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The Definitive Ranking of Movie Santas

Many have aspired to the jolly beard and the red coat, but only a few have truly inhabited the role.

Jack Shepherd

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Saint Nick is our greatest hero; our most illustrious benefactor; the jolliest of all of us. And as such, it is the height of human hubris and ambition to attempt to portray him. Indeed, many have failed. History will not look kindly upon the overconfident buffoons who have donned the red coat and grown out their white beards only to run aground upon the rocky shores of insufficient jollity or unconvincing largesse. But those rare few who have succeeded — who have graced our silver screens with a truly Santaesque Father Christmas — deserve our highest praise. So in the spirit of the season, let’s give them their due.

10. Paul Giamatti, “Fred Claus”

Santa Claus The Movie

It’s … not a perfect Christmas movie by any stretch, but Paul Giamatti’s exhausted, permanently beleaguered Saint Nick adds a welcome new hue to the tried and true Santa Claus palate. And who doesn’t want to see Father Christmas get into an epic snowball fight with a leather-jacket-clad Vince Vaughn? A lot of people, it turns out. As I said, it’s not a perfect Christmas movie. 

Jolliness Rating: 4/10 Homemade Macaroni Christmas Tree Ornaments

9. David Huddleston, “Santa Claus: The Movie”

Santa Claus The Movie

The superhero origin story that Santa Claus deserves … but nobody really wanted. A box office and critical failure in 1985, this film, depicting Santa’s rise to power, has gained a cult classic status (especially in the UK), and it has a bang-on, right-down-the-middle Santa Claus in David Huddleston. 

Jolliness Rating: 4/10 Candy Canes

8. Tom Hanks, “The Polar Express”

Polar Express

With each passing year, Tom Hanks moves even further up the list of people in the world most likely to actually be Santa Claus, so it’s fitting that he got a chance at the role in this animated classic. Points reluctantly deducted here because it has to be admitted that 2004’s motion capture technology makes Santa just the tiniest bit  … creepy. Which is not a good look for him. 

Jolliness Rating: 5/10 Trains to the North Pole

7. Kurt Russell, “The Christmas Chronicles”

The Christmas Chronicles

2018’s The Christmas Chronicles is a late-breaking addition to the canon of Christmas classics. Kurt Russell brings some Escape From New York energy to his slick, modern silver fox of a Santa Claus who’s ready to face the hard but rewarding work of breaking into everybody’s houses once a year to spread Christmas cheer. 

Jolliness Rating: 5/9 Reindeer.   

6. Richard Attenborough, “Miracle on 34th Street” (1994)

Miracle 1994

The great Richard Attenborough, opposite the great Mara Wilson, with John Hughes directing? Santa gave the people of 1994 everything they could have possibly wanted with this film, but did those ungrateful wretches ever say thank you? I can’t find a record of it! Anyway, Attenborough is an admirable Kris Kringle. 

Jolliness Rating: 9/10 Comically Oversized Nutcrackers

5. Bill Nighy, “Arthur Christmas”

Arthur Christmas

Honorable mention for Jim Broadbent, as the affably feckless Malcolm Claus in this absolutely top-tier animated Christmas film—but Bill Nighy (as he is wont to do) steals the show as the hilariously grumpy Grandsanta. 

Jolliness Rating: 10/10 High-Tech S-1 Present Delivery Vehicles

4. Tim Allen, “The Santa Clause”

Santa Clause

After the absolute rockiest of possible starts (prematurely ending the previous Santa’s career by knocking him off the roof!) Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin does such an admirable job morphing into one of cinema’s most memorable Santas that nobody even misses the old Santa. 

Jolliness Rating: 7/10 Candy Canes

3. Jim Broadbent, “Get Santa”

Get Santa

Jim Broadbent has played Santa Claus a couple of times, including in the brilliant Arthur Christmas, but his hilariously bumbling performance in 2004’s underrated Get Santa is an inspired take on a jolly old Saint Nick who manages to maintain surprisingly high Christmas spirits despite being stuck in prison for much of the film. 

Jolliness Rating: 9/10 Figgy Puddings

2. Ed Asner, “Elf”

Elf

Ed Asner’s Santa knows that he’s not the star of this movie, but Santa’s never been one to try and steal the spotlight anyway. For pulling off a magical, memorable Santa in the number one greatest Christmas movie of all time (yeah, I said it), Ed gets the number two slot on this definitive ranking. 

Jolliness Rating: 12/10 Christmas Trees

1. Edmund Gwenn, “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

Miracle 1947

Turns out no Santa can top the iconic performance of Edmund Gwenn in this ultimate Christmas classic. Despite this film's venerable old age, I’d bet on Edmund Gwenn’s delightfully merry Kris Kringle in a Royal Rumble cage match of Santa Claus any day of the week. Sorry for that metaphor!!!

Jolliness Rating: 10/10 Christmas Miracles