Who doesn't love Santa Claus? This jolly, rotund individual with the big white beard is loved and revered by all. In fact, he is the ultimate uniter. I defy you to tell me any religion that doesn't at least smile somewhat (regardless of how they feel about Christmas) when they see this iconic being. Santa Claus has been portrayed by people of all walks of life. Some looking like the Jolly Ole Saint Nick we see in Norman Rockwell paintings, and other's looking like Don Knotts. Santa is a symbol and that symbol has found no better home (no pun intended) than on the silver screen.
For years this character has been portrayed in movies. He has appeared in cameos and starring roles. In fact, it seems that just adding Santa Claus (and the holiday season) to a film can make it have a longer life. People love nostalgia. They love the warm fuzzies and Santa Claus is truly representative of that. With the holidays now in full swing we know that you are busy. We know that there are things you just can't be bothered to do. However, if you knew that you had a bunch of Santa Claus movies to enjoy, chances are this would make the holidays feel a bit less stressful.
So that is why we have assembled a list of the 15 best Santa Claus movies of all time. As we have stated, Santa can come in many shapes and sizes. He can truly be all things to all people. Whether he's playing the guy running the reindeer (or running from the law), it seems pretty universal that Santa Claus is a character everybody wants to see.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Tim Allen places Santa in this 90s comedy that has proven timeless since it's release. The plot is simple. When Scott Calvin (Allen) unfortunately kills Santa Claus on Christmas Eve}, he ends up having to take his place and deliver gifts to all the children of the world. The premise may seem hokey but movies about Santa Claus always seem to thrive on the fact that they can reside in the realm of magic. Sure, this might not be hight art but who really wants to see that after a rough day of Christmas shopping?
Will Ferrell gives a career best performance as Buddy the Elf. He is a grown man living as an elf and this is causing major problems in the North Pole. So, Buddy goes to the USofA to discover who he really is. It turns out his birth father is a man named Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and, as you can guess, Hobbs isn't falling all over himself to claim this elf-man as his son. What ensues is a wildly entertaining family romp that also skews nicely towards adults. They don't usually make Santa Claus movies with this much sass and that is probably a good thing!
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In today's day and age of "fake news" Miracle on 34th Street is needed now more than ever. Okay, Santa Claus may be fake but the idea of Santa Clause, what the big man in red represents, is very, very real. Miracle on 34th Street is the story of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn). He is locked away as crazy because he claims to be Santa Claus. Suddenly, a young lawyer has defend this person and basically prove that they are Ole Saint Nick. Now, this movie may not play as well as it did years ago, however it has never been more poignant. We live in a time of sound bytes where every thought and idea is for sale. Miracle on 34th Street quaintly reminds us that the idea of Santa Claus is needed all year round.
Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton and director Terry Zwigoff basically turned the Santa Claus movie on its head here. What this film lacks in Christmas spirit it makes up for in tough love. Billy Bob plays Willie. He is a conman of the highest order. Willie has one goal. He wants to pull a robbery on Christmas Eve by posing as a department store Santa. The premise is unwieldy. The execution is flawless and darn if it if, by the end of the movie, you don't love this Bad Santa and all of his foulmouthed drunken ways.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
What is Jack Skellington, the ruler of Halloween Town, to do? He's discovered this place called Christmas Town and now he wants to have Christmas on Halloween. The brilliance of this concept from Director Henry Selick (from a story written by Tim Burton) is that this is and isn't a Santa Claus movie. Sure, it takes a very different look at Christmas. However, that is precisely what makes it the kind of film that is perfect for the Holidays. Add to this that you have corpses, demons, mummy's and other oddballs in this Santa Claus film and it is easy to see why it is so beloved after all these years.
The Polar Express (2004)
A film about a boy taking a special train that transports him to the home of Santa Claus. Can you say slam dunk? Sure, a lot of people love to talk about the majestic artistry of this film. Once you get passed all the technical gobbledygook and the dead eyed stares of most of the characters, you have a Santa Claus film that really captures the heart of the season. There is a richness and a depth to The Polar Express that really seems to work despite this film being in love with technology. The fact that you have Tom Hanks playing multiple roles (yes, he plays Santa Claus) only adds to this movie's warmth and holiday cheer.
Fred Claus (2007)
Wanting to be Bad Santa but constricted by its PG rating actually seems to help Fred Claus. Vince Vaughn plays the title character. He's one big, no goodnik of a man who doesn't really care for his older brother... Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti). However, Santa Claus needs help during the busy Christmas season, his brother Fred needs money, so it seems like they have an accord. As you can guess, these two distant family members end up coming together in the most unexpected of ways. Both Vaughn and Giamatti are quite deft with comedy and that is what really helps carry this semi-oddball of a Santa Claus movie.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
How cool is a Santa Claus movie that is voiced by James McAvoy? Arthur Christmas tells the tale of the lovable Arthur. He doesn't really do anything well, but man oh man does he try. He is given a mission to return a misplaced gift and he's going to make this happen in-spite of himself. With other voice cast members that include Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy, Arthur Christmas might be one of the lesser known Santa Claus movies. However, like its main character, never judge a book by its cover. And isn't that, in a very roundabout way, what the season of giving is all about?
Rare Exports (2010)
Rare Exports has Santa Claus in it. However, this isn't your grandparents Santa. This oddity from Finland features a Santa Claus who is dug up during an archaeological excavation. Things get even stranger when young kids start to go missing. Suddenly, a vigilante group of sorts takes it upon themselves to nab Santa and get rid of him. These men may have guns but Santa has elves and that just might be the equalizer here. What follows is a crazy adventure that sort of makes a political statement about the commercialization of Christmas. As I said, this isn't really a Santa Claus tale you've seen before but that is what makes it so memorable.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Jim Varney may not reek of the Christmas spirit but that doesn't mean that Ernest Saves Christmas doesn't have a lot to offer. The storyline is simple: Santa is looking for somebody to take his place and Ernest P. Worrell (Varney) is determined to make that happen. If it doesn't than Christmas would be done and that is just unthinkable. This film, despite its silliness, is really a Santa Claus film that is filled with heart and emotion. On top of that, and not many Santa Claus movies can boast this: Douglas Seale's Santa Claus is probably the most realistic depiction to ever grace the silver screen.
The Year Without Santa (1974)
It is hard to argue with a film that has Mickey Rooney voicing Santa Claus. This Santa Claus film is special for a number of reasons. First off, at 51 minutes it is the shortest film on the list. Secondly, it was all done in claymation. Thirdly, and this might be most important, the story is follows a Santa Claus who is kinda over being the jovial big man. He is even considering not delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. Well, Mrs. Claus is never going to let that happen and their relationship is the crux of this exceptional Santa Claus film.
One Magic Christmas (1985)
This Santa Claus film should be rated G for "gem" as it is nearly pitch perfect in every way. Mary Steenburgen plays Ginny Grainger, a woman who hates Christmas. Her family is cash poor and she doesn't believe in anything. All of this changes when her daughter has an encounter with Santa and Gideon; a Christmas Angel. They pay Ginny a visit and this sets in mind a wild chain of events. Ultimately, they lead Ginny back to the meaning of the season. Sure this premise may sound a bit milquetoast, but overall it is a delightful. It shows that no matter how tough things get one should never stop believing in Santa Claus.
Santa Claus (1959)
Rene Cardona's tale takes another turn with Santa Claus. He sits atop the North Pole getting everything ready for his major delivery of gifts aka Christmas. Santa wants to help the needy. However, the Devil finds out about this and will not let it happening. He enlists the evil Pitch and they set about foiling Santa's plans. However, Santa has a few tricks up his sleeve and he won't give up the spirit of Christmas so easily. This is a highly interesting tale. The fact that it comes from 1959 makes it that much more subversive in the lexicon of great Santa Claus films.
While not exactly a Santa Claus film in the vein of the others on this list, Krampus is a Christmas film of the highest order. Max is tired of his family's bickering and wants nothing to do with Christmas. This brings about Krampus. A demon who brings hell on anyone who doesn't believe. Suddenly, holiday icons come to life and wreak havoc on this family (amidst a major storm no less), and they have to work together if they are going to save Christmas and each other. Okay, Krampus might be the weakest link in this Santa Claus film chain. As I said, this isn't exactly a film about the jolly man in red. However, it captures the holiday spirit and is filled with carnage. What more could you ask for to shake things up this December 25th?
Get Santa (2014)
Santa Claus is really in a pickle in this film. Basically, Ole Saint Nick has crashed his sleigh and is on the run from the authorities. (Is it just me is there something about Santa Claus being pursued by the law that is inherently interesting?) Well, this poses some big problems. The biggest being that this is probably going to mess up Christmas for the entire world. So... a father and son team up to make sure that that doesn't happen. Get Santa is a charming film in the grand tradition of Santa Claus films. It is ripe with nuance and ultimately illuminates much about the holiday season and the lore of Santa himself.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
I've got two names for you... Dudley Moore and John Lithgow. Do I really need to say any more? Moore plays the erstwhile Patch in Santa Claus. An elf who leaves the North Pole and travels to New York. Along the way he ends up getting sucked into the evil world of B.Z. (Lithgow). He is a ruthless tycoon with one goal... to turn Christmas into a profit machine for himself. Suddenly, Santa Claus (David Huddleston) has to get involved to save not only Patch but Christmas itself! Santa Claus: The Movie was made in the mid-1980s. It's got all that going for it and more in this cornerstone of a Santa Claus film.