This time of year we see his image everywhere. The jolly man in a bright red suit and a sack of presents over his shoulder helps to ring in the holiday season by appearing in malls and weekend animated television marathons each December. From the Christmas classics to modern-day comedies, MovieMaker highlights our all-time favorite cinema Santas.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Edmund Gwenn was a remarkable Santa for many reasons. As Kris Kringle he had enough whimsy, innocence and unaffected kindness to turn the hearts of even the most hardened non-believers. His performance was so impressive that Gwenn became the only actor ever to win an Oscar for portraying the portly present-bearer. (The movie also took home Best Writing—Original Story and Best Writing—Screenplay.) From the moment little Natalie Wood tugged on his beard to see if it was real, Gwenn had audiences embracing the holiday spirit and cheering for this Santa to make it out of the loony bin and back to the North Pole where he belongs.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
David Huddleston was one of the most convincing Santas to ever fill the silver screen. Not only did he have the acting chops and the look, but Huddleston was also listed as the big guy in the end credits: “Santa Claus as Himself.” The movie takes place over centuries to show how a charitable wood whittler (Huddleston), became the Santa Claus he is today—from why he began wearing a red suit in the first place, to how the “naughty or nice” list came about. Huddleston’s performance reinforced the spirit of Christmas and gave children a Santa that they could really believe in.
The Santa Clause (1994)
When Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor took a stab at the role of Santa, he gave a hysterical performance as the divorced father who accidentally kills Claus and has to take over his job. As his belly grows bigger and his hair grows longer and whiter, Allen’s Scott Calvin copes with becoming the head honcho of the North Pole, from meeting the elves to flying a sleigh over rooftops on Christmas Eve. Although his son couldn’t be prouder of him, Calvin struggles with his new identity and the fact that most people wouldn’t believe him. Audiences did though, and Allen’s Santa success brought him back for two sequels.
Miracle on 34th Street (remake) (1994)
Although Attenborough had some mighty big shoes to fill (after the above-mentioned Gwenn originated the role), he did a fantastic job as Kris Kringle. In writer John Hughes’ (Home Alone) more modern-day telling of the tale, Attenborough stars as the department store Santa who claims to be the real thing. Though the original is still a classic, Attenborough gave us a Santa for the 1990s, who faced cynicism and corrupt corporations and reminded kids—and their parents—that it’s OK to believe.
Billy Bob Thornton
Bad Santa (2003)
Okay, okay, so this one’s on the naughty list. It doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate Billy Bob’s performance as Willie, a department store Santa who’s a boozer and a loser. As a conman in cahoots with a friend who poses as an elf (Tony Cox), they rob department stores every holiday season, until Willie meets a lonely young misfit who believes he could be the Santa he’s been looking for. In this black comedy, Thornton might not be the real-deal Santa, but he does learn the meaning of friendship and Christmas in the end.