Santa Claus is an important aspect In many Christmas movies. The big man in red is one of the most iconic hallmarks of the holiday season, making him vital to almost every big screen Yuletide adventure, whether he is featured as a holiday decoration or actually shows up as a character in his own movie. Over the years, countless actors have portrayed Santa Claus on screen, each with their different take on the jolly old man, but which Santa actor is the best? Let's take a look at some of the most prominent Santa Claus portrayals over the years to decide which one truly stands out as the perfect on-screen Santa.
Kurt Russell (The Christmas Chronicles)
Kurt Russell is the most recent actor to portray Santa on this list, starring in the Netflix original movie The Christmas Chronicles. Russell introduced audiences to a new side of Santa Claus that they had never really seen in a movie before, showing him as a gritty badass, while still having the jolly traits that have made him into such a lovable character over the years. However, while Kurt Russell's portrayal of Santa was unique and incredibly entertaining, he didn't really sell audiences that he was Santa. Perhaps it was due to how unique his character was, or maybe it was because of the fact that Kurt Russell is an incredibly recognizable actor. Nevertheless, as great as Russell's performance was, his portrayal of Santa was certainly not the best, at least when compared to some of the other actors who have played him over the years.
Tom Hanks (The Polar Express)
The Polar Express was a great movie for its time, featuring groundbreaking animation and, best of all, six different performances by Tom Hanks. From the conductor to the old man on the roof of the train, Hanks played a variety of characters, but perhaps the best role he had in the movie was Santa Claus. Right when all hope seemed lost for the hero of the movie, Santa finally appeared as an incredibly comforting force, giving him hope and reminding him what is important for the holidays. Though his appearance was brief, Tom Hanks truly sold us with his performance, making him perhaps the best animated Santa that we have ever received. However, the fact that this was only a voice role does unfortunately rule Tom Hanks out as being the best Santa we've seen in a movie, considering we never actually saw Hanks as Santa Claus.
Tim Allen (The Santa Clause)
Comedian Tim Allen is perhaps one of the most famous Santa actors today after starring in all three Santa Clause movies. His humorous performance in the first movie sold audiences as he slowly learned what it meant to be Santa Claus, making the movie an instant holiday classic. While the later Santa Clause movies perhaps weren't as great as the first, they featured Tim Allen finally being proud of his duty as Santa Claus, which convinced us further that he was a great fit for the role. Traditionally, however, Tim Allen wasn't really playing Santa Claus. Instead, he was playing a man who became Santa, with the Santa that we already knew and loved being killed off at the beginning of the first movie. Though Tim Allen gave a great performance, being both humorous and heartwarming, he doesn't exactly fit the demands of the best Santa actor.
David Huddleston (Santa Claus: The Movie)
1985's Santa Claus: The Movie was an instant Christmas classic, featuring the classic feud between greed and generosity during the holidays. While the movie primarily stars an elf who ends up having to work with a greedy businessman, The Big Lebowski and Blazing Saddles actor David Huddleston does appear recurrently throughout the movie as Santa Claus. Though David Huddleston was certainly a well known actor around the time, his portrayal of Santa was still seen as the actual Santa Claus rather than an actor playing Santa. He gave an excellent performance in the movie, bringing joy and cheer every time he appeared on screen, just as Santa is supposed to do. However, despite being a top tier Santa, he's still not the best one we've seen.
John Goodman (The Year Without a Santa Claus)
When it comes to the role of Santa Claus, actor John Goodman is certainly no stranger. Over the years, Goodman has played Jolly Ol' Saint Nick a total of four times, from the 2012 Spongebob Squarepants Christmas special to the 1998 remake of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. His only live action appearance as Santa, however, was in the 2006 TV Movie The Year Without a Santa Claus. While none of his performances as Santa truly stood out as spectacular, there was a reason Goodman kept getting asked back to play this jolly character: he's good at it. Goodman's physique and deep voice make him the perfect fit for Santa Claus, and even though he's already played Santa four times, he still hasn't found the opportune movie or show to truly shine in the white and red suit. Hopefully, Goodman will get one final chance to play Santa before he retires in order to give a truly phenomenal performance as Kris Kringle that everyone will remember, hopefully in something more than just a TV special.
Ed Asner (Elf)
Ed Asner is probably best known for playing Carl from Up, but before he played the grumpiest old man on the silver screen, he played the jolliest old man. Asner has played Santa Claus more times than John Goodman, but his biggest Santa gig was in the 2003 hit Christmas comedy Elf. Even though Asner was notably absent from the entire second act of Elf, his appearances at the beginning and in the climax felt real. Maybe it was just due to Buddy's reaction to Santa during these scenes that sold audiences, but went Asner spoke while in the big red suit, he really felt like the real thing. However, despite his phenomenal performance, Ed Asner is still not the best Santa actor we've ever seen on the big screen. Instead, that title has to be given to...
Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street)
70 years after its release, Miracle on 34th Street is still seen as one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. The story follows an elderly man named Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, who insists that he is Santa Claus, yet only a few people actually believe him. The presence of Mr. Kringle drives much of New York City into a frenzy, with the debate of whether or not Santa Claus was real eventually leading to a massive court case against Kringle. While the movie's ending remains open ended, with it being unclear whether or not Kringle was actually Santa, there's no question that Edmund Gwenn's performance as the jolly old man truly sold us on the fact that he was actually Santa. His calming and optimistic spirit made us root for Kringle throughout the entire movie, even when the facts against Santa's existence told us he was an insane fraud. There's a reason why this Christmas classic by 20th Century Fox has survived for so long, and much of that is credited to the incredible performance by Edmund Gwenn. Even today, Gwenn is still the only actor to ever receive an Academy Award for playing Santa. While there have been a number of great St. Nicholas actors over the years, Edmund Gwenn is surely the best Santa actor we have seen yet.