Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone is preparing for the return of our favorite Christmas legend, Santa Claus. Throughout history, many actors have attempted to fill the shoes—or should we say suit—of Saint Nicholas, from animated renditions to new-age versions of the holiday hero. To pay homage to the head elf himself, we took a look at the top 10 on-screen Santas of all time!
10. Billy Bob Thornton
Bad Santa (2003)
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) in Bad Santa (2003)
It’s pretty typical in movies that we get to see someone’s dark side. So, why not Santa’s? Billy Bob Thornton's take on Santa Claus is certainly not suitable for children. In this Christmas movie for adults, we find this after-hours mall Santa, a.k.a. Willie, as a drunk, volatile, sex-crazed burnout.
9. Paul Giamatti
Fred Claus (2007)
Annette Claus (Miranda Richardson) and Nick 'Santa' Claus (Paul Giamatti) in Fred Claus (2007)
Being Santa Claus isn't always what it's cracked up to be. This Vince Vaughn comedy about Santa’s jealous older brother brings a humanizing light to the role of Santa Claus. With Paul Giamatti as a stressed out, overworked Santa, it’s somewhat cathartic to see that even the image of Christmas cheer is also dealing with family problems around the holidays.
8. Kurt Russell
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) in The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
In one of the most recent Christmas movies, Kurt Russell takes a surprisingly charming approach to the role of Santa Claus. As an in-shape, more modern Kris Kringle, Russell may have brought us one of the best, fresh takes on the classic character. We also give The Christmas Chronicles an honorable mention for casting one of the best versions of Mrs. Claus we’ve seen—but that’s a different list.
7. Jim Carrey
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Max (Kelley) and Grinch (Jim Carrey) in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Ok, so not so much an actual “Santa” as much as a Santa imposter. Nonetheless, Jim Carrey’s take on the Grinch as a sort of anti-Santa is one to remember. Though he spends a majority of the movie stealing gifts instead of giving them, the Grinch is served a valuable lesson and learns to love the Whos that he hated for so long.
6. Edward Asner
Santa (Edward Asner), Ming Ming (Peter Billingsley), and Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) in Elf (2003)
Maybe it’s his general understanding of Christmas and the human condition, or maybe it’s Buddy’s over-infatuation with him, but there is just something so charming about Asner’s version of Santa in Elf. Will Ferrell easily steals the show as the cheery Buddy the Elf, but Ed Asner takes a great neo-traditional stance in this new holiday classic.
5. Tom Hanks
The Polar Express (2004)
Santa Claus (voiced by Tom Hanks) in The Polar Express (2004)
As one of his several roles in the movie, Tom Hanks’ take on Santa in The Polar Express leans heavily on the traditional imagery of the character. Though he doesn’t make his appearance until the end of the movie, this powerfully looming Santa brings the fear of God into the movie’s protagonist.
4. Tim Allen
The Santa Clause (1994)
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) and Elf-Judy (Paige Tamada) in The Santa Clause (1994)
Somehow a movie where Santa falls off a roof and DIES became one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever, and this is all thanks to Tim Allen’s role as the reluctant Santa Claus. As we follow Scott Calvin on his unlikely journey of becoming Kris Kringle, we see the transformation of one of the crankiest Santas to one of the most lovable.
3. Edmund Gwenn
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) and Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Edmund Gwenn‘s take on Kris Kringle in the original Miracle on 34th Street was so remarkable that he won an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor in 1948. Gwenn’s Santa was everything you’d want to see in old St. Nick: he was patient and understanding with kids and sincere and kind with adults.
2. Stan Francis
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa Claus (voiced by Stan Francis) and Rudolph (voiced by Billie Mae Richards) in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This version of Santa may not be as fat and jolly as we're used to seeing in depictions of the Christmas legend, but he is one of the most classic representations of St. Nick, making a staple appearance every year in the 1960’s claymation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Stan Francis voiced this skinny Santa, who isn’t necessarily the hero of the story, but he does eventually bond with Rudolph and hires him to guide the sleigh, saving Christmas.
1. Richard Attenborough
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) and Sami (Samantha Krieger) in Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
If you were to travel to the North Pole to be greeted by the real Santa Claus, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to find Attenborough in the red suit. When we thought that we couldn’t find a more perfect portrayal of St. Nicholas, he did the impossible by replacing the perfect Santa with an even more remarkable performance. He’s sweet, understanding, and devoutly committed to bringing joy to the children of the world, even at his own peril.