The 30 Greatest Santa Claus Performances of All Time (30-21)

Due to his instantly recognizable iconography and the fact that he’s in the public domain, there is no pop culture figure more omnipresent than Santa Claus. Iconic literary characters who have been adapted ad nauseam such as Robin Hood, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes have all tried to take a shot at the crown but none have come close to getting it. Even after what seems like a combined total of a million versions between them, the jolly fatman will always reign supreme because of his versatility. He can be a mascot for a soda company, a mythological figure filled with magic, a kindly old man who simply enjoys making presents, a horrific monster who likes to eat children or even a badass action star. As long as he has a white beard, a red coat and a bag full of presents, we love seeing him. These are the depictions of the character that have stayed with us the longest.

These are the 30 Greatest Santa Claus Performances of All Time.

30. John Call | Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

John Call’s version of Santa looks right – all rosy cheeks, sparkly eyes and “ho-ho-ho.” Yeah, he’s a little TOO jolly at times, and his sense of humor can most charitably be called “childish.” Terrible is more like it. And does he look a little like Ned Beatty to anyone else? Just me then? If he was in a more competent production with better dialogue, sets, editing, effects and… well, everything – he might even be one of the better on-screen Santas. Sadly, he’s stuck in a movie that’s widely regarded as one of the worst holiday movies ever made (maybe one of the worst movies in general). While Santa Claus Conquers the Martians may – for some – stray into “so bad it’s good” territory, for others, it’s simply excruciating. Viewing it as a low-budget Christmas episode of some long-lost children’s show actually improves the experience, though. And Call’s Santa is often the best part.

Bob Cram

29. Eric Freeman | Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Because the poster depicted a Santa Claus going down the chimney with an axe in his hand, the first Silent Night, Deadly Night was actually removed from cinemas due to its controversial marketing. The producers thinking no one had seen the first, decided to just take the best bits and graft about 40% new footage around it and release that as a sequel. Since VHS wasn’t as popular, it was nigh impossible to watch the two back to back, so the scheme, while lazy as shit, was a legit clever way to crank out a sequel. The first follows a young man named Billy, who suffers from post-traumatic stress over witnessing his parents’ murder on Christmas Eve by a man disguised as Santa Claus, who then behind to murder people dressed as Santa. The sequel then follows his brother who witnessed those murders going on his own kill crazy rampage dressed as Santa. Any one of these Santas could’ve made the cut but only one is infamous for Garbage Day.

Sailor Monsoon

28. Nigel Hawthorne | Call Me Claus (2001)

I seriously considered adding a female Santa Claus to this list to spice things up and it was between Anna Kendrick in Noelle and Whoopi Goldberg in Call Me Claus but since both were bad Santas in equally bad movies, I decided to scrap the idea entirely. I like the idea of a movie passing on the mantle but neither one did it successfully. What Call Me Claus did do right, however, was casting Nigel Hawthorne as Santa. It’s a performance so good, it’ll make you forget you’re watching a bad movie. Injecting his Santa with a twinkling charm, impeccable comic timing, and an air of joviality and poignancy, Hawthorne’s last performance will make you lament the fact it wasn’t wasted in a terrible movie.

Sailor Monsoon

27. Huub Stapel | Sint (2010)

While there are many various European traditions involving Santa-like characters such as the child snatching Krampus or the child eating Yule Cat, none, as far as I know, involve a Bishop who steals children and also kills everyone he comes in contact with every December 5th, but I’m not an expert on St. Nicholas, so what do I know. Christmas-themed horror is one of my favorite subgenres and Sint is one of the best and most underseen. Admittedly, it does suffer from some pacing issues (it’s slow as fuck between the kill scenes) but when it’s moving, it’s a blast.

Sailor Monsoon

26. Nick Frost | Doctor Who: “Last Christmas” (2014)

“You’re a dream construct, currently representing either my recovering or expiring mind.”
“Yes, but do you want a go?”

Doctor Who holiday specials tend to be schmaltzy affairs, and I’m okay with that. It’s appropriate for the time of year and the subject matter. “Last Christmas” strays quite a bit into Alien/The Thing territory, however, and that counter-programming trend (don’t worry, it does get schmaltzy eventually) continues with the casting of Nick Frost as Father Christmas. I honestly didn’t expect good things, given I know Frost mostly from the “Cornetto Trilogy” films, but he brings an earthy humor to Santa Claus and manages to be both heartwarming and a little salty. There’s a self-awareness and tongue-in-cheek quality to Santa (and his two elves) that I enjoyed. I wouldn’t say no to seeing Frost play the big man in the red suit again, actually. Frost can be a bit ham-handed, but in a role like Santa, it actually works.

Bob Cram

25. Stan Francis | Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

I have a soft spot for this version of Santa, as it was the very first version I ever saw. As a child, this was my mental vision of Santa – egg-shaped head, button eyes, and all. Sure he’s a little grumpy – and kind of callous about Rudolph when he’s born – but he comes around, right? Nowadays I’m of two minds about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. On one hand, I still love the show as a relic of my childhood and as a kind of exciting Christmas adventure in which everyone learns to love the outsider (as long as they can contribute in some way). On the other hand, holy cow is this show kinda dark. With bullying, fathers rejecting their sons, people who don’t fit in exiled to frozen islands, and Santa – the man who is supposed to be keeping track of who is naughty and nice – basically turning a blind eye to the naughty behavior occurring under his own roof.

Bob Cram

24. Peeter Jakobi | Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

While it is revealed later in the movie that the Santa in this is actually one of Santa’s elves, not actually Santa per se, he’s enough like Santa for him to make it on the list. Based on the 2003 short film Rare Exports Inc. and its 2005 sequel Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions, the movie is about a town living near Korvatunturi who accidentally capture Santa and quickly realize the legend about him is more akin to a horror story than a children’s fable. While I don’t think the film is entirely successful (it’s obvious it was based on a short), it’s clearly having fun subverting a character we all know and love without feeling like a cynical cash grab. I’m looking at you, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. 

Sailor Monsoon

23. Oliver MacGreevy | Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The best segment in one of the best horror anthologies, “And All Through the House” is so good it was the first story they adapted for the TV show of the same name. In both stories, a maniac dressed as Santa escapes from an asylum and a housewife (Dame Joan Collins) tries to use him as her alibi for the murder of her husband she committed. While the maniac in the Tales From the Crypt episode is much better (he’ll make an appearance higher on the list), MacGreevy is still a creepy presence. His face looks like a Halloween mask of an unsettling old man but it’s not a mask, he just looks like that. With his dead, sunken eyes and emotionless features, he’s definitely one of the best Santa killers in cinema history.

Sailor Monsoon

22. Jeff Gillen | A Christmas Story (1983)

Tell me one other Christmas film that barely has a Santa in it besides this one. I can’t really think of many to be honest. And really do you know this guy from any other movies? I doubt it. Sure you could Google him and see he was in Police Academy 5 Assignment: Miami Beach, but really, did anyone actually watch that film? I doubt it as well. Either way, his portrayal of the red-nosed, crotchety Mall Santa is a great one to see on film. He clearly wants to just get through as many kids in line as fast as possible. I would too if I knew I could kick them down the slide. “Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho!”

–K. Alvarez

21. Edward Ivory | The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Poor old Sandy Claws. He sure does get a tough time in The Nightmare Before Christmas. First, he is kidnapped by Lock, Stock, and Barrel. Then he’s forced to spend Christmas eve with the delightful Mr. Oogie Boogie. Ripped from his home on the most important day of the year, he somehow manages to stay positive, calm, and collected throughout the ordeal. He even manages to salvage a ruined Christmas in the end. Overall he is a fine Santa Claus, and although the residents of Christmas Town were relieved to get him back, I’d still take Jack Skellington and his best pal Zero over Santa and Rudolph any day.

Lee McCutcheon


Do you have a favorite Santa portrayal? Do you think he’ll show up on the list?