There are very few characters in existence that command the same presence as Santa Claus. A larger-than-life mythical figure, he transcends any earnest attempt at definition, owing to his rich and storied history. Some consider him a magical elf, while others think of him as Saint Nicholas. Others still believe that he’s simply a character created to embody the modern spirit of the festive season.
The truth generally lies somewhere in between. Ultimately, Santa Claus is everything he’s believed to be, with each and every story adding an extra layer to his ever-growing mythos. As such, there are countless different representations of Mr. Christmas – many of which have been committed to film.
There are so many Christmas movie tropes that exist as a direct result of Santa Claus’s presence, leading to a checklist of qualities that the ideal version of the character should possess. Some movies embrace these ideals while others innovate, and others still eschew tradition with a sense of Christmas irreverence. For better or worse, there’s a great deal of variation in Christmas movie Santas, but here are 7 of the all-time best.
7. Billy Bob Thornton – Bad Santa (2003)
Instead of playing the man himself, Billy Bob Thornton plays the off-puttingly-named Willie Soke, a con man, in Bad Santa. Every year, Willie and his partner-in-crime Marcus gain employment as a mall Santa and an elf, using the jobs as a cover to rob malls and department stores on Christmas Eve. Of course, that sort of makes Willie the anti-Santa, but the film’s story earns him a spot on this list.
Billy Bob Thornton’s Santa is a crass, alcoholic boor who initially shows little to no regard for the spirit of Christmas. However, Bad Santa sees him meet new people (Santa-fetishist Sue and overweight child Thurman) who force him to reconsider his worldview, and that’s what makes Bad Santa such an excellent story. He may start the movie as a jaded and unpleasant con man, but he ends it as a somewhat passable human being.
Seeing Willie (as Santa) committing all manner of debauchery certainly robs Saint Nicholas of his saintly virtues. Bad Santa‘s irreverent treatment of the character actually works in its favor, making Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie Soke one of the most memorable movie Santas of all time. Though he’s far from the Hallmark card version of the man in red, Bad Santa‘s protagonist somehow manages not to deliver a Christmas movie with a bad message, which is something of a Christmas miracle in its own right.