Santa Claus is typically portrayed as an affable, caring person that wants nothing more than to inspire goodness in his fellow humans and give gifts to children.
That doesn’t always happen, though. Some movie portrayals of Santa Claus are so far out of left field that it makes you step back and wonder what the writers were thinking.
I’ve come up with a list of the 10 worst movie Santas and since you’re here, I guess you want to read about them. So, what makes for a bad Santa? Some of the criteria I used for the list included: a bad performance, a script that went off the rails, or acting so far off of what Santa should be that I couldn’t overlook it.
See if your least favorite Santa made the list.
10. Artie Lange (The Mall Santa) from Elf
Elf is a weird movie overall, but it got a little too weird when Artie Lange appears as a mall Santa being harassed by Buddy. In the middle of talking to a child on his lap, he gets drawn into an argument with a man dressed like an elf.
Now, a normal person would probably call security and whisk the child away from the “deranged elf-man”. Instead, mall Santa allows himself to get roped into an argument that culminates with him uttering this beautiful line:
“I’m a fake? How would you like to be dead?”
Talk about going from 0-100 real quick. Buddy and Santa get into a fight that is broken up by Wanda, the manager at Gimbels. A whole roomful of kids just got scarred for life.
9. Edward Ivory in The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Santa in The Nightmare Before Christmas is best described as a doddering old fool. He gets captured by Lock, Shock, and Barrel before being delivered to Jack Skellington and relieved of his duties.
He has practically no concern, anger, or awareness of the situation, only snuffing out one of Oogie Boogie’s bugs and scolding Jack Skellington near the end of the movie before disappearing to save Christmas.
That’s not a good look, Santa.
8. The Whole Claus Family in Arthur Christmas
Arthur Christmas is about the Claus family, the descendants of the original Saint Nicholas who have one acting Santa and a whole team of supporters.
Santa is basically a figurehead for Christmas while his family does all the heavy lifting. Eventually, it comes time to name a successor, and it seems like Steven, the all-work-no-play guy behind the scenes is going to get the nod.
Except it wouldn’t be a Christmas movie if the goofy guy who has a heart of gold goes on an adventure and earns the job as Santa.
I have a lot of gripes with this portrayal of Santa, but I think I can sum up my problem as you would have to squish all the Clauses together to get a decent Santa.
I understand that’s kind of the movie’s main idea: it takes a family to get the job done. Still, Santa needs the traditions, logistical sense, and ability to care for children to be worthy.
Instead of working together to get a good competent Santa, we are left with one guy whose best quality is that he’s sweet? That’s a poor excuse for Santa.
7. Ken Hudson Campbell from Home Alone
Kevin runs into this hapless Santa in a desperate attempt to send a message to “the real Santa” in hopes of getting his family back for Christmas. Being the smarty pants he is, Kevin realizes this guy isn’t the real deal right away.
That’s probably because he’s still puffing on a cigarette with his beard pulled down while complaining about a parking ticket when he strolls up.
Anyway, Kevin pours his little heart out in hopes that he can bring his family back. Remember, he actually believes he made them disappear at this point in the movie. What does Santa say?
“Kay, see what I can do.”
That’s right, he tells Santa, a real adult, that his whole family is gone and he just wants them back only for him to basically ignore that whole glaring problem.
Santa blows him off, offering him a few measly Tic-Tacs after complaining that he’s short on time for his “little get-together.” He couldn’t even try to be helpful let alone put on a magical façade for two whole minutes.
6. Jeff Gillen in A Christmas Story
What’s the opposite of rose-colored glasses? I hope that whatever they are is what Ralphie was looking through when he related this Christmas story to the audience. Otherwise, I think he ran into a drug-addled Santa doing his best impersonation of the Joker from The Dark Knight.
This Santa is all about business. His elves drag kids up the stairs, he screams “Ho Ho Ho!” in their faces, asks them what they want, and then they go down the slide into the fake snow.
Poor Ralphie is paralyzed with a mix of confusion and fear at the sight of this Santa and agrees to getting a football. Before he can go too far down the slide, he turns and tells Santa that he wants “an official Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot Range model air rifle.”
Even though Santa isn’t on the hook for anything at this point, he says “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” and then pushes him down the slide with his foot. Brutal.
5. Bill Goldberg in Santa’s Slay
Goldberg is not meant to be the typical St. Nicholas, but that doesn’t mean this is a good version of a bad Santa.
The movie starts with Santa coming down the chimney and killing a family in the midst of eating their Christmas dinner. Apparently, Santa was not the guy we were told about as kids. He lost a bet to an Angel and had to give up his evil killing ways to deliver toys for 1,000 years.
Well, that 1,000-year sentence started in the year 1005, so he’s free to kill again. This Santa doesn’t really come off as menacing, though. Santa’s Slay is pure campiness and a terrible story mixed with bad one-liners like “I’m just trying to spread a little Yuletide fear!”
I don’t mind a Christmas horror movie, but at least make it good.
So, why doesn’t murdering Santa automatically qualify as the worst one? At least he’s true to his nature. He’s a stone cold killer, a really bad seed. But he doesn’t try to be anything else, and I admire someone that sticks to their guns.
4. Paul Giamatti from Fred Claus
This might just be the worst Christmas movie ever made, so it should come as no surprise that the portrayal of Santa was awful. It’s like the writers sat around and asked themselves what would happen if you got Santa addicted to coke?
Paul Giamatti’s Santa doesn’t have an ounce of wisdom or niceness to him throughout the majority of the movie.There’s no warmth in his wild-eyed, chaotic portrayal of Santa. He’s either crazy or sentimental, with very little middle ground.
This movie left me asking, what kind of Santa is this supposed to be? Should I sympathize with him? Is he being forced to deliver toys against his will? How did Santa get to the point where he has a secret service security detail operated by elves?
3. Martin Short from The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Jack Frost manages to convince Scott Calvin to give up the mantle of Santa Claus, and he is just awful. New Santa finishes what society started and commercializes Christmas to the point that the North Pole becomes a theme park and he renames the holiday, Frostmas.
Not only is this Santa 2.0 horrible for dismantling Christmas, but the acting is also atrocious. Martin Short slathers on the smarm, but not in a good way. The movie is almost like a political cartoon in the sense that it beats you over the head with the notion that this guy is a jerk.
I’m sure someone’s Tumblr blog thinks this movie was a genius warning that our society is starting to focus too much on the material aspects of Christmas and it’s time to get back to our family-oriented celebrations. But it’s not that deep; it’s just bad.
2. Ed Asner from Elf
Ed Asner was a very talented actor and I almost hate putting him on this list since he passed away so recently. It’s definitely not his fault that this Santa was so bad.
Still, I have to ask, how did such an otherwise charming film have such a curmudgeon for Santa? I get that the film was very New York-centric, but did we really have to have Santa threaten Buddy with a tire iron while saying, “Back off, slick! You’ll scare the deer!”
Something about the way he talks, the lack of smiles and warmth, and his first-person knowledge of peep shows just comes off wrong.
He’s also a bit of a jerk throughout the film as he inadvertently kidnaps Buddy and can’t be bothered to return him, has to tell him that his dad in on the naughty list before he sets out to meet him for the first time, and uses Buddy like he used Rudolph— to get his sleigh running again so he can take off into the night.
Even when he gives his big inspirational speech to Buddy, it doesn’t come off as authentic. His “Go, Buddy! Go, Mr. Elf!” sounds a little sarcastic. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the portrayal was definitely not Santa-like.
1. Billy Bob Thornton from Bad Santa
Again, this version of Santa is not supposed to be the real thing. Willie Stokes is a mall Santa who uses his cover as Father Christmas to break into vaults on Christmas Eve when the security goes home. Along with his partner, Marcus, the duo have pulled off some rather big scores in the past.
The only problem is that this Santa is a nihilistic raging alcoholic who causes a lot of problems such as:
- Pissing himself on Santa’s chair
- Throwing a beer bottle at a random car, shattering the windshield
- Flipping out on a kid while he’s on “his f****** lunch break”
- Making fun of his little person co-conspirator, Marcus
- Doing the deed in dressing rooms at work
- Uttering the line “you ain’t gonna s*** right for a week”
Beneath all that ugliness, there’s still a guy that cares about trying to do the right thing once in a while. I mean, it’s really deep in there, but it shines through in the end.
Don’t get me wrong. This movie lives up to its name; this is a bad Santa. But this Santa gets enough screen time to get redemption because the whole film is about him. On a side note, this is also my favorite Christmas movie.
Which Santa is the Worst?
Many ways exist to make a bad Santa. The films could portray him as a thief, murderer, or something as heinous as Martin Short. I’ve shown you my 10 worst movie Santas, but I want to hear from you.
What’d I miss? Who belongs on the list and who doesn’t? Let me know in the comments or a good raged-fueled diatribe on Twitter.