making a list

Santas, Ranked

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Getty, Sony Pictures Television, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures,

This list was originally published in 2022 and is being republishing in the spirit of the season.

For a figure with a pop-cultural image shaped in large part by Coca-Cola commercials, Santa Claus has a surprising range. His mythology has become almost completely secularized — his origin as a Christian saint replaced with jolly whole-cloth hokum. He can be an immortal demigod who pals around with Merlin and Jesus, the harried CEO of a toy-manufacturing company based at the North Pole, or the dignified figurehead of a hereditary monarchy whose title is passed down through the generations. He can have different levels of magical power — from godlike omniscience to a Batman-like dependency on gadgetry.

He can be tall or short, fat or thin. He is almost always portrayed as a white man in mainstream live-action media, and the broad beats of the character’s appearance — big white beard and red suit — make the transformation easy enough for whoever has been chosen to embody him. Santa has traditionally been more of a character-actor type of role, although in the wake of The Santa Clause in 1994, actors like Kurt Russell have brought their own star images to the myth. In 2022’s Violent Night, David Harbour’s version of Santa swings the pendulum from “benevolent wizard” all the way to “drunk old man who looks like he smells like pee.”

That being said, Santa does consistently stand for certain values in the movies. All Santas are at least a little bit traditional: He’s nearly always married, for one, and any attempt by an overly ambitious elf to transform Santa’s workshop from a bespoke artisanal operation into an efficient modern assembly line always ends in disaster. The Santa myth is about belief: Santa ends up in jail more often than you might think — five times on this list of 20 alone! — placed there by cops with a distinct lack of Christmas cheer. Another recurring theme is for a cynical adult to unknowingly put the real Santa on television for ratings, only to become a convert by the film’s end. Both of these tropes have their origin in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, the urtext for Santa magic in Hollywood movies.

A list of 20 isn’t enough to cover every actor who’s ever played Santa in a bit part in a movie, and it certainly isn’t enough to include the many voice-over actors who have portrayed Santa in animated films and specials. It barely scratches the thriving subgenre of Christmas horror, although most of those movies are about a psycho dressed as Santa killing people rather than the genuine article. Similarly, movies about mall Santas and other imposters — robbers who dress up like Santa to get access to houses, parents keeping up appearances in Santa suits — are excluded here. Civilians tasked with taking on the Santa mantle, however, are fair game — including clueless Christmas princes, reluctant draftees, and Viking warriors.


Paul Giamatti, Fred Claus (2007)

Fred Claus is a terrible movie. Even worse, it’s a terrible movie that clocks in at just shy of two hours, which makes it feel like a prison sentence. The basic idea here is that Vince Vaughn is doing his mid-aughts-dirtbag Vince Vaughn thing but on Christmas — a premise that’s laid on a foundation of plausible-sounding nonsense. Did you know that when someone becomes a saint (in this case, Saint Nicholas), they become frozen in time and so does the rest of their family? No? That’s because that’s not a thing anywhere except for in a script that desperately needs to retrofit Vince Vaughn into the North Pole.

Paul Giamatti co-stars as Fred’s older brother Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, who plays second fiddle to his pushy younger brother, even though he’s the objectively more accomplished sibling. He’s a saint and a CEO who reports to a mysterious “board” with vague but important members who instill fear and stress in Santa. (They hired Kevin Spacey to serve as an “efficiency expert,” so maybe Satan is involved?) Giamatti’s Santa is harried and bottom-heavy and has a schedule that’s micromanaged down to the second. He’s Santa as Rodney Dangerfield: He gets no respect and has the undereye bags to show it.


Richard Riehle, The Search for Santa Paws (2010)

Another character actor doing his time in the red suit for a few extra bucks, Richard Riehle is a recognizable face with a whopping 404 credits and counting on his IMDb page. With his pushbroom mustache and crinkly-eyed smile, Riehle looks kind of like Santa Claus on a normal day, which is why it’s strange that he’s buried under so much makeup in The Search for Santa Paws. We’re talking “Karl Havoc on I Think You Should Leave levels of prosthetic uncanniness, although Riehle manages to make it all the way through the end of the movie without having an existential crisis.

That must have been tough, and not just because of the extra face that’s laid on top of Riehle’s. His Santa has the kind of amnesia that you only see in movies — you know, the kind where someone remembers everything except what their name is and where they live — in this mind-numbing Disney kids’ flick, which is just too ridiculous to be fun (even in an ironic way) for anyone over the age of 6. With that in mind, a special commendation for professionalism goes out to Riehle for keeping a straight face during the film’s opening scene, when Santa reads aloud a sad letter announcing the death of his old friend Mr. Hucklebuckle.


John Call, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The version of Santa Claus that’s presented in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians fits the movie’s retro-futuristic early ’60s aesthetic. John Call, a real workingman’s actor who split his time between Broadway, B-movies, and TV, plays Santa as a stony-faced mid-century dad whose pipe and slippers are always present in spirit if not in letter. Midway through this regular on “best bad movies” lists, Santa is kidnapped and taken to Mars to give the catatonic kids up there some pep in the form of Christmas spirit — and ends up being drafted into a Christmas sweatshop while he’s up there.

Hanging around these TV-addled little zombies seems to drain Santa’s own life force, and he goes from cheesing for the camera and talking down to his elves to a dazed, tired old man stumbling around the film’s atomic-age sets. Poor acting is what sucks the fun out of what should be light, cheesy, retro entertainment, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians does introduce what will become a running theme in Santa movies: an anti-industrial slant that’s more “bespoke leather woodworking belt” than “call to revolution.”


James Cosmo, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Given that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is based on a series of children’s books written by devout Anglican C. S. Lewis, James Cosmo’s Father Christmas is unsurprisingly the Santa figure on this list who retains the most Christian aura. (He probably knows Jesus personally, actually, given that he falls on the demigod side of the Santa Claus divide.) Lewis’s Father Christmas travels eternally through Narnia — which hasn’t celebrated Christmas in 100 years, thanks to the titular witch — on a sleigh with two oversize beavers and a sack full of magical weapons ready for the day the children who will save Narnia finally show up. His red-leather doublet and wind-chapped face enhance the impression of a warrior Santa, although it’s the kids who will have to do the fighting, while Father Christmas continues his endless rounds.


George Wendt, Santa Baby (2006) / Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws (2009)

George Wendt was the premier B-movie Santa Claus of the mid-aughts, bringing his generous frame and infectious good nature to three separate turns as Father Christmas between 2006 and 2009. (The third, Larry the Cable Guy’s Christmas Spectacular, is just outside the purview of this list.) Wendt makes a credibly paternal Santa in Santa Baby, a 2006 TV movie where he plays the indulgent dad of Christmas princess Jenny McCarthy. Now, that whole franchise has been rendered awkward in hindsight by McCarthy’s subsequent turn into vaccine denialism. But it’s still nothing next to Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws.

Wendt is just punching the clock in Santa Buddies, which is fair, because its internal mythology, which revolves around a magic icicle that melts whenever kids stop believing in Santa — an interesting spin on climate change, to be sure — is exhausting. In this film’s world, humans and dogs share control as rulers of the earth. Indeed, Santa often defers to his dog counterpart, Santa Paws, in matters of North Pole governance. There’s a lot of exasperated sighing on Wendt’s part and a lot of standing in one place reacting to either an animal actor doing their thing or events happening just offscreen. At one point, he breaks into song, and with his off-key warbling and mussed-up beard, he could very well be half a bottle of whiskey in. But can you blame a working actor for taking an easy paycheck, making faces at dogs, and muttering half-baked dialogue about crystals?


Steve Guttenberg, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (2004), Meet the Santas (2005)

Casting Steve Guttenberg (the first of two Jewish actors to appear on this list) as a clean-shaven, 30-something Santa Claus seems like a weird choice until … actually, there’s no rationalizing this very odd 2004 Hallmark-movie romance, which reconceptualizes the North Pole as a tiny hereditary monarchy á la Luxembourg or Monaco but funded by Santa’s toy operations instead of a casino. (We’ll see this premise again later.) And Guttenberg is the pouty Christmas prince at the center of it all, told by his parents at the beginning of the film that he has one year to find a wife who’s fit to don the mantle of Mrs. Claus once the sitting Santa retires. (Considering the solemnity with which the characters treat the transition, you’d think that the old Santa was about to be put down rather than retreat into a life of leisure.)

So this soft-spoken god-prince heads to Southern California, where he meets an advertising executive named Beth (Crystal Bernard), who inexplicably decides that this naïve weirdo with the affected speech patterns — sample dialogue: “Come fly with me, my child. Come with me on a magical mission that only your imagination could conjure up!” — is just what her brand needs to sell a video game that’s being hastily pushed out in time for Christmas. It works, somehow, giving Nick (Guttenberg) the excuse he needs to hang around Beth and her son. He’s a safe bet, a “nice guy” who might not be all that sexually attractive — Beth’s BFF says as much, calling Nick “Peter Pan” — but would make a great stepdad. It’s all very weird, but the oddest thing about this rom-com about settling is the fact that it got a sequel, Meet the Santas, in 2005.


Kurt Russell, The Christmas Chronicles (2018), The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020)

Kurt Russell is basically doing a version of his Guardians of the Galaxy “absentee dad who’s so cool you don’t mind” schtick in The Christmas Chronicles, a mini-franchise for Netflix starring Russell as Santa and his real-life long-term love, Goldie Hawn, as Mrs. Claus. Russell pulls in shades of his action-hero persona — this is a more athletic Santa Claus than most, doing backflips and yelling “Wahoo!” as he bolts from chimney to chimney — for a fully optimized version of the jolly old elf who tracks his
present-delivering metrics using a “Christmas cheer-o-meter” and pummels every syllable of every line into submission.

Everything about Russell’s version of Santa reflects an aspect of his star persona: Take his superhero-esque long leather gloves, his use of “you better not cry” as a tough-guy catchphrase, or his channeling of Elvis for an impromptu jailhouse concert with Stevie Van Zandt on guitar. (This particular Santa is nearly godlike in his omniscience, but he does have to convince mortals, particularly cops, that he is who he says he is.) And that fidelity to Russell as a brand is what makes him just okay as
Santa — that and the cringey CGI elves and fixation on Santa’s weight. But if Kurt Russell doing Santa is what you want, then by golly, you’ll get it!


Dozens of naked Finnish men, Rare Exports (2010)

Rare Exports is the most creative of the many killer-Santa horror movies that have been coming at a steady clip since the 1980s. Released the same year as Trollhunter, Finnish director Jalmari Helander’s fantasy-horror hybrid reimagines Santa Claus as a Scandinavian kaiju-type creature with the legs of a goat. Santa was frozen into a block of ice in lake under a mountain by the Sami people thousands of years ago and is now defrosting in a warehouse with all the radiators in a Finnish village to warm him and sacks of crying children at his feet.

Santa’s elves are the ones who more closely resemble humans in Rare Exports. Specifically, they resemble emaciated, filthy, naked old men with long white beards who are feral and goblinlike and reach out for red hats and coats with an instinctive urgency. They’re drawn to kids too — not to spoil them and bring them presents but to devour them alive. Like all fairy-tale creatures, the original Santa and his elves are very dark. But it’s in the best interest of the film’s human characters for the myth of Santa’s goodness to continue: They’ve set up a business training elves to behave themselves around human children as much as possible, shipping them out as authentic Finnish Santas to customers around the world. Presumably, there are no refunds.


John Goodman, The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006)

This 2006 TV movie is extremely aughts in a Josie and the Pussycats kind of way: Think vinyl trench coats, aggressively layered hairstyles, and Carson Kressley as Santa’s gay stylist, who makes a nasty gastric-bypass-surgery joke in the first five minutes of the movie. Add in Delta Burke as Mrs. Claus, Chris Kattan as Santa’s manager, and Carol Kane as Mother Nature herself, and it barely needs to be said that this satirical take on yuletide commercialism only bears a loose resemblance to the 1971 Rankin-Bass short it was based on.

John Goodman is another actor whose public persona is pretty Santa Claus–esque already, and he doesn’t reinvent the wheel for a part that mostly calls for him to be exasperated. He’s a corporate cog who’s ushered from meeting to meeting with little time for cookie breaks and complains that kids these days are greedy little brats and “all anybody cares about is gigabytes, fashions, accessories.” He has mussed up hair and a Southern accent to further establish an aura of wholesome simplicity. It’s no surprise that he flees from his life as head of SantaCo. early in the film, but the scene where a young woman pitches him her idea for BeGoths — basically goth Bratz dolls — does make you wish he had hung out a little longer.


David Harbour, Violent Night (2022)

Introduced pounding beers at a bar, then vomiting on the bartender as his sleigh takes off from the tavern roof, David Harbour’s drunken lout of a Kris Kringle in Violent Night is the dirtiest Santa Claus on this list. Many Santa movies see the big guy questioning whether people really care about him or Christmas anymore. But usually, his faith is reaffirmed by the end of the story. Here, Santa passed the point of disillusionment a long time ago, and no Christmas miracles have come along to make him believe again. So why not fall asleep in a massage chair with a glass of milk in one hand and a cookie in the other?

Fitting with the film’s wicked tone, what ends up bringing Santa back to himself in Violent Night is, well, violence. After a slow period in the middle of the film when Santa pours his heart out to the movie’s most innocent character, young Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady), old Sinterklaas starts having flashbacks to his previous life as a Viking warrior named Nicodemus the Red. That implies Santa is immortal, but the film doesn’t hit the mythology angle too hard. (Its relationship with Christmas magic is one of convenience.) It’s really just a device to remind Saint Nick of his talent for, and love of, smashing naughty boys’ and girls’ skulls with a sledgehammer.


Whoopi Goldberg, Call Me Claus (2001)

Released during a particularly fertile period for gimmicky Santa-based TV movies, Call Me Claus introduces the only Black Santa on this list and one of two female Santas: Whoopi Goldberg, whose red cap comes outfitted with platinum-blonde dreadlocks once she accepts her destiny and dons the red suit.

Early on in this difficult-to-find millennial obscurity — aside from the occasional cable airing, it’s only available on YouTube dubbed in Spanish and Czech — Goldberg plays another Christmas-movie staple, a cynical TV producer named Lucy Cullins. The old Santa Claus (Nigel Hawthorne) sees the goodness underneath Lucy’s cranky exterior and has hand-picked her to take over as heard of North Pole operations after his mandatory 200-year term ends. She has to be persuaded, of course, but in the end, she’s a natural. Goldberg and Hawthorne each bring a different open-hearted energy to their turns as Santa, leading to a finale in which snow falls on the streets of Los Angeles and joy and harmony prevail.


Jim Broadbent, Get Santa (2014)

Jim Broadbent was in the Harry Potter movies, and he puts whatever magic dust remains attached to that particular franchise to his turn as Santa Claus in the 2014 British comedy Get Santa. The human drama here is of your usual distant-dad variety with a jailhouse twist that brings Santa (Broadbent) into the orbit of recently paroled career thief Steve (Rafe Spall) and his smartass son Tom (Kit Connor). Santa’s braided beard and denim prison uniform give him a Harley-Davidson vibe — until he starts talking. That’s when Broadbent’s whimsical eyes take over, splitting the difference between doddering old coot and magical elf. Broadbent even looks like a classic wizard-type Santa with his little round glasses and beer gut.

Although he has a squirrel friend named Oswald and his sanity is sometimes questionable, Broadbent’s Santa is omniscient and has a detergentlike compartment full of magical green dust that makes his sleigh fly and an elf sidekick played by Warwick Davis who does all of his dirty work. Santa has some actually good, grandfatherly advice for young Tom at the end of the movie, advising him that sometimes adults are not as grown-up on the inside as they look on the outside.


Anna Kendrick, Noelle (2019)

The 2019 Disney original Noelle imagines the North Pole as a monarchy — specifically, one that follows the same sexist rules as European royalty who forbade women from taking the throne. Here, Santa has two kids played by Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader. Hader’s character canonically smells like hot
chocolate and peppermint, but other than that, he’s wholly unsuited (heh) to take over the role of Santa after his father’s (offscreen) death. Early on in the film, Nick Kringle (Hader) runs off to Phoenix, Arizona, to escape the cold — and his responsibilities — as a yoga instructor, prompting his sister, Noelle (Kendrick), to follow him and try to talk him into accepting his burden with grace. Fish-out-of-water comedy ensues.

Kendrick really sells the wide-eyed wonder as Christmas princess Noelle, trilling and frolicking her heart out in embroidered doublets and candy-striped stockings while berating random passersby for their lack of holiday spirit. The sibling chemistry between Kendrick and Hader is lively and believable, and once Noelle — spoiler alert — is recognized as the true heir to the Santa Claus throne, she deals with the insecurity of kids telling her she “doesn’t look like Santa” (read: is female) with vulnerability. Add in Billy Eichner doing his “barely suppressed rage” bit as Cousin Gabe, the North Pole’s socially inept tech director, and you have a Christmas movie that’s far more watchable than it needs to be given its pint-size target audience.


Bill Goldberg, Santa’s Slay (2005)

Former pro-wrestler Bill Goldberg put his skills as a heel to work in Santa’s Slay, an influential low-budget Christmas-theme horror movie released in 2005. The film takes place in Hell, Michigan, a real place that has really leaned into its name in recent years. Here, it hosts a supernatural slasher plot that makes up a whole new mythology for Santa Claus, reimagining him as “Satan’s only son” (again, anagrams) who’s condemned to an eternity spreading Christmas cheer after losing one of those bets Gods are so fond of. Now he’s back through infernal machinations unknown, and he’s out to murder naughty and nice alike with extreme cruelty (and creativity — this is a slasher movie).

At the time, Santa’s Slay got a fair amount of attention for its opening scene, in which an ensemble composed entirely of Jewish actors sits down for a Christmas dinner that turns into a bloodbath once Santa (Goldberg) punches his way down the chimney. In retrospect, the fingerprints of Santa’s Slay are all over Violent Night — from Santa’s Nordic origins to the tongue-in-cheek splatter. Goldberg is a more animated presence than David Harbour, though, and he chews up and spits out the tinsel-covered scenery with devilish glee.


Tim Allen, The Santa Clause (1994) / The Santa Clause 2 (2002) / The Santa Clause 3: Escape Clause (2006) / The Santa Clauses (2022)

Although he eventually spawns a whole brood of Calvins with his second wife, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), the Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) introduced at the beginning of The Santa Clause is the most divorced Santa of all time. This movie sets up a conflict between the magic of Christmas and family court and is especially harsh on touchy-feely stepdads who make kids talk about their feelings and hate Santa Claus, Christmas, and everything they stand for. Sure, Scott technically kidnaps his son when he takes him up to the North Pole for a month of magic and wonder in Santa’s workshop, but he’s Santa!

Scott is functionally, if not yet spiritually, Santa for most of the movie, unwittingly taking the mantle when he watches the old Santa slip off an icy roof and fall to his death early on in the film. In the Santa Clause universe, becoming Santa is a curse kind of like the demon in It Follows, in which a chance encounter with an outgoing Santa makes you Santa until you pass the Santa burden on to someone else. There’s an element of identity crisis there that says something about boomers like Tim Allen aging into new roles as fathers in the ’80s and ’90s. Allen has certainly aged into the role — not changing much about his performance as The Santa Clause mellows into a full-on legacy franchise. That’s one way to keep growling “ho-ho-ho” in a Tool Man voice forever.


Paul Sorvino, Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe (2009)

George Wendt was replaced for Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe by Paul Sorvino, an actor with an even more paternal presence than Wendt’s. And although he was usually cast as a heavy, Sorvino — a tall, burly gentleman with a big personality — excels in the wholesome role. His Santa is more neatly groomed than most with a tan and a bulky watch around his thick wrist. And he has plenty of time for self-care, given that he abruptly decides at the beginning of the movie that he’s going to retire effective immediately. He has been neglecting the man behind the suit, he says, and it’s time for him to spend some time developing his many hobbies. (You could call it a midlife crisis, but he’s immortal.)

For the remainder of the film, Sorvino putters around the Pole tinkering with his sled, doing step aerobics with the elves, and performing in a jazz quartet. Meanwhile, his girlboss daughter is living up to the epithet with some North Pole union busting, which combines with a “crazy bitch” subplot to underline this as a product of the regressive aughts. Sorvino’s Santa charms his way out of all that mess, though, riding around on his snowmobile and having a laugh with the elf boys.


Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Complaints about everyone being too busy and too focused on “optimizing profits” to really appreciate Christmas and Santa Claus go all the way back to 1947 and Miracle on 34th Street. That’s far from the only influential thread in this holiday classic: It establishes the trope of narrow-minded adults persecuting the real Santa — here, committing him to Bellevue rather than putting him in county jail — who must then use the (wholly secular despite all the talk about faith) power of Christmas to convince them.

There’s a conservative anti-psychiatry spin to the original Miracle on 34th Street through the figure of a Macy’s store psychologist (a product of another era, clearly) who simply cannot believe that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is who he says he is. And Gwenn’s Kris Kringle is very modest, preferring to use kindness to make his point rather than overt displays of magical power. He’s a tidy figure with a neatly trimmed beard, sharp wool coat, and bowler hat to match his unassuming performance. He’s warm but not gregarious. He’s the only actor to have won an Oscar for playing Santa in a movie — a Christmas miracle in itself.


Ed Asner, Elf (2003)

Modern interpretations of Santa Claus often portray him as a towering figure. But Ed Asner’s relatively short stature — he stood between five-foot-five and five-eight depending on which sketchy celebrity-stat website you consult — actually puts him more in line with The Night Before Christmas, which goes out of its way to work in adjectives describing Santa as diminutive. Asner’s Santa is pretty terrific all around, actually: He’s got the classic ruddy cheeks and twinkle in his eye. He works in character details we see in a lot of revisionist Santas — a worldy cynicism, an exasperated tone — without losing his yuletide warmth.

Whether he’s talking about avoiding the paparazzi, bragging that he’s “been to New York thousands of times,” or waving a tire iron in Buddy the Elf’s (Will Ferrell) face, Asner’s Santa feels like an affectionate uncle who swoops in to offer encouragement and advice before gallivanting off on his next adventure. That’s the role Santa, who loves children but (according to some versions of the legend) is childless himself, plays in the pop-culture collective psyche, which makes Asner’s Santa really click. He keeps the magic relatively casual as well with a written record of what the good little boys and girls of the world want for Christmas in case his selective omniscience fails. Overall, he’s witty, sincere, and endearingly relatable.


David Huddleston, Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

A prolific character actor who died in 2016 with 149 credits on his résumé, David Huddleston will live on in cinema history for two achievements: Playing the title character in The Big Lebowski (1998) and making a damn fine Santa Claus in the otherwise haphazard Santa Claus: The Movie. Huddleston brings a gregarious energy to the role — a sort of Santa-as-Kenny Rogers down-home father figure with a raspy voice and a sincere love of children. Huddleston’s “Tennessee biker uncle” Claus is ironic given how English this movie is on the whole. But it does match the North Pole’s wood-lined cabin aesthetic.

French journeyman Jeannot Szwarc directs this 1985 time capsule, which opens with a whole-cloth reimagining of the Santa mythos in which a medieval Englishman nicknamed Uncle Claus (Huddleston) and his wife, Anya (Judy Cornwell), freeze to death in their sleigh one Christmas Eve, only to be revived and made immortal by a wizard-elf played by Burgess Meredith whose extra-extra-long white beard is carried by a half-dozen elf attendants. It’s a classic “chosen one” narrative — one that’s not substantial enough to sustain an entire feature, necessitating the crude grafting of two more plots onto the film.


Richard Attenborough, Miracle on 34th Street (1995)

The 1995 remake of Miracle on 34th Street hits all the same notes as the 1947 original but is bigger, broader, and more obviously telegraphed. Here, young Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) and her desire for her mom to marry the nice lawyer who lives down the hall are underlined early on, and Kris Kringle (David Attenborough) protests a little louder that he really is the real Santa Claus when his sanity is questioned. (Here, it’s two cartoonishly evil employees of a rival discount chain doing the scheming rather than a psychologist.) He declares in court that, of course, his reindeer can’t fly, because he “only flies on Christmas Eve!” and seems confused when the gallery laughs.

Like his predecessor, Attenborough dresses in tweed and brushed wool when he’s off the clock. But his Santa gear is showier, rendered in rich velvet and fur and featuring gold buttons and a gold wreath ring. His performance is a little broader than Gwenn’s, too, but in a good way: Attenborough is more animated in his facial expressions and more overtly emotional — almost bursting into tears after a touching scene where he speaks with a little Deaf girl in ASL. You believe that it really is important to him that every child experiences a little magic at Christmastime, and although he’s a little pushy in setting up the film’s adult characters, they don’t seem to mind. The British accent and hunched, grandfatherly posture complete the picture, making Attenborough the ultimate pop-culture Santa.

Santas, Ranked