10 Common Santa Claus Tropes (& Movies That Subvert Them)

While most people would describe Santa Claus as a jolly gift giver, the new movie, Violent Night, shows David Harbour portraying a different version of Father Christmas. This dark comedy captures a uniquely badass Santa that is more action-packed and unlike the traditions of the legend.

There are many common tropes associated with Santa Claus in film, many of which come from the traditional stories carried on throughout the years. While many viewers like the traditional expectations associated with Santa movies, there are also some fascinating versions that subvert the expectations.


He’s A Man – Noelle (2019)

Stream On Disney+

One of the most obvious tropes in Santa movies is that they follow the traditional aspects associated with the legend himself. Nearly every rendition of Santa in TV shows, films, and books portrays the canonical male version of Santa.

Noelle, on the other hand, becomes the Santa representation in this film after her father passes away. While her brother is supposed to inherit his father’s title of Santa, Noelle begins to show signs throughout the movie that she has all the unique characteristics that her brother lacks, which makes Santa Claus. This story in Noelle subverts the expectation that Santa has to be a man to be the genuine representation of the selfless saint.

He’s Secretive – The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

Stream On Netflix

In most renditions of Santa Claus, he is secretive about his identity and goes around avoiding waking up children as he delivers presents on Christmas Eve. In these film, Santas normally avoids interacting with people and will try to reject other characters when they want to join him on his adventures, but the case is different in The Christmas Chronicles.

While this Santa (Kurt Russell) doesn’t know at first that two children snuck onto his sleigh, he enlists them when he crashes and needs help finding his magical hat, keeping track of his reindeer, and doing his job. This is one of the best Santa Claus movies and offers a fresh, entertaining Santa that is more modern compared to other renditions of this legend.

He’s Immortal – The Santa Clause (1994)

Stream On Disney+

The traditional story of Santa Claus focuses on how the legend plans for Christmas each and every year and dedicates his whole existence to bringing joy to children on the holiday. While it’s unclear if the original myth was actually immortal, the traditional tales suggest it’s the same man throughout the centuries.

In this classic Santa movie, Scott (Tim Allen) becomes Santa after he accidentally makes the one before him fall off the roof and die. This implies that, unlike common belief, Santa in this rendition isn’t immortal but is reborn. The Santa Clause is one of the highest-rated Santa movies for those looking for a fresh take on Santa that also captures the same level of joy associated with the myth.

He’s Magical – The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Stream On Disney+

Most versions of Santa Claus capture him as having some sort of magical powers. Many traditions suggest he can magically fit through a chimney, despite his size, and can deliver presents to every single household in the world in a single night.

However, though this Santa in The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t necessarily portrayed as not having magical powers, he never shows any indication that has special abilities. Since Jack attempts to deliver to children in every household around the world, this also suggests that this is something more doable in this mythical holiday world and not unique to Santa.

He’s Jolly – Elf (2003)

Stream On HBO Max

Traditionally, Santa Claus is the pinnacle of jolliness, spreading Christmas cheer through his good deeds. It’s Santa’s job to keep the spirit of Christmas joyful and make sure children are happy during the holiday season.

While the Santa in Elf isn’t necessarily non-jolly, he can certainly be described as melancholy. With a lack of Christmas spirit, Santa begins to lose hope that he can pull off Christmas deliveries, which urges Buddy to save the day. This version offers an alternative to Santa’s normally upbeat personality by making him doubt his ability to spread joy.

He’s The One And Only – Fred Claus (2007)

Stream On HBO Max

There are many films in which other characters meet Santa Claus and then try to help him save Christmas. However, this usually doesn’t change the fact that he’s the one and only Santa capable of doing all the things he does on Christmas Eve.

In Fred Claus, however, Fred is Santa’s brother and, despite his differences with his brother, ends up saving Christmas when Santa gets hurt. The rules in this movie are that only a “Claus” can deliver presents, going against the common trope that Santa is wholly unique.

He’s Beloved – Get Santa (2014)

Available To Rent Or Buy On Prime Video

Santa is a beloved Christmas tradition. Most people in movies, even those that initially don’t believe in Santa Claus, are amazed with the legend and honor his Christmas spirit. Besides darker Christmas stories, Santa is a cherished man because of his good deeds.

Get Santa suspends this concept of meeting Santa and honoring him. When Santa is caught in someone’s garage, he is arrested and put in prison. While this might be a more realistic reaction if someone was caught breaking and entering, this film certainly challenges the notion that Santa is always a beloved figure.

He’s Always Been Santa Claus – Klaus (2019)

Stream On Netflix

There are a few different origin story interpretations attempting to explain how Santa Claus became the selfless giver he is in most Christmas renditions. However, most of these suggest that Santa has been a kind, giving person since his youth and became Santa early on.

Klaus is one of the best Santa portrayals, though it is also one of the most unique interpretations of Santa’s origins. In this story, Klaus is already an old man who has yet to become Santa Claus and is enlisted by a postal man to give away the toys he’s so talented at making. This intriguing version of Santa is a fresh, entertaining origin story that contradicts the common trope of Santa becoming who he is early in life.

He Lives In The North Pole – Fatman (2020)

Stream On Peacock

It is tradition that Santa Claus lives and works from the North Pole. This is a location that is captured and portrayed in most films in which Santa’s home is actually introduced, and usually demonstrates how he and his elves work together to create the toys for Christmas Eve.

Fatman is considered one of the most naughty Santa interpretations and changes the story of the myth up quite a bit. This action-packed film doesn’t have him based on the North Pole, but Alaska. While this location may have been used to incorporate the U.S. government, it goes against the common tropes used in most Christmas Santa films.

He’s A Lover, Not A Fighter – A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Available To Rent Or Buy On Prime Video

Santa is more often than not portrayed as a generous, gentle man that only does good deeds. Even in horror movies, the version of Santa incorporated is often an anti-Claus or one that isn’t the genuine article himself.

The Santa Claus in this horror anthology isn’t evil, but he’s certainly not the entirely jolly character known in films. In A Christmas Horror Story, Santa has to fight off zombie elves and Krampus. While this story also has a psychological twist, this version of the myth is far more of a fighter than a merry soul.

Next: 20 Things Fans Didn’t Know About Tim Allen’s Santa Clause Movies

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