The Most Iconic Movie Santas, Ranked By How Much We'd Like To Have A Cookie With Them

Here's the thing about Santa Claus, and all mythic archetypes, for that matter: We already know exactly what to expect from that arbiter of "naughty" and "nice." Santa has a long, white beard, and lives in the North Pole with his elves and his very patient wife. His sole mission is to carry out an annual delivery of presents and coal. There isn't much room for surprise.

But ever since Santa has been depicted on screen in Christmas movies, these preconceptions have been toyed with, challenged, and made complicated. We've seen Santa as a mall drunk. Santa as a skeleton. Santa as a serial killer. These Santas range from jolly to gruesome.

Just because a depiction of Santa is entertaining, doesn't mean we'd want Billy Bob Thornton, say, slithering down our chimney. Here's our official ranking of movie Santas, not based on the quality of their performance, but based on how much of a delight they'd be in real life (from least to most).

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Courtesy of IFC Films
Sinterklaas (Huub Stapel) in Sint (2010)

Little kids in the Netherlands get their presents from Sinterklaas, an elderly, serious man with a bishop's hat and a full beard who travels atop a white horse. He's based on the figure of Saint Nicholas. In Sint, Good Ol' Saint Nick isn't so good. He's actually downright evil, and is resurrected every time the anniversary of his death coincides with a full moon. Everyone out to celebrate the Sinterklaas tradition on December 5 is in for a fright.

We don't think Sinterklaas has ever had a cookie in his whole life. He looks like he eats exclusively water crackers.
Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson) in Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night capitalizes on the inherent creepiness of Santa Claus, who, as you will remember, sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake. Billy Chapman is an 18-year-old boy severely traumatized by the day his family was murdered by a man in a Santa Claus costume. He internalizes the trauma, and becomes a killer Santa himself.
Santa Claus (John Call) in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The children of Mars are mentally stagnating, so Martian officials decide they have no choice but to kidnap Santa Claus and inject some fun into their children's lives. Don't try to predict the logic there, because it doesn't exist! Anyway, Santa bursts into the rigid Martin society like a hippy, and starts spreading free love and joy.

This is widely regarded as one of the worst movies of all time. Still, it would be fascinating to hear about life on Mars.
Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

It's good to dream big, but some goals are impossible. For example, it's impossible for a the Pumpkin King of Halloween to embody the generosity and spirit of Saint Nick. When Jack tries to take on Santa's role, he messes up the entire holiday.

Jack is a bad Santa because he's literally bad at the job. But as a person, he seems like a delight. He also appreciates the Christmas spirit, and says, "The empty place inside of me is filling up" the first time he encounters Christmas. Given his appreciation for holiday cheer, we would like to have candy with him come Halloween.
Tracy Bennett/Dimension/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Willie T. Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) in Bad Santa (2003)

Bad Santa is a reminder that, when it comes to mall Santas, you never know whose lap you're sitting on. That lap could belong to a no-good, dirty-rotten con-man who uses his Santa costume as a way to gain entry into malls, and commit robberies.

All in all, Willie is unstable, abrasive, rude, and almost definitely would not want to have a cookie with you. But he'd probably be up for a beer.
Mall Santa (Patton Oswalt) in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

Oswalt's mall Santa runs a fruitful business from his car. He takes Kumar (Kal Penn) to his sedan parked in the upper deck of the lot, and reveals a whole slew of marijuana varietals. This particular Santa may not embody the traditional values of Christmas, but he'd definitely be fun to spilt a brownie with.
Santa Claus (Tom Hanks) in The Polar Express

Frankly, the Santa in The Polar Express a rockstar. First, he hosts a very exclusive meet-and-greet with some lucky youngins. Then, he takes off on a platform surrounded by masses of adoring, cheering elves. He swoops around the crowded North Pole plaza many times, and then finally gets on with his journey. We admire that commitment to showmanship.
Attila Dory/Walt Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Scott/Santa (Tim Allen) in The Santa Clause (1994)

The Santa Clause gives another perspective to the Santa myth. What if Santa — and being confined to a life of servitude and gift production — is actually the recipient of a curse? After Santa's sleigh crashes on his roof, Scott, a business executive living in Chicago, tries on the suit. After that, he's bonded to the task and responsibilities of being Santa.

After a period of reluctance, Scott ends up embracing his role, and going on to make many sequels. He's the picture of flexibility, and accepting life's sharp turns with grace. We should get him a cookie.
Santa (Mickey Rooney) in The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Even Santa gets the blues. In this movie, Santa doesn't think people appreciate his laborious trips around the world sufficiently. So, he decides to go on vacation instead of performing his yearly Christmas delivery duties — which, of course, is a disaster for the elves who have been working on preparing Christmas for the past 364 days. By the movie's end, his faith in humanity is restored, and he's back on his sleigh.

It would be worth taking an hour and having a cookie with Sad Santa, just so he could tell us how to restore our own faith in humanity after this not-so-merry year.
Alan Markfield/New Line Prods./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Santa (Edward Asner) in Elf (2004)

Now, here is a Santa who deserves a huge, slightly warmed chocolate chip cookie. When an orphaned boy crawls into his bag 'o presents and ends up in the North Pole, Santa raises the boy as his own. In addition to being generous and jolly, he's also fallible: His sleigh falls in Manhattan due to lack of cheer. If you've ever tried to maneuver a vehicle in Manhattan, you can attest to how difficult the task is.
Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock
Santa Claus (David Huddlestone) in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Ever wonder how a mortal got roped into living in an Arctic wasteland and delivering presents to the children of the world? Every gnawing question about Santa Claus lore is answered in this movie, which is effectively the Santa Claus origin story. Huddleston's Santa is a peasant woodcutter who is trapped in a blizzard with his wife, and finds himself transported to the North Pole.

We'd like to have a cookie with Santa, but only if we could interview him for every specific detail about the Claus experience.
20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) in Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

When the man originally hired to be Santa for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade turns out to be a stumbling drunk, organizers recruit a bearded old man who calls himself Kris Kringle to take over the position. Kris does such a fantastic job that Macy's hires him to stay on throughout the season.

Kris is so good at being Santa because he actually believes he's Santa. The movie exists in a world in which miracles are possible, and mall Santas might actually be the real thing. We'd love to have a cookie with a remnant of that reality.
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