Celluloid Santas

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

A dip into cinematic history proves that not all
Saint Nicks are created equal...

by Alicia Potter
Jonathan Taylor Thomas in Home for Christmas

His eyes, they may twinkle, but round and jolly this Santa is not.

The snowy beard, the button-straining belly, and the confidence to wear head-to-toe red are a given. But eyes that truly twinkle? A chuckle that's genuinely jolly? Now that takes talent.

Each year, the holiday movie season sends forth at least one Santa Claus to the big screen. And as anyone who caught The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) knows, not all cinematic St. Nicks are created equal. To be credible, he must exude a certain "Jingle Bells" je ne sais quoi. He has to make us, well, believe in him.

And at the very least, he has to entertain us. Indeed, there have been some pretty weird interpretations of Santa Claus in the last 100 years of cinema, such 1998's entry, I'll Be Home for Christmas, a ho-ho-hummer that buckles teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas into the familiar red suit.

Frank Thompson, author of the book American Movie Classics' Great Christmas Movies, has his own theory about what makes a satisfying onscreen Santa. "He has to have a great wizened look," he said. "And a mysterious quality. It's not enough to just be jolly."

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