This holiday season Netflix gifted the world with the coolest Santa Claus ever, when Kurt Russell stepped into the red robes of Saint Nicholas in The Christmas Chronicles. He instantly became one of our favorite Kris Kringles ever, which got us to thinking: Who else is on our list of all-time great Santas? Real Santas, we mean. Not mall imposters. Here are nine of the best versions of the North Pole’s most famous resident, along with the worst one ever.
This Vince Vaughan comedy about Santa’s jealous older brother won’t make anyone’s list of best Christmas movies, but Paul Giamatti’s stressed out, frustrated Santa stands out as the film’s bright spot. He’s overworked, and his strained relationship with his brother Fred constantly brings out the worst in him. Despite all of that, he’s still kind with the best of intentions.Â Giamatti was an inspired choice for St. Nick, who we always imagine looks like the literal weight of the entire world’s expectations is on his shoulders (cause they are). We just wish he got to play Santa in a better movie.
The Polar Express
Easily the best Christmas movie where every character has lifeless shark eyes, The Polar Express only gives us a little bit of the jolly old elf, but it goes a long way. In one of his many roles in the motion-capture film from director Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks plays St. Nick. His Santa has gravitas and presence, and he’s also a little bit mysterious, just like Santa should be. And we can’t help but laugh when he politely but sternly tells a greedy brat to cool it. You know you’ve brought to life a great Santa Claus when you manage to have a twinkle in your eye when every other character has dead eyes.
Frosty the Snowman
Frosty the Snowman might be a holiday classic, but the special’s Santa seems unappreciated. Voiced with the authority by Paul Frees, his version is everything you’d want in Kris Kringle. He shows up, comforts young Karen, and brings Frosty back after he has melted in the greenhouse. Even better, he gets the evil magician Professor Hinkle in line by threatening to never again give him a Christmas present. Frosty‘s Santa is funny, powerful, kind, and rewards the good while punishing the bad, but not without giving them a chance to get better.
The Santa Clause
Tim Allen‘s universal approval rating was a lot higher in 1994 when the instant Christmas classic The Santa Clause hit theaters. Somehow a movie where St. Nicholas falls off a roof AND DIES stands as one of the best, funniest, sweetest Christmas movies ever, and that’s thanks to Allen’s unlikely, reluctant Kris Kringle. After he puts on the dead Santa’s suit (man, this movie didn’t seem so weird when we were kids), he becomes the new Santa, and over the next year his physical appearance begins to change into the fat, white-bearded big guy we all know. He eventually comes around and embraces the role, going from the grumpiest Santa ever to a truly great one. Too bad Santa can’t bring us back this version of Tim Allen.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
No, Jack Skellington does not count as a “real” Santa Claus. That’s okay, though, because The Nightmare Before Christmas still gives us a great “Sandy Claws.” Voiced by Edward Ivory, the portly St. Nick with a low center of gravity gets kidnapped by the Pumpkin King who replaces him with terrible results; then Sandy becomes Oogie Boogie’s prisoner and pawn in a deadly game. It rightfully makes him very angry, but despite all of that he forgives Jack and heads out to save Christmas. And because he understands the spirit of the season and Jack’s true intentions, he even returns to Halloween Town to bring some holiday cheer (and snow).
The Christmas Chronicles
The newest addition to the list is one of the best, most original takes on Kris Kringle ever. Kurt Russell‘s in-shape (very unhappy with his portly portrayal in pop culture), swaggering Santa guarantees The Christmas Chronicles will become a yearly viewing tradition for us. He knows everything about everyone (maybe even more than he lets on) and uses it to his advantage with hilarious results. It also helps that he has a little bit of a naughty streak himself, which lets him let loose much more than most Santas. Also, huge bonus points for having the best Mrs. Claus ever.
If you worked 364 days a year to give gifts to every child in the world, on the three hundred sixty-fifth day you would probably be a little ornery, right? That’s an insane amount of work, but the kind that can only be done by someone who is a real teddy bear underneath his gruff exterior. That’s why the question isn’t whether or not Ed Asner in Elf is one of the most perfect choices to play Santa ever, he obviously was and we love everything about his St. Nick, but whether we can someday get the real Santa to play Ed Asner in a biopic.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994)
Edmund Gwenn‘s portrayal of Kris Kringle in the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street was so perfect he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. His wonderful Santa was everything you’d want in old St. Nick: he was patient and understanding with kids and sincere and kind with adults. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever capturing what we would hope the real Santa Claus would be like as well as he did.
That’s what makes the 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough in the role of Kris Kringle so remarkable. He did the impossible by replacing the perfect Santa with an equally amazing performance. He’s sweet, understanding, and devoutly committed to bringing joy to the children of the world, even at his own peril. This scene remains as good a Santa Claus moment as you will ever see, and captures why he also stands as one of the best ever.
Of course, this is supposed to be a list of “real” Santas, and technically we never really know if the Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street is the famous elf from the North Pole or just a kind old man. There’s no question they both belong on this list though, and for the best reason possible: they both make us believe in them, and that is what truly makes Santa Claus real.
And the worst Santa ever…
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
And finally, we need to discuss the most famous terrible Santa ever to grace the screen. Every other Santa on this list is a genuinely good, moral, caring, giving, decent bloke who embodies the true spirit of the season. But the Santa Claus in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is not. In fact, he absolutely sucks. He’s truly the worst, a narcissistic, selfish, mean bully who Child Services should keep away from kids. Voiced by Stan Francis, he makes his own elves feel like crap, randomly sings a song for himself, berates a newborn Rudolph for being born different, shames Donner for bringing his son to the reindeer games, and is ready to cancel Christmas over snow. Snow! He lives in the North Pole!
The fact that Rudolph saved his skinny red ash on Christmas Eve instead of telling him to go to here is a testament to Rudolph’s grace. Launch this Santa into the sun. Twice. If he ever comes down your chimney call the police.Which real Santa do you think is the greatest of all time? Head down the chimney into our comments section below to let us know.
Featured Image: Disney/Fox/Netflix