After a quick IMDB search we found a staggering 738 Santas in the movies – dating right back to the no-doubt redoutable John Bunny in the 1912 film Ida’s Christmas – but Movie Talk’s bona fide hopeless romantic Heidi has managed to whittle the number down to a much more manageable five of the best… And a few of the worst!
Top Cartoon Santa: Goes to Raymond Briggs’s bluff and grumpy Claus (well, so would you be with all those consumer goods to deliver in a single night) in 1991′s Father Christmas which was ably voiced by suitably grumpy comedian Mel Smith. Briggs’s Santa narrowly pipped the bluff and cheery Santa in The Polar Express who I felt was fatally let down by his vaguely creepy resemblance to Tom Hanks (and just about every other character in the movie!) and the fact that his North Pole Winter Wonderland resembled a grim Northern mill town.
Cheesiest Santa: Despite some stiff competition, this one has to go to Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen – complete with triffid-like white beard and one of the most annoying little girls ever as his co-star – in the 1991 film All I Want for Christmas. The clue’s in the title folks! One of those ‘was his agent on crack?’ moments.
Best Santa in a Supporting Role: Ed Asner, who continues to get better and better with age (how old is this guy anyway, wasn’t he practically a pensioner back in the seventies in Lou Grant?) in Elf! Let’s face it, Asner deserves a medal for not getting totally upstaged by Will Ferrell in yellow tights and a silly hat.
Most Convincing Santa Makeover: Tim Allen in the first of The Santa Clause movies who either had a wardrobe full of perfectly tailored fat-suits of steadily increasing girth (in which case the award goes to the costume designer) – or went the Robert De Niro route and turned into Santa for real! I’m opting for the latter after being subjected to the sight of him in his swimming trunks for Christmas with the Kranks…
Best-Behaved Fake Santa: Would have to be Bing Crosby and company crooning about treetops glistening and children listening in sparkling red and white livery at the end of White Christmas – the choirboys, the ballerinas, the overdressed tree and the fake snow all add to the OTT fabulousness!
Worst-Behaved Fake Santa: Without question, Billy Bob Thornton’s kleptomaniac, alcoholic, F-word spouting fornicator in the aptly-titled Bad Santa… Although Dan Aykroyd’s woe-begone whisky-swilling banker on the skids in a Santa suit for Trading Places gives him a run for his money.
Best Santa in the World Ever: The top prize for Santa-dom in the movies has to go to Edmund Gwenn in the timeless classic 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Not only does Gwenn play the role of his life as department store Santa Kris Kringle (and he does it in Black and White) but there’s also the film’s tantalizing central connundrum (is Kris the real thing or just a really good candidate for care in the community?); it’s fabulous feel-good message (if you believe in Christmas, who cares if Kringle’s bonkers!); Maureen O’Hara and John Payne’s sweetly understated festive romance; and the ten-year-old Natalie Wood doing winsome without making you want to puke to enjoy.
Richard Attenborough, though, gets an honourable mention for the deluxe 1994 remake because he did sing Jingle Bells in Swahili… And it wasn’t his fault the film went on forever!