raised a few eyebrows. However, this satisfying Christmas film from Netflix proved popular enough to warrant a sequel. Much of that is down to how great Russell is. He’s arguably one of the coolest Santas on the list, by virtue of being Kurt MF Russell, but he’s not without that affable grandpa quality a good Santa needs.
David Harbour – Violent Night
A freshly baked Santa added to the list. David Harbour puts Hopper into a beard and Santa outfit, with a good mix of gruff weariness with cuddly teddy bear and a powder keg of badassness. Violent Night is a perfect contrarian Christmas film. It does exactly what it promises, no more no less. For those buying into the concept of Santa foiling a home invasion from well armed robbers, they’re aptly rewarded with a sure-fire cult film.
Jeff Gillen – A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story is a yuletide staple. The iconic tale about a young boy longing for a BB Gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out.”) tries all he can to persuade his parents to buy him one. Along his misadventures (which are frequently hilarious), he encounters a mall Santa, trying to tell Saint Nick what he wants for Christmas. David Gillen’s portrayal is almost a blueprint for Billy Bob Thornton’s take on the beleaguered and slightly grotesque mall Santa. Though his role is fleeting, it’s highly memorable, and like Thornton, makes for a nice antithesis to the toasty and schmaltzy image of Santa.
Edward Asner – Elf
In some ways playing out like the aforementioned Dudley Moore classic, Elf is the more well-executed tale of an Elf off to find himself. The classic and hugely charming farcical comedy has Will Ferrell at his absolute best as Buddy the Elf. It’s a stellar cast too, including the late great James Caan, Peter Dinklage and Mary Steenburgen. Likewise, Ed Asner appears as Santa and it is perfect casting. A brief but memorable role. Asner had a great gift in his latter career for perfectly flitting between curmudgeon roles and quaint grandpappy-type roles, requiring the kind of warmth that could save you from turning the heating on.
Tim Allen – The Santa Clause
Tim Allen unwittingly becomes the new Santa. This festive favourite came at the height of Allen’s TV sitcom fame, and just prior to his Toy Story success. Allen nails the transition from a slightly cynical salesman to becoming Santa. As you’d expect from a Disney picture, particularly of that era, it’s a good blend of family-friendly entertainment, comedy and heartwarming moments. It’s comfortingly predictable. Allen’s slightly dry comedy works well too as the initial ridiculousness of the whole affair isn’t lost on his portrayal of Scott Calvin. That arc to becoming Santa needs a little bit of a notable journey of self discovery, and he duly delivers.
J.K Simmons – Klaus
A Spanish and American animated production that almost feels like it has a distinctly nordic feel, gives us a fictional origin story for Santa Claus. Here, a selfish postman teams with a reclusive toymaker and the pair seek to put a bit of Christmas joy into the nearby village by making and sending out toys. It’s slightly sad, but this great Netflix production is one of the best Christmas films from the modern era, and yet is still a little under the radar. It deserves more love and J.K Simmons lends his inimitable voice to the role of Klaus and is as good as you’d expect. Well worth checking out if you haven’t got round to it, as this one should be a Christmas staple.
Who is your favourite movie Santa? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022/2023, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy, and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.