Holiday Highway: Top 5 Actors to play Santa Claus

Written by Travis Pulchinski December 22, 2012

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Despite the great many Christmas movies that have been made, a surprisingly small amount of them tend focus their narratives solely on Santa Claus himself.  Likely because he is dismissed as too one-dimensional a character and coming up with new and interesting ways to depict Santa is too much of a challenge.  Still, several ambitious Christmas flicks have tried their hands at reinterpreting the classic figure with fake Santas, bad Santas, evil Santas and thin Santas. Whether they play the mythical man himself, an interpretation of him or a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude, here are my five picks for the most innovative and accurate portrayals of Jolly Old Saint Nick.

 #5. Billy Bob Thornton – “Bad Santa” (2003)

Billy Bob Thornton in "Bad Santa"

Billy-Bob Thornton may be an asshole, but at least he channels his asshole-ness into convincing portrayals of assholes.  While not technically playing the big man, Thornton’s portrayal of ‘Willie’ in the R-rated festive flick “Bad Santa” is as memorable as his character is deplorable.  The film certainly isn’t for everyone, but like a bowl of whiskey-spiked eggnog it puts a provocative twist on the classic Christmas recipe.  From punches to the chestnuts to scantily clad ho-ho-hoes, this raunchy Santa story is just naughty enough to earn its star a nice place on this list.

#4. Peeter Jakobi – “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010)

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Never heard of him?  Don’t pout, don’t cry. He doesn’t even have a wikipedia page.  Peeter Jakobi had only amassed a handful of minor rolls in Northern Europe before appearing in the 2010 Finnish film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”, a soon-to-be cult classic that you should really go watch as soon as you get a chance.  Jakobi plays Santa Claus (essentially), whom a group of locals uncover frozen in a block of ice and buried in a mountain. Without giving too much away, Santa turns out to be a little less jolly than expected. Jakobi provides a remarkable physical performance, endowing his version of Father Christmas with an animalistic eeriness that will make you see jolly old Saint Nick in a whole new light.

#3. Tim Allen – “The Santa Clause” (1994)

The Santa Clause

Whether you love him or aren’t kinda dumb, Tim Allen is probably the first person that comes to mind when you think of iconic portrayals of Santa Claus.  His gradual transformation from suburban dad Scott Calvin to the pot-bellied Saint Nick plays out in a family-friendly and charming story that only the Scroogiest of Scrooges could take real offense with.  The sequels on the other hand… Bah humbug!

#2. Ed Asner – “Elf” (2003)

Ed Asner as Santa in "Elf"

I think Ed Asner might actually be Santa Claus in real life and just acts on the side to keep himself busy during the off-season.  While Will Ferrell certainly steals the show in this instant classic, Ed Asner gives as convincing a portrayal as conceivable of the traditional, jovial Santa Claus.  From his rosy cheeks to the twinkle in his eye, Asner captures all the little details that make Santa the focal point of the happiest time of the year.

#1: Edmund Gwenn – “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle in "Miracle on 34th Street"

Many Christmas movies seem to be designed to cash-in on our nostalgic desires for light-hearted holiday cheer. Though they do sometimes manage to capture the Christmas spirit, they often neglect to make a particularly good film along the way.  “Miracle on 34th Street” manages to tell a heartfelt and compelling story regardless of its Christmas context, pitting a man who believes himself to be Santa up against the cold disbelief of skeptical society.  Showing that there could be a lot more to Santa Claus than just a fat man with a beard, the performance garnered actor Edmund Gwenn an academy award for his inspired take on the character of Kris Kringle.

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