Santa Claus, the face of the Christmas season himself, is one of the most iconic characters in all of existence. It takes a certain type of magic to bring this jolly old elf to life on screen, and we've got no shortage of Santas in various specials. But how many actually stack up and do the role justice?
From the bright and jolly to the mysterious and magical, we've seen Santas as different as they come. For this holiday season, we've got some special picks. Submitted for your reading and viewing pleasure, here are our choices for the ten best Santas on screen.
10 Scott Calvin/Santa Claus
Tim Allen might not be everyone's first choice when they think of an iconic Santa Claus, but we can't deny how incredibly memorable his version of the character was in Disney's The Santa Clause. When shrewd businessman, Scott Calvin mistakenly knocks Santa off his roof, it's up to him to step into the big man's boots.
Allen's Santa isn't the most traditional on our list, at least at first. When he fully and readily accepts his new role as the red-clad gift giver, he's pretty good for standard fare. Think the Coca Cola Santa come to life and you've pretty much got it.
9 Santa Claus (Polar Express)
For one of the best animated Santas we've ever seen, climb aboard the Polar Express for an unforgettable Christmas journey. Tom Hanks gives us this version of St. Nick, and the build-up to his reveal is absolutely palpable in its payoff. There's nothing extra or extravagant about this version, he's basically Santa in his purest form.
The deep but warm and loving voice, the magic that practically radiates off of him, and the absolute power in his presence is enough to give us goosebumps. This is our idea of the classic Santa, red suit, jingle bells, and the power of belief.
In Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld, the angel of Death trades in the scythe for a sleigh in Hogfather. When the Discworld's version of Santa Claus, the Hogfather, is indisposed, Death has to carry out his holiday himself.
The Discworld series is what happens when you blend Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail together. Death substituting for Santa is pretty much a normal Thursday here. To his credit, Death does a decent job, though his delivery is a bit dry and deadpan (no pun intended). He fulfills his duty with a strange but sincere brand of good humor and cheer.
7 Jack Skellington
Speaking of skeletal figures who take the role of Santa Claus, how can we forget to mention the spooky antics of the Pumpkin King himself? True, Burton's holiday tale does have its own Santa, but he's barely in the film. Jack, though mistaken and misguided in his attempt, really does want to give everyone a merry Christmas.
When Jack decides to swap his Halloween haunts for yuletide cheer, things don't exactly go as planned. We have to include our favorite Halloween Town resident simply because of the sheer joy factor he carries on his trip. Though he delivered a Christmas more macabre than merry, he was happy just to try it.
6 Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas
From the man that brought us The Snowman comes this take on the jolly old elf. Father Christmas shows us a different side of Santa, specifically what he does outside of the holiday season. In this lovely little film, we see what happens when Santa Claus goes on vacation.
The short is interesting, to say the least. We see Santa visiting France, Scottland, and even Vegas all while traveling in a reindeer-pulled flying camper. Santa himself is very unique and definitely more human than any other version on our list. Even Father Christmas needs a vacation now and then.
5 Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (Rankin Bass)
When it comes to tenure as Santa Claus, Mickey Rooney might just hold the record. Rooney played Kris Kringle five different times in his decorated career, namely in the Rankin Bass holiday specials. However, his most famous credit of this list has to be Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.
Kris makes our list because this is one of the few instances where we're introduced to Santa as a younger man who grows up into the bearded bringer of toys we all know and love. Every famous character needs an origin story, right? This is a pretty good way to get the ball rolling for old Saint Nick.
4 Nicholas St. North
How can we not talk about Alec Baldwin's sword-swinging, swashbuckling, tattooed, Russian Santa in Rise of the Guardians? This is definitely a guy we would love to get our Christmas gifts from, and can you blame us?
He meets all the Santa criteria with his immense white beard, joyous disposition, and bright red suit, but can easily be a fearsome warrior if he really needs to be. Easily the most interesting and alternative Santa on our list, it's not every day we see the holiday icon turned into a superhero, but this is a pretty impressive way to do it.
3 Santa Claus (Christmas Chronicles)
Say what you want about The Christmas Chronicles, but we had to include a rockstar Santa played by Kurt Russell? People have tried to make Santa "cool" before, but this version actually succeeds with Russel dawning a killer beard, a red leather coat, and even an Elvis inspired musical number.
The hard-rock exterior might be a bit flashy, but this Santa is also a pro, sporting a host of gadgets that allows him to perform his yearly lap around the world. It's a more modern take, but not one we'd turn down any time soon.
2 Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street (1947))
Definitely the most famous interpretation of Santa Claus on our list has to be Edmund Gwenn from the Oscar-winning Miracle on 34th Street. The film is considered an all-time Christmas classic, and Gwenn's performance is definitely one of the biggest reasons why. This version of Kris Kringle definitely captures a childlike sense of wonder in all of us.
Gwenn's Santa carries himself very well with a polished elegance and pride in his performance. He's also very gentle and warm in his interactions with everyone he meets. The scene with the Dutch girl gets us every time, and we can't have a Santa list without him.
1 Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street (1994))
We're not saying the remake is better than the original, but Richard Attenborough's interpretation of Kris Kringle is definitely different from Edmund Gwenn's. Gwenn's is no doubt an iconic performance of the character, but it does still feel like a performance. Attenborough's, on the other hand, feels more like a natural Santa.
Attenborough absolutely melts into this role, the amount of joy that radiates off of him is simply contagious and it never fails to light up whatever scene he's in. The way he smiles, laughs, and holds our attention is enough to make us all believe yes, there is a Santa Claus.