The 12 Most Magical Movie Santa Claus Performances, Ranked

From Tim Allen to Kurt Russell

The fictional portrayal of Santa Claus has evolved significantly since his first appearance in fourth-century fables. One of the earliest depictions of a gift-bringing figure was Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop known for his generosity and kindness, who laid the foundation for the modern Santa Claus.

In the 1820s, the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" — commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas" — contributed to Santa's popular image as a jolly, rotund man with a sleigh and reindeer. This poem solidified Santa's connection to Christmas and established many enduring characteristics.

In the mid-20th century, the Coca-Cola Co.'s marketing campaigns famously portrayed Santa as a plump, bearded figure in a red suit, further shaping the modern Santa's iconic appearance.

Over the years, Santa Claus has been featured in numerous books, movies, musical works and television shows. Classic Christmas movies such as "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) and "The Santa Clause" (1994) have added depth to the Santa character, emphasizing his warm-hearted nature and his connection to the spirit of Christmas. Songs including Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" keep him alive as a symbol of childhood innocence. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, a man dressed as Santa and his gang once robbed a bank in Texas.)

Modern films continue to depict Santa Claus in various ways, from the action-packed Netflix Christmas movie "The Christmas Chronicles" (2018) to animated hits such as "The Polar Express" (2004). These portrayals continue to adapt and expand upon the beloved figure, keeping the magic of Santa alive for generations to come. Santa's portrayal in modern media captures the enduring appeal of a character rooted in centuries of tradition and folklore.

Here are the best on-screen portrayals of Ol' Saint Nick, and where to watch each.

READ MORE: The Top 10 Funniest SNL Christmas Skits of All Time, Ranked