Christmas is upon us, and with it comes the usual array of holiday highlights: the eggnog, the tinsel, the presents, the caroling and, best of all, the excuse to watch a bunch of great movies about Santa Claus.
But while Hollywood has given us just about every kind of Santa you could think of over the last century -- replacement Santas ('The Santa Clause'), animated Santas ('The Nightmare Before Christmas'), even serial killer Santas ('Silent Night, Deadly Night') -- there's one kind of Santa we've seen far too few of: believeable Santas.
With that in mind, then, we thought we'd get into the holiday spirit by celebrating those performances that did manage to get Kris Kringle so perfectly correct that even now, the thought of them makes us believe in Santa once again. And so, without further ado, here's our list of the Most Believable Santas.
Edmund Gwenn in 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947)
When 'Miracle on 34th Street' debuted, Edmund Gwenn's portrayal of Santa didn't just provide us with one of the all-time great holiday classics; it also gave cinema its most believable Santa ever. Gwenn's Santa, who poses as a mall Santa at Macy's and ends up having to prove in court that he is truly Santa Claus, ended up convincing not just the judge of Santa's existence -- but also everyone who has ever watched the movie. We rest our case.
Ed Asner in 'Elf' (2003)
Sure, 2003's 'Elf' is best known for Will Ferrell's signature man-child antics. But it's the usually irascable Ed Asner who really anchors the movie by turning in a great performance as Santa. Playing off his own well-established sourpuss image, Asner ends up providing Ferrell's confused pseudo-elf Buddy with just the right mixture of tough love and plain old regular love, landing him firmly on our nice list. After all, who wouldn't want a Santa like Asner as their surrogate granddad?
Paul Giamatti in 'Fred Claus' (2007)
Giamatti is best known for playing lovable losers, neurotic schlubs and dumpy everymen with a lack of self confidence, so he doesn't exactly make the most obvious choice for Santa Claus. Yet in 'Fred Claus,' Giamatti showed a new ravnge -- and revealed a new side of Santa -- with a look at how the pressures of family can even affect a legend like Kris Kringle. Giamatti's performance here deserves a second look.
David Huddleston in 'Santa Claus: The Movie' (1985)
Speaking of giving movies a second look, 'Santa Claus: The Movie' was a bit of a critical punching bag when it first appeared. But while the story of an elf who sells out the North Pole to greedy toy execs may not be a classic, there's no doubt that David Huddleston's performance of Claus deserves to be on any list of cinema's great Santas. Beyond the normal toys-and-sleigh motif, Huddleston also had to show how Santa came into being in an interesting origin story that stretched the genre -- and cemented Huddleston's place in our hearts
Tom Hanks in 'The Polar Express' (2004)
Let's face it: Tom Hanks almost seems like a real life Santa Claus, what with his friendly, parental demeanor and his numerous well known charity efforts. So it was no surprise when Hanks took on the role of Santa -- along with a half dozen or more others -- in 2004's groundbreaking CGI animated holiday classic 'The Polar Express.' No, the only real surprise is that he hasn't been asked to play Santa more often. Are you listening, Hollywood?
Sir Richard Attenborough in 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1994)
It's a tall order to try and remake one of the most beloved films of all time, and an even taller order to step into the shoes of the number one Santa of all time. But that's just what Sir Richard Attenborough did back in 1994 for a modern take on 'Miracle on 34th Street.' The crazy part? He actually pulled it off, giving us another great Santa and opening the debate to whether this time, the remake might actually be better than the original. They don't give people that "Sir" title for nothing, you know.
Douglas Seale in 'Ernest Saves Christmas' (1988)
This installment of Jim Varney's 'Ernest' franchise may not have been a great movie -- okay, okay, it definitely was not a great movie -- but, surprisingly enough, it still found room for one of the most unexpectedly excellent portrayals of Santa in film, thanks to Douglas Seale. Even critics who otherwise hated everything 'Ernest' managed to find room in their hearts to heap praise on Seale -- the very definition of a Christmas miracle.
Finally, a special honorable mention goes out to Billy Bob Thornton in 'Bad Santa' (2003). While we've never had anything but positive experiences with our own mall Santas, Thornton -- in an indelible performance sending up everything good and beautiful about those great Santas from 'Miracle on 34th Street' -- brought to life what we all secretly believe goes on behind the scenes down at the local shopping plaza. This is one Santa that we're too happy to stop believing in.