As songsmith Neville John Holder, MBE once proclaimed “it's Christmas“, the season of good will to all men. With that comes a new film, Violent Night, starring David Harbour as a Father Christmas who knows if you've been naughty and will deliver a juicy smackdown if you have. He's the next in a long line of cinematic Saint Nick's to grace our big screen.
In the spirit of the season, we at Filmhounds present a ranking of the cinematic Santas.
Mel Gibson – Fatman (2020)
Given Mel Gibson is the embodiment of bitter it's no surprise that his take on the holiday legend is a grizzled jaded recluse. He's also massively low energy even when pursued by an assassin sent by a vengeful kid. There's no glint of joy in his heart, which makes you wonder why he would ever deliver toys to kids. It's also even more baffling given how devout a Catholic Gibson is that he'd entertain a premise so violent and pagan.
Jolly rating: 1 / 10
This may just be a documentary about Mel Gibson's years when he couldn't make movies. We're not sure.
David Harbour – Violent Night (2022)
This Santa is a pretty jaded figure too, fed up with the lack of festive cheer people have. As kids ask for money and video games, and the list of nice kids dwindling, he has nothing to do but get drunk. He's roused into finding his spirit again when a little girl – Trudie – and her family are taken hostage by a group of nasty robbers led by John Leguizamo's Mr Scrooge.
Jolly rating: 2 / 10
It's hard to be too jolly when you're getting shot at and delivering swift snow bound justice to bad guys. He does enjoy a good cookie though.
Tim Allen – The Santa Clause (1994)
Scott Calvin, as played by Tim Allen, in the original film is kind of a jerk. Well, not kind of. He's a 90s divorced dad – he's a massive jerk. His son doesn't think much of him and for a guy who works at a toy company, he appears to despise kids. Once he commits third-degree murder of Santa and for some reason steals his clothes he goes on a Cronenberg-style transformation into Santa Claus. By wearing a pair of trousers his entire life is ruined.
Jolly rating: 3 / 10
By Allen's 90s persona he's pretty jolly, but that's still a pretty low rating. He doesn't really embrace being Santa until he can stick it to the cops. This cop says ACAB.
Paul Giamatti – Fred Claus (2007)
Paul Giamatti's Santa comes with a horrifying piece of lore – when someone is canonised as a Saint they become immortal and so does their immediate family. This actually makes no sense – to become a saint you have to be dead, so the film implies the idea that post-canonisation (which can take years, decades or even centuries) you are resurrected and made immortal along with your family. So, Nicholas of Myra – a man of Greek descent – had a brother called Fred, and Fred is a mid-00s Vince Vaughn.
Jolly rating: 4 / 10
It's hard to be that jolly when Vince Vaughn is your brother.
Alec Baldwin – Rise of the Guardians (2012)
As previously stated, Santa Claus comes from the story of St. Nicholas of Myra, while being of Greek descent, Myra is situated in what is modern day Turkey. So naturally this Santa – called Nicholas St. North – is Russian, complete with prison tattoos. Nicholas is the guardian of wonder and the leader of the Guardians, a sort of Avengers for Hallmark holiday mascots. His elves are creepy gnome monsters and receives help from massive yetis. He's more welcoming than he sounds.
Jolly rating: 5 / 10
Despite looking like an extra from Eastern Promises he's a pretty jolly guy. He's also buff as hell.
Kurt Russell – The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Certain things are synonymous with Santa. Big beard, red hat, reindeer – this Santa has it all but is conspicuous by his lack of tubby-ness. Russell's Santa is probably the sexiest Santa has ever been. Big Silf energy – that's Santa I'd like to Follow, sickos. He helps two siblings rekindle their holiday spirit after their dad dies, which is a plus.
Jolly rating: 6 / 10
He does one hell of a blues song while in prison. He's the Michael Bublé of Santas.
J.K. Simmons – Klaus (2019)
In this animated origin story we get the story of how one selfish post-man brings joy to an isolated community and hope to a lonely wood-worker. Simmons' voice perfectly matches the enormous stature of this animated story. He's a Santa that learns to open his heart again after loss, and makes people better. If that's not Santa, then what is?
Jolly rating: 7 / 10
His delivery of “ho ho ho” is probably the most heartwarming thing on film
Jim Broadbent – Get Santa (2014)
Jim Broadbent as Santa is the most obvious thing it's been done twice! Once in Aardman animation Arthur Christmas and again in this festive comedy. Banged up because no one believes he's the real Father Christmas, this somewhat naive take on the character manages to reform prison and mend a father's relationship with his son, like some kind of Yuletide Paddington bear.
Jolly rating: 8 / 10
He's pretty jolly despite the incarceration, but should Father Christmas be this innocent? Questionable.
Ed Asner – Elf (2003)
A fairly reckless Santa, so maybe he's less jolly than high on his own cocoa. This Santa accidentally brings a human home from an orphanage when the kid crawls into his sack. Instead of returning the human to the orphanage like any rational minded person he let's his longest serving elf adopt him. Not telling Buddy he's human, despite him being six feet tall, is probably a bad move.
Jolly rating: 9 /1 0
He's pretty jolly even when people stop believing and he gets stranded in central park. His audible joy when seeing Buddy again tells you everything you need to know about his warm hearted nature.
David Huddleston – Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Before he was The Big Lebowski he was The Big Red Guy. Huddleston is so quintessentially Santa that this film feels tailored to his portrayal, even as Santa goes up against an evil toy magnate played by 80s John Lithgow (the nastiest of all the John Lithgows). This Santa is in danger of being ousted as the figurehead of Christmas, and has to help kids stop this hostile take-over.
Jolly rating: 9.5 / 10
He's a textbook Santa. Jolly, warm, let's people stay at the North Pole rent free.
Richard Attenborough – Miracle of 34th Street (1994)
If it weren't for the sixty previous years of work as an actor, producer, director, and writer, you could be forgiven for thinking Les Mayfield stole the real Father Christmas and made him star in this 90s remake of the classic tale. Of the previous versions, Attenborough's is the most jolly. He's a beaming light of festive cheer. Not least when he engages in sign language with deaf girl. Not wonder the courts have to rule in his favour as the real deal.
Jolly rating: 10 / 10
Are we sure he's not the real Santa? Are we really really sure?