27 Movie Santas Ranked Least to Most Jolly

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December 18, 2017

27 Movie Santas Ranked Least to Most Jolly

Like Richard III or Uncle Vanya, there's one role that every actor is dying to play, but only the crème de la crème get the chance. That role is Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or as it's known colloquially in the theater crowd, Ol' Saint Nick.

Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti… even Heisenberg himself (Bryan Cranston) have all filled the big black boots of our favorite holiday icon. But which version captured the true (holiday) spirit of the role?

At Stacker, we decided to rate 27 of the best movie Santas, ranking them from least to most, well "Santa." For each role we asked ourselves, how well does the character capture the imagination of what Santa is meant to be? How central is Santa to the getting the viewer into the Christmas spirit?

Since this is an article about authentic Santas and not just a guy in a suit, we chose not to include characters portraying mall Santas or pretending to be Santa (although Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa would have made a nice addition to the list). We've also included the Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score, to see if moviegoers generally agreed with our assessment.

So, did your favorite movie Santa make our Nice List?

27. Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus

Santa Actor: Steve Guttenberg

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 54%


At some point, a powerful movie executive asked the question, “What if we made a Santa Claus movie that’s also a rom-com?” The first movie to make our list revolves around a young Nick trying to find a wife before he succeeds his father as Santa Claus. As a Christmas movie, it’s not very festive or jolly, but it’s a good choice if you've ever wondered what Santa acts like on a first date.

26. Christmas Is Here Again

Santa Actor: Andy Griffith

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 40%


Christmas Is Here Again was a bit of a disappointment, especially considering it’s talented cast of Jay Leno, Kathy Bates, Ed Asner, Brad Garrett, and Norm MacDonald, not to mention the perfect casting choice for a wholesome St. Nick, Andy Griffith. If you’re going to put Ed Asner in a Christmas movie, don’t waste him — if he were Santa, this film might be ranked higher, like another movie on the list…

25. The Santa Claus Brothers

Santa Actor: Bryan Cranston

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 48%


Before he portrayed one of the most ruthless and dangerous antiheroes in history on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston played the embodiment of charity and good will in The Santa Claus Brothers. The turn of the century CGI tries — but fails — to capture the claymation magic of decades past, landing its Santa low on our list. This is actually the second Christmas movie Cranston made in 2001, although ‘Twas the Night didn’t make our list.

24. Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special

Santa Actor: Jimmy Graham

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 65%


What’s a steamy Michael Bolton special doing on this list? In this tongue-in-cheek comedy special (with a great cast of comedians), Santa tells our hero that he needs 75,000 new babies to be born by Christmas to meet a toy supply, and it’s up to Michael to get the world in the mood. It’s far from the Santa we hear about as children… but still, spreading that kind of “goodwill” sounds right up Santa's alley.

23. Santa's Boot Camp

Santa Actor: Doug Kaye

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score33%


Have you ever wished for a Christmas movie that examines the working conditions in the North Pole. If so, have we got the movie for you! Santa's Boot Camp is about as fun and festive as an actual workout class, but at least some bratty children learn the true meaning of Christmas.

22. Santa Baby

Santa Actor: George Wendt/Jenny McCarthy

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 43%


We like the premise of Santa Baby. We like a woman in charge of Santa’s operation. We like casting Norm from Cheers as Santa. Still, this movie about Santa’s high-powered daughter taking over the family business doesn’t have the warmth or holiday magic we expect from a Santa movie classic.

21. Rise of the Guardians

Santa Actor: Alec Baldwin

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 80%


Santa Claus goes full fantasy in this epic that encompasses all the holiday patrons — the Easter Bunny, the Boogeyman, even the Tooth Fairy — as they band together to fight an ancient, recently awakened evil. While it’s a good movie, it’s not very Christmasy with Alec Baldwin’s hardened, battle-worn Santa. When he laughs, his belly shakes like a bowl full of cement.

20. Santa Claus: The Movie

Santa Actor: David Huddleston

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score66%


When you take liberties with the origin story of a beloved time-honored character, you risk upsetting the die-hard fans. Such is the fate of Santa Claus: The Movie, which rewrote Kris Kringle’s background as an expert toymaker who stumbles upon a magical kingdom of elves in the North Pole.

19. Blizzard

Santa Actor: Christopher Plummer

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 54%


Academy Award-winner Christopher Plummer brings his Shakespearean training to act opposite a magical reindeer with the power to turn invisible, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. LeVar Burton’s pet project is pretty standard by Christmas film standards, leaving little to stand out from the crowded Santa movie space.

18. Get Santa

Santa Actor: Jim Broadbent

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 54%


Get Santa combines a lot of the popular Christmas movie cliches… After crashing his sleigh, Santa relies on the help of a father and son who don't quite get along but learn to overcome their differences during the course of the film. That part gets us in the holiday spirit, but what loses us is when Santa is arrested and the film becomes somewhat of a prison break adventure.

17. Fred Claus

Santa Actor: Paul Giamatti

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score45%


For some reason, one common staple of Christmas movies is a dysfunctional family. Fred Claus plays on that by giving Giamatti’s Santa a loser brother (Vince Vaughn) and tackles issues of sibling rivalry and jealousy… along with the usual “saving Christmas” storyline. 

16. Arthur Christmas

Santa Actor: Jim Broadbent

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 76%


Jim Broadbent (again) plays St. Nick in this CGI Christmas adventure about both Santa’s son and Santa’s father rectifying a present’s misplacement. One of the best parts about Arthur Christmas, aside from the geriatric Grandsanta Christmas voiced by Davy Jones actor Bill Nighy, is the high-tech gadgetry Santa uses to visit all those houses in one night.

15. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Santa Actor: Richard Attenborough

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 62%


No, it’s not the best version of this classic film, but it does provide a more modern update and Richard Attenborough delivers a heart-warming performance. Still, the 1994 remake got this high on our list just being a mere shadow of the original. That’s how good the original is. Expect to hear more on that one later...

14. The Year Without a Santa Claus

Santa Actor: John Goodman

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 57%


It would have been impossible for John Goodman to go his entire acting career without playing Santa at least once. In this remake of the 70s TV movie, it’s Santa Claus who becomes disillusioned with Christmas and it’s up to a few elves to remind him the true meaning of the Holidays. 

13. All I Want for Christmas

Santa Actor: Leslie Nielsen

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 59%


Fresh off Naked Gun, Leslie Nielsen takes on the role of Santa Claus in this sentimental holiday film about a brother and sister trying to use their Christmas wish to reunite their divorced parents. While it checks all the right boxes for a feel-good family picture, it still leaves a lot to be desired. As Robert Ebert put it, "All I want for Christmas is to never see All I Want for Christmas again."

12. Elmo's Christmas Countdown

Santa Actor: Kevin James

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: N/A


If you want a wholesome family favorite, then look no further than the Muppets. Elmo’s Christmas Countdown delivers everything you’d expect from a Sesame Street Christmas special, even a star-studded cast with Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keyes, Sheryl Crow, and Ben Stiller. Say what you want about Kevin James, but he’s in his element playing jolly, heavyset man.

11. Prancer

Santa Actor: Michael Constantine

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 58%


You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen… but do you really want to see a movie about them? Prancer takes an original approach to a holiday movie, but still retains the heartwarming moments and message of compassion. The family-oriented premise and innovative plot make this film perfectly adequate.


10. Ernest Saves Christmas

Santa Actor: Douglas Seale

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 41%


Don’t scoff at an Ernest film! The Christmas installment of the Ernest franchise tackles the Santa-needs-a-successor plotline before it was cool. Perhaps it’s the way he plays off the goofy Jim Varney, but Douglas Seale’s Santa remains one of the best (if not unlikeliest) depictions of the character to date.

9. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Santa Actor: John Call

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score27%


Conquering Martians may not seem to fit the traditional Christmas themes… until you realize that if Martians attacked Earth who better to save earth than Santa himself! As one of the worst films ever made, this cult classic is so bad it’s good, and gives you a solid alternative to the usual Christmas doldrum without losing the holiday spirit.

8. Polar Express

Santa Actor: Tom Hanks

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 63%


The beloved children's book about a train to the North Pole is brought to life by the equally beloved Tom Hanks. There's a surprising amount of depth for a "kid's movie," touching on topics of faith and skepticism, and even inciting some fan conspiracy theories.

7. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Santa Actor: N/A

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score66%


True, we just praised Polar Express’s treatment of skepticism over Santa’s existence. But by comparison, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a master thesis on the subject written by Richard Dawkins. This story follows a brainy child (who’s also a mouse) coming to terms with his disbelief, and although Santa’s part is small and doesn’t have any lines, his minimal screentime is still more Santa-esque than most other films on this list.

6. Elf

Santa Actor: Ed Asner

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 78%


Helmed by Will Ferrell’s performance as a compassionate but naive Christmas worker who strays from the North Pole, Elf excels at being genuinely funny without turning its back to family-friendly holiday sensibilities. Ed Asner brings a slightly more curmudgeonly take on Santa, but it works with the film’s tone.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Santa Actor: Ed Ivory

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score91%


What? Goth and emo kids can’t celebrate Christmas too? Part of Nightmare Before Christmas’s smashing success is that it’s the perfect antidote to the sugary sweetness of most other holiday films. Perhaps in contrast to the dark undertones, Ed Ivory’s Santa really shines as a beacon of goodness despite being kidnapped, threatened, and almost eaten alive.

4. Frosty the Snowman

Santa Actor: Paul Frees

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 72%


Frosty the Snowman is perhaps the most loved animated Christmas special. It set the bar for the TV Christmas genre and made Frosty the Snowman a household name. That said, Santa only has a small part in the movie, but he's far more than a supplementary addition to the greater Santa Claus cinematic universe.

3. Santa Clause Series

Santa Actor: Tim Allen

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 65% (original)


We have the Santa Clause series to thank for teaching an entire generation the proper terminology for articles in a legal document. Santa Clause may not be the only film about a reluctant successor filling Santa's shoes but it's still one of the best. Some may say that the film strays too far from traditional Santa themes by poking fun at the logic and focusing on modern aspects, but we say that's what makes it so great. It's still wholesome, warm, and cheerful, while effectively nodding to the absurdity of it all.

2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Santa Actor: Edmund Gwenn

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 87%


Just like the plot of this ground-breaking film, it’s almost like actor Edmund Gwenn is the actual, real-life Santa Claus, and he chose to do this film ironically. From its ingenious plot to the amazing performances, this is the original Christmas classic right next to other classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) Universe

Santa Actor: Stan Francis

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 83%


For children across four generations and over 50 years, there will always be one true Santa Claus, and he’s made out of clay. The iconic Santa Claus from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer took the version of Santa straight from our sugar-plum visions and brought him into the “real” world. This kind and patriarchal Father Christmas did so well, he got his own spinoff origin story in Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) with the voice of Mickey Rooney.

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