5 Phenomenal Movie Santa Clauses

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Christmas is quickly approaching which means Christmas movies are popping up everywhere. In the spirit of Christmas I thought it would be fun to look at one iconic yuletide character that has popped up in movies for years. I’m talking about Santa Claus. Now some movies just don’t give us anything memorable but others present Santa in a way that brings us back year after year. We just have to watch these seasonal favorites. So today I’m looking at five of the best ones. Now with so many cinematic Santas I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I have no trouble recognizing these five Santa Clauses as absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – TIM ALLEN (“The Santa Claus”)


While I’m not a big fan of this series of movies as a whole I do really enjoy the first film. “The Santa Claus” tells the story of a pretty selfish father named Scott Calvin who through a nutty accident inherits the position as Santa Claus. Of course a lot of things come with that role – a big round belly, a snow-white beard, etc. Allen is great showing us his character’s transformation from a self-absorbed slug to a loving, caring father and ultimately Santa Claus. His performance shows that he is having a blast with the role and he is the main reason the film works.

#4 – ED ASNER (“Elf”)


He’s certainly not the main draw in “Elf” but Ed Asner’s performance as Santa Claus is a key ingredient to this movie’s success. Asner never winks at the camera. Instead he seems completely invested which gives us some really funny moments. He not only looks the part but he carries himself just as you would imagine jolly old Saint Nick would. There are several good moments as he manages things at the North Pole but he also has some really fun moments when his sleigh crash lands in Central Park. Fun and fitting – that is how I would describe Asner’s Santa Claus.

#3 – TOM HANKS (“The Polar Express”)


I know some people have had problems with Robert Zemeckis’ motion-captured animated film “The Polar Express”. Not me. I really like the film and it has become one of our holiday favorites. And while he doesn’t appear until the very end of the film, Tom Hanks as Santa Claus is such a wonderful addition. What makes him such a great Santa has a lot to do with the buildup. The film truly creates a larger than life, jaw-dropping perception of Santa and we the audience see him through the same awe-struck eyes of those children. The animation is gorgeous and Hanks fits the portrait perfectly.

#2 – JEFF GILLEN (“A Christmas Story”)


How can a movie Santa Claus who only appears for 3 minutes of a film have such a prominent position on this list? When he gives us such a hilarious and utterly timeless scene. This is what Jeff Gillen gives us in the modern Christmas classic “A Christmas Story”. His tired and grumpy department store Santa grows more and more irritable as he ends his Christmas Eve shift. Unfortunately for Ralphie, that is when he goes to see Santa in hopes of getting his elusive Red Rider BB gun. Grumbling elves and Gillen’s bored and dismissive delivery doesn’t provide Ralphie with the best experience, but it sure is a load of fun for us.

#1 – EDMUND GWENN (“Miracle on 34th Street”)


Let’s be honest, could there be a different number one? In my book Edmund Gwenn’s fabulous portrayal of Santa Claus is the perfect blueprint on how to play the character. Gwenn’s Oscar-winning performance still stands out today as absolutely brilliant. From the first moment you see Gwenn’s Kris Kringle you can’t help but be drawn to him. He has the demeanor, the cheer, the charisma, the childlike exuberance. And with the exception of one old grump, he makes everyone around him and every circumstance better. Writer and director George Seaton conceives the perfect Santa Claus and Edmund Gwenn embodies that version to absolute perfection. He is the best movie Santa Claus.

So what do you think of my list? Agree or disagree with my choices. Please take time to share your choices in the comments section below.

REVIEW: “Miracle on 34th Street”


While there have been two serviceable remakes, neither come close to the magic of the original “Miracle on 34th Street”. This 1947 Christmas picture has become a stalwart for Christmas movie watchers each and every year. But while most modern Christmas movies are cheap and gimmicky, “Miracle on 34th Street” rightfully holds its place as a true Christmas classic as well as an incredibly well-made film. It’s also one of the few seasonal pictures to get recognition from the Academy Awards. It won four Oscars, was nominated for Best Picture, and is a movie that deserves the accolades and treasured status it has received.

George Seaton directed and wrote the script which begins on Thanksgiving day. The beautiful Maureen O’Hara plays Doris, a cynical single mother who works for Macy’s and is in charge of their Thanksgiving Day Parade. As she frantically works to get the parade under way, she discovers that her Santa Claus is drunk off his feet. Desperate to find a replacement for the big finale of the parade, she convinces a passerby named Kris (Edmund Gwenn), who strikingly looks the part, to fill in. His convincing work eventually earns him a spot as Macy’s department store Santa. His only quirk? He claims to be the real Santa. But Doris’ bosses overlook that after seeing their customers positive reaction to him.


But the core of the story and the most satisfying component of it revolves around the relationship between Kris, Doris, and her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). Susan is just like her mother, cynical and skeptical about all sorts of things, most notably the existence of Santa Claus. Kris sets out to not only convince Susan that he is Santa Claus but to convince Doris that there are many things in life worth believing it. Helping him along the way is Fred Gailey (John Payne), a struggling attorney who is also attracted to Doris. Fred uses the crafty old technique of getting close to the daughter in order to get close to the mother. He and Doris eventually hit it off even though his willingness to believe in things sometimes clashes with her stubbornness.

I really like the chemistry between O’Hara and Payne. Their developing relationship is easy to buy into especially thanks to O’Hara’s cautious confidence and Payne’s witty self-deprecating humor. Both give spot-on performances. Also, young Natalie Wood is fantastic. She wonderfully portrays Susan and her childlike innocence combined with her inherited skepticism. And then there is Edmund Gwenn who is still the most convincing Santa Claus I’ve seen on film. His undeniable sincerity and infectious charm flows from every scene he’s in and his Oscar was well deserved. The movie also gives us great supporting roles such as Porter Hall as Macy’s psych evaluator and the movie’s chief antagonist, James Seay as a nursing home doctor and friend to Kris, and Jerome Cowan as a district attorney given an certain impossible task. The cast is fantastic from start to finish.

“Miracle on 34th Street” is a nice mix of holiday sentimentality (in a good way) and genuine feel-goodness. But it’s also a wonderfully written story that’s flawlessly realized through sharp direction and the perfect cast. It’s easy for some to dismiss Christmas movies as shallow seasonal escapism. But there are those special gems that are simply great movies. They show us that sense of style and craft that remind us of how good movies can be. This is one of those films.


REVIEW: “THEM!” (1954)

I’ve recently started revisiting some of the 1950’s sci-fi classics. I remember growing up and watching many of these films whenever I had the chance (which wasn’t often in the days of no cable TV and only three watchable local channels). The 50’s and early 60’s sci-fi genre saw mankind up against everything from huge tarantulas, sea monsters, giants, and a large assortment of alien threats, and as a young boy I loved them all. Of all of the 1950’s sci-fi creature features, “THEM!” most certainly ranks among the best of the bunch. “THEM!” was first conceived as a 3-D project from Warner Brothers, at least until a series of on-set technical issues arose. So the production team created the film in glorious black and white and I can’t imagine it any other way.

The movie’s main threats are giant ants which mutated as a result of radiation from a nuclear test detonation over the New Mexico desert in 1945. These massive insects are well over 9 feet long with bone-crushing mandibles and are byproducts of the new atomic age (at least new in 1954 – when the film was made). In fact, it’s Edmund Gwenn’s Dr. Medford character who paints the new nuclear world as a terrifying, unknown, and unpredictable place. That theme plays in the background of the entire movie and while maybe not as effective today, it’s still easy to see how it could create a fear and tension on its own.

The ants are first discovered when New Mexico state trooper Sgt. Peterson (James Whitmore) and his partner come across a little girl wandering aimlessly through the desert. She’s in shock and unable to tell them who she is or what she’s doing. They end up connecting her to a demolished camper of a now missing vacationing family. A string of other mysterious deaths, including Peterson’s partner, leads to F.B.I. Agent Graham (James Arness) being called in to help with the investigation. Dr. Medford (Gween), a leading myrmecologist from the Department of Agriculture also joins the investigation along with his “expert” daughter Pat (Joan Wheldon). They discover the reasons behind the deaths and their main goal becomes killing the bugs while containing them within the desert. But that doesn’t work out so well and before long they have a potential global crisis on their hands.

The story is attributed to a collaborative effort, but combined with Gordon Douglas’ marvelous direction, it is extremely clever and well constructed. The story starts off with a murder mystery feel as the officers, agents, and scientists piece together clues to uncover the mystery behind the deaths. What’s impressive is that it doesn’t feel manufactured or underplayed. The early investigation scenes are very well conceived and helped even more by Douglas’s slick use of his cameras. Smartly, the movie doesn’t reveal the ants right away which builds the suspense and anticipation so that when we finally see them, they have been established as a serious threat. Of course by today’s standards there’s nothing particularly scary of unnerving about them. But I still have no trouble going back to when people first saw the film and I still get a little giddy when I hear the ant’s menacing screeches.

I also love the way that everything in the story is taken seriously. Sure, there are some moments of good humor, but as a whole, the story is told in a very factual, pokerfaced way. One reason this is so good is because it leaves the audience toying with the possibilities that these bizarre and outlandish things could happen. While the writing is essential to this, the performances are equally important. Whitmore, Gwenn, and Arness are perfect fits for their roles. Wheldon is good as well although she isn’t all that convincing as an esteemed entomologist. But there are other small but fun roles to be found. A young Leonard Nimoy has a brief scene as an Air Force communications officer. Fess Parker also has a brief but entertaining part as a boozer stuck in a mental hospital.

“THEM!” has been recognized as an influential movie within the science fiction genre. Many great films that followed featured elements that could be traced back to this movie. For example, I couldn’t help but connect the idea of a queen laying eggs deep underground only to have them destroyed by flamethrowers to one of my favorite sci-fi treats of all time – James Cameron’s 1986 classic “Aliens”. It’s also a movie that helped usher in the new era of horror/sci-fi cinema. From the classic Universal monsters to the age of big bugs and spacemen, “THEM!” was at the forefront of the transition. I don’t doubt that many modern moviegoers will have a hard time digesting not only this movie but the entire genre. But the genre holds a special place in my heart and “THEM!” was the quintessential big bug movie.