RANKED! The Best Actors to Play Santa Claus on Film
You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, we’re telling you why. Santa Claus is coming…to a theater near you!
For almost as long as movies have existed, Saint Nick has had a presence on the big screen. From A Miracle on 34th Street, to The Santa Clause, and everything in between – Father Christmas has been demonstrating his acting chops for as long as we can remember. Even if it wasn’t the real Santa Claus, those who have thrown on the red jacket, grown their beard out, and put on a few extra pounds have embodied the spirit of The Big Guy to varying degrees of success. There’s been good (Tim Allen in The Santa Clause), bad (Tim Allen in The Santa Clause 2), and ugly (Tim Allen in The Santa Clause 3), but even if the performances weren’t great, the spirit of Christmas was alive and well.
There has been a multitude of Saints Nicholas interpretations on film, but we’ve narrowed the list down to eight. Keep in mind, these actors have portrayed the real Santa Claus, not knockoff versions. With apologies to Billy Bob Thornton, we don’t want bad Santas – only the good ones. No department store ripoffs who smell like beef and cheese here. These are the best actors to play Santa Claus on film.
Cover Photo: Netflix
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8. Paul Giamatti - 'Fred Claus' (2007)
If you’ve never seen Fred Claus, don’t worry. Nobody has, as it turns out. This movie tells the story of Santa’s brother, Fred (played by Vince Vaughn). While Fred is the star, Santa still gets some screen time and he is played to perfection by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti himself has always been a rosy-cheeked, jelly-bellied type figure, so it was only a matter of time before he played Saint Nicholas. To his credit, he did a great job in this film and narrowly stole the show every time he was on screen.
7. Bill Goldberg - 'Santa’s Slay' (2005)
What happens when Santa gets tired of your shit? Well, he turns into former WCW Heavyweight Champion Bill Goldberg and knocks you on your ass, that’s what. In Santa’s Slay, Goldberg portrays the titular Santa, and this jolly elf ain’t feelin' so jolly anymore. After years of “playing nice,” Santa reverts to his original demonic form and let’s just say, no amount of cookies and milk is going to change his attitude.
This movie is terrible but, like, in a fun way. Goldberg can’t act, but he can murder people and that’s exactly what he does in this Christmas horror story.
6. George Buza - 'A Christmas Horror Story' (2015)
Speaking of Christmas horror stories, there’s this – A Christmas Horror Story. This is an anthology film with a pretty ingenious wraparound, centered on Santa Claus and his battle to save the town of Bailey’s Down (named, we assume, after George Bailey) when it is besieged by murderous elves, scary, spooky spirits, and the anti-Claus itself, Krampus. George Buza plays Santa in this film and he strikes us as both a gentle spirit and a total badass. He uses a freakin trident as a weapon! This version of Santa may not be the most classical portrayal, but he is the coolest.
5. Edward Asner - 'Elf' (2003)
Elf, starring Will Ferrell, had become a modern Christmas classic. It ranks high on the list of Christmas Movie Must-See Lists. Buddy the Elf has almost become as synonymous with Christmas as the Man in Red himself, but Santa will always remain number one. And the man to portray Santa in this film was great. While Buddy the Elf was off finding his real dad in New York City, Santa Claus was holding down the fort at the North Pole. This version of Santa had some gruff to him, that only centuries of gift-giving can offer a man. He was still the same old kind-hearted Saint, but he was also street smart. This was proven when he gave Buddy advice on the do’s and don’ts of New York City. This Santa has seen some shit and he was eager to offer some fatherly (Christmas) advice to young Buddy.
4. Richard Attenborough - 'A Miracle on 34th Street' (1994)
Now we find ourselves with the more classical Clauses. For those who don’t want black-and-white movies because “they’re too old” (shame on you), most people recognize Richard Attenborough as the Santa Claus. The remake of A Miracle on 34th Street came out in 1994 and it starred the girl who played Matilda, but it was Attenborough that stole the show, along with our hearts, with his portrayal of Kris Kringle, a strange but decent man who believes he is Santa Claus. Is he actually? Well, that’s what the movie is about, and we won’t dare spoil it here.
Yes, he’s actually Santa Claus, and Attenborough does a remarkable job of channeling the magic of Santa. Whether he’s daring Matilda to tug on his beard, or he’s berating a jury for losing their Christmas spirit, Attenborough is the man most of us think of when we think of “Movie Santa.”
3. Edmund Gwenn - 'A Miracle on 34th Street' (1947)
But, of course, there would be a 1994 remake if there wasn’t first the original. And, in many peoples’ eyes, Edmund Gwenn is the granddaddy of Santas. Gwenn was one of, if not the first actors to play Kris Kringle, er, Santa Claus, and very few people come close to his performance. He’s got the beard, the belly and, most importantly, the belief that he is Santa and he makes the rest of us believe in him, too.
2. Tim Allen - 'The Santa Clause' (1994)
Who woulda thought that Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor would be such a believable Santa? The Santa Clause tells the story of an ad exec named Scott Calvin who doubles as an absent father. Like most divorced dads, Calvin gets his son on Christmas Eve and the two embark on a magical journey after Calvin accidentally murders the real Santa Claus. Per the Santa Clause, Calvin then becomes Santa himself and must come to grips with his new position, while making sure the rest of the world doesn’t think he’s a lunatic. Tim Allen does a surprisingly awesome job at portraying Santa, and The Santa Clause has become a Christmas classic.
The sequels? Well, we don’t talk about those.
1. Kurt Russell - 'The Christmas Chronicles' (2018)
For the longest time, Tim Allen was the Santa Claus. But then, just like when peanut butter first met jelly, Kurt Russell was cast as Santa Claus and the result was simply…magic. The Christmas Chronicles graced our Netflix accounts a couple of years ago and took the world by storm. Kurt Russell is everything you want Santa to be -- he’s funny, he’s caring, sure he’s a little rough around the edges but aren’t we all? Kurt Russell is Santa Claus, and if you disagree, he’ll kick your ass and drink your wife’s milk, if you know what we mean. Just don’t tell Mrs. Claus (played by Goldie Hawn).