Countless motion pictures have been made involving Santa Claus --- some of which have been known to exhibit a cynical, sometimes dark demeanor. These 'cynical' pictures have presented Santa, at best, as a victim [i.e., Gremlins (1984)]; or, at worst, as a serial killer [the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night, also from 1984]. In addition, an innumerable amount of short subjects, both in live-action and animation, have been produced which feature Santa. All of these, wisely, have presented the Jolly Old Elf in a significantly positive vein. Here now are some of the major milestones, to date, of Santa Claus' movie resume:
1898 London --- George A. Smith produces the first major feature film entirely about Santa Claus. Entitled Santa Claus or The Visit of Santa Claus, the 75-foot-long feature uses trick photography to depict the traditional elements associated with Santa.
1900 Paris --- Georges (Trip to the Moon) Melies produces a mammoth, 520-foot-long feature, Le Reve de Noel (The Christmas Dream). It contains approximately 20 sequences featuring le Pere Noel.
1905 Edwin S. Porter directs the first American-made feature film about Santa, an adaptation of Clement Clarke Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The feature is 800 feet long, the longest-rolling such feature of that time, and involves special effects which utilize tabletop trick photography.
1912 London --- Leedham Bantock becomes the first film actor to be identified as having portrayed Santa Claus. The film in which Bantock appears, again titled simply Santa Claus, includes scenes photographed in a limited, two-tone color process.
1914 Menlo Park, NJ --- Thomas Alva Edison supervises a production of The Night Before Christmas under the direction of Ashly Miller. The Moore poem is adapted for the screen by Anne Hamilton Donnell --- the first film adaptation to involve the concept of a 'motion picture screenplay.'
1926 London --- George Cooper directs a stage-on-film play about Santa which uses a primitive sound recording system.
1927 Hollywood --- Warner Bros. breaks the sound-on-film barrier forever with Al Jolson as The Jazz Singer.
1932 Walt Disney's Silly Symphony Santa's Workshop is released; Wilfred Jackson directs this delightful animated short.
1933 Wilfred Jackson directs Disney's animated Santa again, in The Night Before Christmas.
1934 Laurel & Hardy's Babes in Toyland: Ferdinand Munier is featured as Santa, as the boys mistake the Jolly One's request for 600 1"-tall soldiers to be an order for 100 6"-tall soldiers! Later on, of course, these big boys come in mighty handy when Toyland must be defended against the evil Bogeymen; the battle is waged to the strains of Victor Herbert's March of the Toys.
1946 According to the Internet Movie Database, Ferdy Munier was one of Hollywood's most sought-after Santas during the 1930s and 1940s. Ironically, he was never credited for his three official on-screen appearances as Santa --- the third of which proved to be Munier's last on-screen role, in Paramount Pictures' Road to Utopia. In the scene in question, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby tell the Jolly One that they don't believe in him. "You'll be sorry," chuckles Kris Kringle, producing two beautiful ladies from his sack. Hubba hubba!
1947 Miracle on 34th Street. John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn (his Oscar-winning Kringle), Natalie Wood. 'Nuff said.
1948 Max Fleischer Studios animates Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, using Robert L. May's original story. During this same period, the cartoon is remade to incorporate Gene Autry's recording of the Johnny Marks song.
1956 Miracle on 34th Street is remade for television as Meet Mr. Kringle! This episode of The 20th Century-Fox Hour is directed by Robert Stevenson; in addition to Thomas Mitchell as Kringle, the cast includes MacDonald Carey, Hans Conried, Teresa Wright, Sandy Descher and Ray Collins.
1959 Mexico City --- Los Estudios Churubusco Azteca, Latin America's largest motion picture facility, is the setting for the Battle of the Ages: Santa Claus (Jose Elias Moreno) vs. Pitch the Demon (Pulgarcito)! Only a last-minute bit of intervention from Merlin the Magician (Armando Arriola) permits Our Jolly Hero to return to his domain before dawn. Also in 1959: Miracle on 34th Street resurfaces as an NBC dramatic special, starring Ed Wynn as Kringle and Orson Bean as Dr. Sawyer.
1963 An hour-long indie feature, The Miracle of Santa's White Reindeer, features Charles Winninger as Santa, with Fritz Feld, Ruth Robinson, Dennis Holmes and Hal Smith.
1964 Joseph E. Levine presents a Jalor Production: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. John Call. Pia Zadora. 'Nuff said. That same year, Santa is abducted again --- this time, in Richard C. Parish's The Magic Christmas Tree. Filmed entirely in Los Angeles, the hour-long story involves a young boy named Mark (Chris Kroesen), a witch (Valerie Hobbs) and her cat, and the rescuing of Santa (Robert Maffei) --- all in what is apparently a Halloween/Christmas hybrid fairytale. Also in 1964: Rankin/Bass' One and Only, Original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer --- television's longest continuously aired animated Christmas special, and cornerstone of Rick Goldschimdt's book and blog, The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.
1965 Cinecitta Studios, Rome --- The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, directed by and starring Rosanno Brazzi, and conceived, written by and co-starring Paul Tripp, who also wrote the score and songs, including Glenn Yarbrough's title track. Brazzi portrays Phineas Prune, whose efforts to 'evict' Santa are thwarted when the children of the world purchase the North Pole. Brazzi's wife Lidia, Mischa Auer, and Alberto Rabagliati as Santa are also featured. Paul Tripp passed away in New York City in July 2002, at the age of 91. Click here for an extended interview with the film's producer, Barry Yellen.
1966 Kansas City, Missouri --- Santa's Christmas Circus. John Bilyeu as Santa is joined by Frank Wiziarde, alias Whizzo the Clown, K.C.'s #1 local kids' TV show host (who also directs this hour-long film), along with members of the Johnny Miller Dance Studios for a magic carpet Christmas adventure. For more info about Whizzo and his show, check out Hi There, Boys and Girls! America's Local Children's TV Programs, by Tim Hollis; published by the University Press of Mississippi at Jackson.
1967 J. Edwin Baker supervises another hour-long indie feature, Santa Visits the Magic Land of Mother Goose. The film is briefly released in the Baltimore area in 1974.
1970 The animated hour-long indie feature Santa and the 3 Bears is produced, primarily as an advertisement for the short-lived Pirates World theme park in Dania Beach, Florida.
1972 Santa and the 3 Bears becomes popular enough to spawn a sequel, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (don't ask!).
1973 20th Century-Fox does Miracle on 34th Street AGAIN --- this time, as a full-fledged, made-for-TV musical starring Sebastian Cabot as Kris Kringle. Co-starring are Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall, Tom Bosley and Jim Backus. Norman Rosemont executive produces; Fielder Cook directs.
1983 The incredible phenomena that is director Bob Clark's A Christmas Story, based upon Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and starring Peter Billingsley as young, BB gun-obsessed Ralphie Parker. Now the adult Peter Billingsley has co-produced triple-Tony Award nominee A Christmas Story: The Musical!, soon to launch its first National Tour at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Book by Joseph Robinette; Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; Choreography by Warren Carlyle; Direction by John Rando. Also, Warner Home Video has filmed the original, official sequel: A Christmas Story 2, starring Daniel Stern, and introducing Braeden Lemasters as the now-teenaged Ralphie Parker, now seeking out a 1938 Hupmobile Skyline Convertible! A Christmas Story 2 is currently on DVD and Blu-ray.
1984 New World Pictures acquires U.S. rights to a French-made feature, Here Comes Santa Claus (J'ai Rencontre le Pere Noel). Armand Meffre as Santa helps 7-year-old Simon (Emeric Chapuis) search for his missing parents who, while out on an African holiday, have been kidnapped by a ferocious, human-eating Ogre (Dominique Hulin)! Also in 1984: ABC premieres one of Robert Halmi, Sr.'s earliest productions: The Night They Saved Christmas, starring Jaclyn Smith, Paul Williams, Art Carney as Santa, June Lockhart as Mrs. C, Mason Adams and Paul Le Mat. Williams also contributes several original songs to this tale of three kids and their mom as they quest to save Santa's workshop from destruction at the hands of her unsuspecting husband's nearby oil drilling station.
1985 Toronto --- Disney's One Magic Christmas: Jan Rubes as Santa, Elisabeth Harnois (pre-Adventures in Wonderland), Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton, and Arthur Hill. That same year --- well, you know what happened that year, of course: Alexander Salkind Presents SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE!
1988 Ernest Saves Christmas: Aided and abetted by Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell, a retiring Santa (Douglas Seale) has 48 hours to pass his powers to his hand-picked successor (Oliver Clark) before the magic of Christmas is extinguished; it's up to Ernest and a cynical teen (Noelle Parker) to lend a hand.
1989 It Nearly Wasn't Christmas is produced for first-run television syndication. Charles Durning stars as Santa --- and almost calls it quits due to the Mortals' unappreciativeness; but one little girl out to bring her family together for the holidays may just change his mind. Ted Lange, Annette Marin and Bruce Vilanch [as the biggest elf in television history, yet!] co-star in this Osmond-supervised production (Wayne also co-stars; Jimmy co-executive produced; Merrill and Jimmy [with Kurt Bestor] wrote the title song, which Wayne sings! Leading one to wonder, "So where the heck are Donny and Marie?!").
1991 NBC premieres Disney Television's In the Nick of Time, with Lloyd Bridges as Santa facing a major crisis: after 300 years as Santa, Our Hero must find a replacement within four days or revert to Mortaldom; only Michael Tucker can save the Eve. A Martinez, Cleavon Little, Jenny Parsons and Alison LaPlaca co-star.
1994 "In putting on this suit and entering this sleigh, the bearer waives any and all previous identity, whether actual or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus until such time as said bearer is unable to do so either by accident or by design." Thus, The Santa Clause --- and Tim Allen's Scott Calvin soon finds himself unwilling heir to its power in Disney's hilarious holiday epic. Ironically, the Clause allows him to bond with Charlie, his young son (Eric Lloyd). Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, Mary Gross and Peter Boyle co-star, along with David Krumholtz as the tough-talking but tender-hearted elf Bernard, who introduces Scott to the Clause. Also in 1994: 20th Century-Fox remakes Miracle on 34th Street for an unprecedented third official time! Valentine Davies' classic Kringle saga is resurrected as the newest John Hughes production; Lord Richard Attenborough becomes the new occupant of Santa's throne. Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins, J.T. Walsh, Mara Wilson and Robert Prosky also star.
1996 Ah-nuld vs. Sinbad: Jingle All the Way. The Terminator and that happenin' comic star as battling dads on a quest to buy the hottest toy this season: TurboMan! James Belushi co-stars as a corrupt mall Santa who leads Schwarzenegger's Howard Langston to a warehouse flooded with red-suited, fake-bearded evildoers!
1997 CBS premieres Hallmark Entertainment/Corymore Productions' Mrs. Santa Claus, with Angela Lansbury in the title role, and Charles Durning once again donning the red suit of the Jolly One. Featuring the songs of Jerry Herman, this is the first made-for-TV musical in over 30 years; Michael Jeter and Terrence Mann co-star. Most magical moment: the concluding Lansbury/Durning duet, "The Best Christmas of All."
1998 Santa Claus --- grandfather? Believe it! 100 years after George A. Smith makes the first movie completely about Santa Claus, we are brought full circle, and the Jolly One begins his second cinematic century, with Saban Television's Like Father, Like Santa, starring Harry Hamlin, Gary Coleman, Stuart Pankin, Roy Dotrice and, as Santa, William Hootkins! That's right, Star Wars fans: Jek Porkins is Santa Claus! And the concept of Santa Claus as grandpa is pretty unusual in and of itself. Anyway, Hamlin portrays Santa's son, Mortal name Tyler Madison, toy executive. The estrangement of senior and junior Claus, which occurred many years ago, finds its parallells in Tyler's own estrangement from his own wife and young son, as Tyler rarely spends time with either of them. Meanwhile, Pankin co-stars as an ungrateful North Pole mailroom employee who goads Dotrice (who, frankly, really doesn't want to do this) into taking over the Pole; Coleman, never having lost his Diff'rent Strokes image, plays a tough-talking elf who heads up the Kringlemeister's Computer Operations Department. This film you simply must see for yourself. Zowie!
1999 Yet another film focusing on the theme of the passing of the torch from one Santa to the next was Must Be Santa, starring Dabney Coleman as Mr. Tuttle, the CEO of the North Pole, in the story of an angel who selects a bumbling nincompoop as the next Kris Kringle. Reportedly this was Canada's most expensive made-for-TV movie ever; a ratings fiasco when originally broadcast on the CBC, it's now an up-and-coming homevideo staple.
2001 Santa Claus is a woman? The controversy over a female Santa has often been brought up many times in the media over the years, but no movie had ever specifically tackled the concept, until the TNT Original Movie Call Me Claus, a joint venture between Sony Pictures Television, Whoopi Goldberg's One Ho Productions and Garth Brooks' Red Strokes Entertainment. Whoopi stars as Lucy Cullins, a cynical TV producer at a home shopping network who hires the Jolly One, played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne (in his final film role), unaware that Nick has chosen her to succeed him. Brian Mitchell, Victor Garber, Frankie Faison and Jasmine Guy co-star, while Garth co-executive produces with the Whoopster and contributes several original songs to the soundtrack. Also in 2001: Rankin/Bass' Santa, Baby!: R/B's first major special in over 30 years finds Eartha Kitt, who sang the original recording, joined by Gregory Hines, Patti Labelle, Vanessa Williams and Tom Joyner, for this musical comedy about a struggling songwriter who rediscovers the true meaning of Christmas.
2002 Walt Disney Pictures' The Santa Clause 2, in which Tim Allen reprises his role as Scott Calvin --- who this time must find a Mrs. Claus, or else, as tough old Bernard (again David Krumholtz) warns, "the de-Santification process will begin" --- and be rendered permanent! Even worse, Charlie (now a teenaged Eric Lloyd), has somehow landed on dad's naughty list; it's up to Papa Claus to find out why. Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold and Peter Boyle (as Father Time, head of the Council of Legendary Figures) also return, along with newcomer Liliana Mumy. Also in 2002: Hallmark Entertainment is back in the Claus yet again --- this time, with Kelsey Grammer as Mr. St. Nick. Charles Durning, making his fourth career appearance in a Santa suit, is His Majesty King Nicholas XX, with Katherine Helmond ruling by his side as Queen Carlotta. Grammer's Nick St. Nicholas is Miami's most eligible bachelor, who on Christmas Eve must succeed to his father's throne, or Christmas is history! Elaine Hendrix is Nick's would-be bride; Brian Bedford, Wallace Shawn, Colin Cunningham, Ana Ortiz, Luis Garcia and Lupe Ontiveros also star.
2003 Perhaps the strangest, most bizarre Santa adventure of the new millennium was New Line Cinema's Elf, with Will Ferrell starring as Buddy, the Human somehow raised by Bob Newhart as our storyteller, one of the oldest and wisest of Santa's elves (Big Red being portrayed here by Ed Asner). They're joined by co-stars James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Descahnel, Faizon Love and a very angry Peter Dinklage, late of HBO's Game of Thrones (that's him as Miles Finch, the dwarf businessman who kickboxes Buddy in the guano!). Buddy's awesome saga subsequently spawned Elf, the Broadway Musical, Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin; Music by Matthew Sklar; Lyrics by Chad Beguelin; Direction and Choreography by Casey Nicholaw --- not to mention a spin-off animated special, Buddy's Musical Christmas. Also in 2003: Blizzard, from Canwest Global and Knightscove Media in association with YTV Canada, starring Brenda Blethyn, Kevin Pollak, Christopher Plummer as Santa, and Whoopi Goldberg as the voice of Blizzard herself, along with newcomers Zoe Warner, Jennifer Pisana and Brittany Bristow --- and, making his feature-film directorial debut, Geordi LaForge himself, LeVar Burton!
2004 Often, many movies about Santa ask about how he and the Missus hooked up together in the first place. A more contemporary take on this possibility is found in Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, starring Steve Guttenberg, Crystal Bernard, Dominic Scott Kay, Armin Shimerman, John Wheeler as Big Red himself --- and, in the strangely cast role of "Mrs. Virginia Claus," one Marcia Ann Burrs. Also in 2004: when Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, Tom Hanks' Playtone and Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers joined their forces to bring the vision of author Chris van Allsburg to the big screen, the result was sheer CGI magic! Even now, there's not a child or parent alive who doesn't want to hop aboard The Polar Express.
2005 Naturally, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus turned out to be so popular that the inevitable sequel came into being: Meet the Santas, with the aforenamed stars, plus the addition of Mariette Hartley, Kelley Hazen, and Parker Posey as Jack Frost's daughter, Poppy!
2006 Santa Baby, starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa's daughter, with George Wendt as Big Red; Lynne Griffin, Ivan Sergei and Michael Moriarty. In the story, Mary Class -- er, Claus -- must come to her dad's rescue when his holiday workload overwhelms him.
2007 Warner Bros. Pictures/Silver Pictures' Fred Claus, now on DVD and Blu-ray, with Vince Vaughn as the Fredman and Paul Giamatti as Big Red. Apparently, there's a few domestic scores to be settled in the Claus Family, and this story follows how it all works out.
2008 Mickey Rooney, fresh off his role as butt-kickin' night guard Gus in Night @ the Museum, returned to the role of Santa in the hilarious short film, Wreck the Halls; while Kringle Group founding Santa Tim Conngahan joined writer-producer-star Mark De'Antone, Parker Posey and Rodger Bumpass for the hilarious Elf Academy.
2009 These Santa-related and/or Santa-starring features were popular: George Wendt in Disney/Keystone's direct-to-DVD adventure Santa Buddies; Charles Durning, in his final Santa appearance, in the comedy Three Chris's; and then, Jenny McCarthy returns as Mary Claus, bringing along Paul Sorvino as Papa Claus, Lynne Griffin, and a very sexy elf named Jessica Parker Kennedy as they headline the oddly titled Santa Baby 2.
2010 More recent films included: The Night Before the Night Before Christmas; The Christmas Bunny; A Nanny for Christmas; Farewell, Mr. Kringle!; and The Santa Incident.
2011 Sony Pictures Animation/Aardman Animation's Arthur Christmas, now on DVD/Blu-ray. Other films released in the year: Von Piglet Productions' Ira Finklestein's Christmas (release date indeterminate); Holly, Jingles & Clyde in 3D (release date to be determined); and Once Upon a Christmas Dream (release date to be determined).
2012 The big holiday adventure for 2012, now on DVD/Blu-ray: DreamWorks Animation/William Joyce's Rise of the Guardians, centerpiece of a whole cornucopia of Christmas films for 2012, including Santa's Summer House, where several of the 1990's lesser-known action heroes and heroines discover the Jolly One's Malibu Beach HQ; and the oddly-conceived Elf-Man, which featured Jesse Acuna starring and executive producing; with character veteran Jack Hoke on board as Santa. Several additional 2012 titles were filmed and/or developed for Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel US; information on them all can be found, as usual, at the Internet Movie Database.
2013 And it didn't end there! Santa's Boot Camp; Ed Asner as Papa Noel in Lifetime's Christmas on the Bayou; the romantic comedy My Santa; and two entries from the vaults of the Weinstein Company: Saving Santa in 3D! and Santa's Apprentice!
2014 And the hits kept on coming in 2014, with Robert Wagner and Jill St. John as the Clauses in Northpole; Jim Broadbent making his Claus debut in Get Santa!; and the silliest Santa film on record, the Nickelodeon Original Movie Santa Hunters, directed by Savage Steve Holland, and starring Benjamin Flores, Jr., Breanna Yde, Mace Coronel, Laya DeLeon Hayes, Kelly Perine, April Telek and Donovan Stinson as Santa. And then, a rare gem made on location in Finnish Lapland itself: a romantic drama titled simply Santa, followed by The Asylum's Santa Claws, a live-action/CGI digital kitty-cat saga where John P. Fowler, starring as Santa, becomes allergic to cats. And yet those same cats are called upon to save Christmas morning with the help of a young boy named Tommy, who just wants to believe. And still unreleased, to date: Santa's Helper and Just Be Claus.
2016 saw Eric Roberts and one-time TBS Santa Doug Kaye teaming up for writer-director Ken Feinberg's Santa's Boot Camp (also here); along with an animated short, Miracle on Canary Wharf.
2017 --- And just recently previewed: Santa Stole Our Dog: A Merry Doggone Christmas, out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Copy DVD on December 5th, with Claus Hall-of-Famer Ed Asner, the film's writer-director, Bryan Michael Stoller, Yvette Michelle in the dual role of Snowflake the Elf and Windy the Weather Girl, and a doggie named Little Bear as the dog of the title, Rusty! Other Christmas films ahead: A Bad Moms Christmas, in theatres now; Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You (next week); Sony Pictures Animation and the Jim Henson Company's The Star (November 17th); and The Man Who Invented Christmas (November 22nd).