Being the most iconic figure of the Christmas season, it’s no suprise that there are tons of movies the features Santa Claus, and everyone knows what to expect when Santa appears in a movie. Most of the time, anyway.
In Violent Night, David Harbour becomes the latest actor to embody Saint Nick, but his take on the character is a drastic turn from the holly, jolly Claus most imagine. While a more adult, acton-oriented Santa may be a departure from tradition, this isn’t the first time that a movie has made drastic changes to Santa’s character or the Santa iconography.
Streaming On Peacock
Much like Violent Night, the Santa in Fatman is much more action-oriented. Played by Mel Gibson, this version of Santa finds himself being hunted by a hitman who has been hired by a spoiled rich kid upset that he’s been given coal for Christmas.
Gunshots and profanity are a far cry from the image of Santa that people know and love, so combining this edgier version of Santa with the movie’s black comedy, fight sequences, and hyperviolence, Fatman certainly helped lay the groundwork for Violent Night to be made with Gibson’s Santa fighting for his life in very R-rated fashion.
Streaming On Netflix
Stories involving Santa are typically filled with joy but Klaus, Netflix’s beautifully animated 2019 holiday film, didn’t shy away from exploring a more emotional side of Santa Claus. Played to perfection by J.K. Simmons, Klaus is a reclusive toymaker that has isolated himself after the passing of his wife.
Klaus is also a far cry from the jolly version of Santa that permeates the Christmas season, the holiday spirit replaced with a melancholy and mourning that the movie captures perfectly. A more character-driven look at Santa, Klaus operates as an origin story for Santa Claus and Christmas itself, while emphasizing the power that the holiday can have.
Available To Rent On Prime Video
Mall Santas may be as big a Christmas tradition as the real thing throughout the holiday season and families expect them to fit a certain image. Willie Soke in Bad Santa manages to destroy every expectation of what a mall Santa can be.
Vulgar, crass, and an alcoholic, Billy Bob Thornton is just about the exact opposite of what Santa is known for. Thornton spending most of his time in a traditional Santa costume also helps to make the shocking and profane humor that much more impactful. What should be an irredeemable character is slowly pulled back from the ledge as Willie’s friendship with young Thurman continues to grow, proving that even the worst representations of Santa aren’t immune to Christmas magic.
Streaming On Disney+
No matter the interpretation of Santa, he’s usually pretty good at knowing what he has to do to make sure Christmas is a success. In Noelle, Bill Hader stars as Nick Kringle, the son of the recently deceased Kris who is expected to carry on the mantle as the new Santa. Feeling the pressure, Nick flees the North Pole to Arizona, putting Christmas in jeopardy and sending his sister Noelle, played by Anna Kendrick, on the hunt to find him before it’s too late.
While versions of Santa have varied, Nick Kringle is a different kind of Santa in that he’s scared of failing and unsure of what to do, a far cry from the traditional Father Christmas who displays a jovial, irrepressible confidence that comes only from being and immortal and nigh-omnipotent being.
Streaming On Peacock
Foregoing Santa altogether, the Christmas horror comedy Krampus instead focuses on Krampus, an anti-Claus from folklore known for punishing those who have lost Christmas spirit.
Krampus is basically an exact opposite of Santa, gone are the rosy red cheeks, bushy beard, and jolly voice, instead replaced with Krampus’ being a hulky, cloaked figure with two massive horns and a face looking like a tattered version of the traditional Santa. The movie goes to great lengths to flip Christmas conventions like presents, gingerbread men, and elves, creating a memorable antithesis to the traditional holiday movie formula with Krampus far more likely to take naughty children with him back up the chimney rather than leaving any presents under the tree.
The Grinch (2018)
Streaming On Hulu
Illumination’s 2018 update of the 1966 holiday classic The Grinch, follows the iconic curmudgeon the Grinch as he schemes with his dog Max to steal Christmas from the Whos that live in Whoville. Using the image of Santa to complete his master plan, the Grinch goes so far as to lie to young Cindy Lou Who, who almost catches him in the act, leading her to believe that Santa has punished all of Whoville because of something she did.
Santa would never lie to a child, let alone steal stockings, presents, and the Christmas tree itself. By touching on the Grinch’s backstory and what led to him being so anti-Christmas, audiences are able to feel some sympathy but this moment, disguised as Santa himself, remains one of his most dastardly.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Streaming On Disney+
Jack Skellington wouldn’t fool anyone in his Santa costume but even if he did, the presents he delivers as Sandy Claws are a dead giveaway that something isn’t quite right in The Nightmare Before Christmas. After being touched with the Christmas spirit, Jack decides to kidnap Santa and try his own hand at spreading Christmas cheer, to disastrous results.
Jack’s Sandy Claws may not fully understand Christmas traditions but his attempts to spread Christmas cheer embodies what the holiday is all about. While Jack may not be the most convincing Santa, even down to his appearance being far more ghastly than jolly Saint Nick, The Nightmare Before Christmas is still one of the most popular movies to watch each holiday season.
The Santa Clause
Streaming On Disney+
What happens if Santa dies and the chosen replacement doesn’t want to fill his sleigh? Starring Tim Allen, The Santa Clause confronts this question head on as Scott Calvin saves Christmas one year with his son Charlie, only to spend the next year questioning if it even happened and trying to find ways to get out of becoming the new Santa.
Selfish and unbelieving, it’s hard to image a Santa that threatens to take the presents back and complains about not wanting to eat milk and cookies but that just makes the climax of the movie (and Scott’s transformation) that much more magical, even over 25 years (and multiple sequels) later.
The Year Without A Santa Claus
Available To Rent On Apple TV
Struck with a cold and feeling under-appreciated, Santa decides to go on holiday instead of delivering presents around the world.
It’s hard to imagine Santa ever deciding he just didn’t want to partake in Christmas, especially since bringing joy to millions of children is often referenced as something Santa takes great pride in. The Year Without A Santa Claus has remained a holiday classic since its first release in 1974 in part because of its reminder that even Santa Claus deserves recognition and appreciation for the magic he brings at Christmastime.
Now In Theaters
When trying to twist the Santa Claus formula, it’s crucial to make sure that the actor playing Santa is capable of making it work. As a Santa helping to save a wealthy family from mercenaries, David Harbour powers Violent Night past any pitfalls that could’ve sunk the movie before it even released.
Harbour’s Santa has more in common with John McClane from Die Hardthan other movie versions of Santa as he displays adept fighting and survival skills, Violent Night squeezes every ounce of fun possible out of its admittedly thin plot line, letting Harbour’s unhinged St. Nick take center stage as he fights his way through villains to try and save the day.
MORE: 10 Christmas Horror Movies In Which The Villain Isn’t Santa Claus