Perhaps no person or character, real or imaginary, has been portrayed in film as much as jolly Saint Nick, the man who inexplicably flies around the world in a matter of hours, delivering presents and lumps of coal to all of the good and bad boys and girls of the world. Santa Claus is obviously a real person – he’s very likely Mick Foley – but Hollywood has taken many creative liberties with his appearance over the years, because you have to imagine that even a dude living with his wife and a million elves at the North Pole switches up his styles every now and then. And as Kevin McCallister taught us in Home Alone, Santa can’t always be in every place at one time, so he has employees dress up as him so he can take orders from kids at malls and shopping centers all over the country and beyond.
Because it’s Christmas, and especially since I’ve never been afraid to ask and answer the most important questions, I decided to task my own team of elves with determining which movie version of Santa Claus is the absolute greatest. Included in my always-scientific process were factors like jolliness, rosy-red cheekiness, ho-ho-ho-iness, and whether or not I’d want this Santa on my side in a street fight against the Grinch and Krampus. Also, perhaps most importantly, is this Santa creepy as hell? In fact, that question is so important that I’m going to let it take us right into the first entrant on this list…
20) The Polar Express
Everything about this movie, even Santa Claus, has always been super creepy. Robert Zemeckis’s adventure in motion capture computer animation is the stuff that holiday nightmares are made of, almost as if your creepy goth cousin Trevor (AKA Moon Blood) laced the egg nog with LSD before he crashed two model trains together. Cut it out already, Trevor! This is why Aunt Paula hates you.
19) Santa Baby 2
Our scientific process has nothing against the idea of a female Santa Claus, and God knows that the North Pole could consider implementing some new gender equality and fair pay policies at Santa’s Worskhop since it’s almost 2015. But Jenny McCarthy as Santa? No thanks. Actually, the first problem with this is that Santa went from George Wendt in Santa Baby to Paul Sorvino in Santa Baby 2 (hey, remember Goodfellas?), but then McCarthy took over the family business, and we don’t need her sharing her controversial thoughts on vaccines with our kids when all they want is new Pogs and slap bracelets.
18) Silent Night, Deadly Night
Wait, are we actually saying that Jenny McCarthy is worse than a deranged young man who watched his parents get stabbed to death by a man dressed as Santa, only to adopt that same Santa look and method of punishment for all of the people that he considered to be bad? Yes. That’s exactly what we’re saying.
17) Bad Santa
If this had been a ranking of Santas that we want to get drunk and insult people with, or even pull off crimes that take advantage of people simply celebrating the holiday spirit, then Willie T. Stokes would be our No. 1 guy. Well, it would be close, because Billy and eventually Ricky from Silent Night Deadly Night would make great distractions, but because murdering fornicating teens is so messy, we’ll stick with Willie for now.
16) Santa Claus (1959)
Have you ever watched this bizarre film? It was on Mystery Science Theater 3000 a long time ago, and that’s how I’ve always remembered it, but you can (and should) watch the whole thing on YouTube. Basically, if you need Santa to help fight off a guy sort of dressed like the devil, then this is your Santa. But honestly, looking at this so-called Satan, a swift kick to the nuts would probably dispatch this dude, and then you’d be free to party with any of the rest of these Santas.
15) A Christmas Story
I’ve always hated this Santa. He was a jerk. And why did the mall still employ him after he kicked poor Ralphie down the slide? He kicked a kid in the face! This Santa was a real a-hole, and if you don’t believe me, just turn on TBS. It’s the network with employees that press play on A Christmas Story and then let it run on repeat while they get wasted and pass out for 24 hours.
14) The Search for Santa Paws
Santa Claus actually proved to be ineffective in this holiday film from the Air Bud franchise, as he spent most of the movie with no clue that he was actually Santa. Fortunately, what made this Santa awesome was that he had talking dogs that were able to help him recover his memory and save Christmas. Basically, not only are the dogs from the Air Bud films capable of dunking basketballs and beating their defenders on fly patterns in man coverage, but they can also make sure that Santa is able to deliver all of our presents on time. Sidekicks like that are just as important as a beard and sleigh.
13) Santa’s Slay
This Santa clearly lost points for being the deranged, homicidal immaculate conception of Satan from thousands of years ago, but he actually gains points for the hilarious ways in which he murders people on Christmas. Also, it’s not like he’s flying around the world murdering millions of people in one night. The dude spent one Christmas just working over a random town, which meant that the rest of the world was actually safe. And if he showed up to your town, all you had to do was hide in a safe place while he hunted down morons out in the open. Above all else, he could be forced to be good for a thousand years at a time if the angel can simply beat him in a curling match. This guy was hardly invincible. (He was also played by Bill Goldberg, and that always means extra points.)
12) Santa Who?
The better Santas are those that help people recapture their faith in the Christmas spirit. But the best Santas are those that are played by lovable actors like Leslie Nielsen. In fact, some of us believe that Nielsen is actually Santa and still flying through the sky at night, perhaps with Nordberg caught in a bundle of Christmas lights behind the sleigh, slamming into chimney after chimney. Let’s face it – Nordberg basically deserves that these days.
11) Mr. St. Nick
This Santa’s story was a classic one – he’s next in line to become Santa, but he’s reluctant for some reason or another. But in this case, St. Nicholas is played by Kelsey Grammer and he’s a swinging bachelor living the high life in beautiful Miami Beach. Fortunately, he realizes that family and love are the most important things in life, while also stopping some dicks from stealing money from a charity, and that makes him a pretty rad Santa in our book.
10) Fred Claus
Even Santa isn’t perfect, which is why he still had lessons to learn from his spiteful jerk of a brother, Fred Claus, when he reluctantly visited his family at the North Pole. St. Nicholas wasn’t the best businessman or even the greatest gift-giver, because he clearly couldn’t see that A-hole Clyde trying to screw him over from a mile away. But we were all fortunate that two brothers could see past their differences and work together to save Christmas.
9) Ernest Saves Christmas
First and foremost, this is the greatest movie that has ever been made about the city of Orlando. And the fact that it involves Ernest, arguably the greatest film franchise character ever originally created for really annoying commercials, makes it a million times better. Thanks to Ernest, Santa Claus was able to convince a children’s show host named Joe to take over as the new Santa Claus, but only after they went on a crazy adventure throughout the city of Orlando. It was mostly accurate, except there was way less crystal meth than in reality.
8) Santa with Muscles
Hulk Hogan doesn’t really look the part of Kris Kringle or even know how to act that well (of course, No Holds Barred was a cinematic masterpiece that redefined the genre of wrestling movies), but his turn as Blake, a man with amnesia who suddenly believes that he is Santa, was a game changer. The way that he stopped Ed Begley, Jr. from destroying the orphanage so he could discover the magical crystals (this is the real plot) undoubtedly inspired a generation of filmmakers and actors to reconsider the way that they approach holiday movies for the rest of time.
7) Rise of the Guardians
Santa was a stone cold badass in this animated adventure, as he served as the Guardian of Wonder and leader of the Guardians. Although, as much as a big, tough Russian version of St. Nick seemed cool and powerful, it’s sort of the old Superman conundrum. If he’s such a badass, how come he couldn’t handle the Boogeyman on his own? Santa can travel around the world, visiting millions of homes, in one night, but he can’t stop some Nightmare King? Nah, I’m not buying that.
6) The Santa Clause
Remember how when you were a kid, you always argued with other kids about how awesome your dad was, and how your dad could kick any other dads’ asses? Well, imagine that your dad suddenly became Santa Claus by accident. And the best part about when Scott (Tim Allen) assumed the role of Santa is that he got to leave his stupid advertising job behind, because not only was that always a terrible movie cliché, but he probably would have been unemployed within the next few years anyway.
5) A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
Santa loses cool points for smoking weed while he was piloting his sleigh, because that set a poor example for all of the boys and girls of the world when they received their bongs on Christmas morning and thought they could pilot their Big Wheels while stoned. However, he not only gains bonus points for having Patton Oswalt serve as one of his faithful mall Santas, but he doubles them up with his ability to forgive and forget. After all, when most people are shot in the head by a couple of annoying stoners, they’d tend to hold grudges. But Santa ended up helping Harold and Kumar, and that was pretty cool of him, even if they deserve a visit from the Santa’s Slay Santa for making a franchise of one big weed joke.
Some nitpickers would say that by keeping Buddy at the North Pole after discovering him in his bag of gifts, Santa Claus was guilty of kidnapping. But seeing as Buddy’s dad was kind of a jerk early on, Santa ended up doing that kid a solid by raising him as a childish elf at the North Pole. And his faith in Buddy paid off in the end, because once Santa crashed his sleigh in New York City, Buddy was able to get everyone to believe in him again, so he wasn’t arrested and presumably thrown in jail for the rest of his sad, bearded life.
3) Miracle on 34th Street
The gold standard for almost every Christmas-loving kid in the world, both versions of this film feature the classic Santa Claus, providing love and gifts for kids all over the world, all while helping people believe in him again. But along those lines, this Santa has almost become a little boring. I mean, it’s not like he convinced an entirely different planet’s inhabitants to believe in Christmas, an idea that they’d never even heard before…
2) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The second entry from “Things I Once Saw On Mystery Science Theater 3000,” this film tells the story of Santa Claus becoming a “bad” influence on Martian culture, as the little green men were so technically advanced that their cable providers even picked up channels from Earth. So that’s something to think about the next time you call Comcast to complain about whatever. Eventually, Santa and the kids were able to foil the evil Voldar’s plans to end Martian Christmas for good, and he established a great legacy of gift-giving on Mars, until Earth’s people eventually develop the technology to conquer the red planet and colonize it. I’d pay $10 to watch that sequel.
1) Santa Claus: The Movie
Three words: Super Duper Looper. When young Burnsy the Movie Ranking Scientist saw that scene in the theater, he fell in love with Santa all over again. Sure, I haven’t been able to convince the mall Santas to get the real Santa to take me on a sleigh ride and perform the move just yet, but I know that when they tell me, “F*ck off, you weirdo,” they’re really saying, “In time, cool guy. In time.”