2013 has so far proven to be a slow Christmas season at the box office with little to no high-profile Christmas-themed movies set for cinematic release, so we’ve decided a retrospective of the vintage classics is in order. The Christmas movie represents everything we love about the holiday. The family spirit, the warm and fuzzy feels and the touch of magic in which even the more cynical grown-ups among us indulge during the month of December. The standard Christmas tale has been adapted for the RomCom market, the horror market – even the adult entertainment industry have had a go, but the good old-fashioned Santa Claus stories are the ones we come back to year upon year. There’s something timeless about the trope of the disbelieving adults, the trusting children and the promise that even the seemingly impossible can be achieved for those who make it onto the ‘Nice’ list. The universal ideal that Santa represents perfectly encapsulates the Christmas spirit, and certain Hollywood depictions of Santa Claus have brought this festive cheer to the big screen, while bringing in the big bucks.
In rounding up the five highest-grossing (domestically) Santa Claus movies ever, adjusted for 2013 rates, we were shocked at some classics that didn’t make the cut. The 1985 ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ – featuring the eminently loveable Dudley Moore as the exiled elf – was likely a childhood favourite among the 80s kids but it didn’t prove as profitable as it is loved. We’ve excluded some modern classics, like ‘Bad Santa’, that feature leads dressed as the fictional character of Saint Nick – we’re looking at the five most profitable ‘Real’ Santas. Which Santa did the harried Christmas shoppers take time out for at their local movie theatre, and which Santa Claus do we re-watch year after year?
5. Fred Claus 2007 : $84 million
A comedy about Santa’s younger brother Fred, this movie created its own cute back-story for Saint Nick and added an element of the unexpected in the relationship between Nick and Fred. A box office smash hit, probably due to comedy star Vince Vaughn playing the eponymous lead, Fred Claus tells the tale of the much-maligned underdog to Paul Giamatti’s Santa. A slapstick romp, more appropriate for a teenage audience than the under-10 demographic, this one still maintains the happy ending, family-fun feel essential for any festive favourite.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993: $97 million
Tim Burton’s trademark creepy animation, set between the lands of Christmas and Halloween, has caused incessant debate over whether it should be labelled a Christmas or a Halloween movie. It was originally released on October 29th, so most fans would agree it’s more appropriate for a Halloween party than a Christmas get-together – but I know some traumatised youngsters whose parents sat them down in front of this on Christmas eve, misled by the title! Either way, this had to be included in the list given that the movie centres around the kidnap of Santa, voiced by Ed Ivory. Tim Burton Halloween / Christmas hybrid has become a cult classic and while its box office domestic gross stands at over $97 million the movie has also built a mini-franchise in branded merchandise, still popular today.
3. The Polar Express 2004 : $210,468,300
Alternatively hailed as hauntingly beautiful and criticised as creepy and jittery, this computer-animated Christmas movie was a huge success upon its release in ’04. Produced and narrated by Tom Hanks as Santa, the movie is an adaptation of the well-loved children’s book by the same name. It was revolutionary in its use of computer generated effects, but some held that the characters were so much of a stilted approximation of human likenesses that the visual effect was disconcerting and even horrifying; not words Hanks would have wanted associated with his rendering of a child-friendly Christmas classic, we imagine. Despite the mixed reception, this one still made a splash in the box office and it continues to feature on the December’s TV schedule of Christmas movie re-runs.
2. Elf 2003 : $230,995,900
Upon its release in 2003, this movie became – if it’s possible – an instant classic. ‘Elf’ turns the typical Christmas Movie themes on their head, with the adult playing the naive, spirited Christmas enthusiast in stark contrast to harried, jaded city kids. Will Ferrell plays the overgrown child, the Elf, with hilarious comic timing and a clever script. We see him sent away from the North Pole to live with biological father in New York, whereupon he’s distraught to see that the ‘real’ world is nothing like the candyfloss-and-rainbows land of the North Pole. Along the way, though, he meets the embodiment of candyfloss and rainbows in the ever-adorable Zooey Deschanel. Various absurdities ensue, but it’s all wrapped in a pink-and-fuzzy bow at the end. The loveable and traditional Santa figure in the movie is played by Edward Asner.
1. The Santa Clause Trilogy: $574 million
Tim Allen tackled the roll of Santa in the first movie in this trilogy back in ’94. Allen played the busy divorcee father who, in a twist of fate, is compelled to take on the job of Santa Claus. Cue comical weight-gain, beard-growth and a newly stocked garage full of reindeer. Combined with a cute kid, a roguish elf and a self-righteous step father, this movie made for box office gold, taking in over $277 million (in 2013-equivalent adjusted figures). The later movies in the trilogy – Santa Clause 2 and Santa Clause: The Escape in 2002 and 2006 respectively – weren’t quite as successful, but both took in over $100 million. Allen’s Santa Claus is an unthreatening, humorous portrayal that earns him the top spot on the list of Rich Santas.
BONUS Coca Cola’s Christmas Santa: $5 billion
Forget Advent calendars, shop-front decorations or the Santa parade; the first Coca Cola Christmas advert has long been the unofficial confirmation that the season to be jolly has begun. Christmas has always been a profitable time for the company, due in large part to this high-profile ad campaign helped along by Santa. According to a report in marketingmagazine.co.uk, Coca Cola’s net income increased by a stunning $5 billion between October and December 2010, due in large part – they say – to their Christmas campaign in Europe. The friendly Santa of the Coca Cola adverts has gained the status of a sort of cultural motif which – while it may be a slightly depressing sign of the times – is a reassuringly cosy image of the man in red. Indeed, Santa’s profitable and long-standing part in Coca Cola’s Christmas ad campaigns has even led to the myth that it was the Coca Cola company who made Santa’s suit red – before that, they say, he donned a green uniform.
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