All 8 Times Ed Asner Played Santa Claus In Christmas Movies & TV Episodes, Ranked

Summary

  • Ed Asner played Santa Claus eight times, showcasing his versatility in portraying different versions of the iconic character.
  • Asner’s standout performances as Santa Claus may have been why he was repeatedly asked to play the role.
  • Asner’s portrayal of Santa Claus in Elf helped solidify the film as a Christmas classic, with his genuine and believable demeanor contributing to its success.


Ed Asner’s most well-known performance as Santa Claus is in the Christmas classic Elf, but in reality, the celebrated actor has played multiple iterations of Kris Kringle both before and after Elf came out in 2003. While not the only one to have played Santa Claus more than once, Asner played the character eight times – which is among the most times an actor has played Santa. Interestingly enough, he didn’t play Santa Claus exclusively in films; he also portrayed Santa Claus in animated films, television shows, and Christmas specials.

It seemed Asner was quite dependable in his performances as Santa Claus, as he played not only the Christmas icon but also different versions of him. While he has played the Santa Claus everyone knows and loves multiple times, he’s also played different iterations of him. Whether it be a Mall Santa or someone who acts like Santa Claus, or an action hero who just happens to take the moniker of Santa Claus, Asner could play them. His standout performances may have been why he was asked to play Santa repeatedly.

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8 The Ellen Show

Mall Santa, “Ellen’s First Christmess”

Ed Asner appears as Santa Claus on The Ellen Show

Asner appears as a Mall Santa only for a minute at the tail end of the Christmas episode of the short-lived Ellen DeGeneres sitcom The Ellen Show. Asner appeared as an act of fan service, as he and Mary Tyler Moore made guest appearances along with Cloris Leachman to reunite the cast from the popular 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That doesn’t hold much relevance in 2023 like it did in 2001. Adding to that, Asner doesn’t do much besides flirt jokingly with Moore after she mistakes him for someone else, but seeing the old castmates reunite made for a fun reunion nonetheless.

7 Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas

Santa Claus, 2014 NBC Christmas Special

Coincidentally, Asner was the only member of the Elf cast from the original film to return for an animated special over ten years after the original film was made in 2014, where he reprised his role as Santa Claus. Essentially, Asner plays the same rendition of Santa Claus that he did in Elf, yet with significantly less screen-time. The only obvious differences are that Asner’s Santa Claus plays more of a fatherly role, and he sings – albeit very briefly.

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6 Olive, the Other Reindeer

Santa Claus, 1999 Fox Animated Comedy Musical

Santa meets with Olive

Asner’s Santa Claus doesn’t appear until the movie’s third act, but he does his part in his performance. Seemingly downtrodden by negative letters, Santa gets his spirit back after Olive tells him that the letters are fake in a conspiracy by the Postman to ruin Christmas. Asner’s Santa Claus learns to trust Olive to the point where he trusts primarily her to guide them home after delivering presents on Christmas night. Due to his small presence, Asner’s contribution to the movie’s quality was limited.

5 Christmas on the Bayou

Papa Noel, 2013 Lifetime Film

Papa Noel in Christmas on the Bayou

Asner doesn’t play the traditional Santa Claus in this film but does well in a rather fresh take on the character. He plays Papa Noel, a man living alone who befriends Zack after saving him from drowning. Along the way, he convinces Zack he’s Santa Claus in the few scenes they share together through magical means. However, besides showing off his magical powers, he also had some words of wisdom for Zack, such as explaining why he didn’t get what he asked for Christmas the previous years. He shows he’s Santa Claus by taking a fatherly role that Zack previously didn’t have after his parents divorced.

It’s an original take on the character whose appearance makes sense in a Christmas movie that takes place in a warmer location than most. Asner’s role isn’t very big, but he’s charming in the few scenes he’s in. He helps Zack understand that Christmas is about making others happy, and he does his part in helping those who live in the Bayou have a Merry Christmas in the end.

4 Highway to Heaven

Harold, “The Last Assignment”

Ed Asner in Highway to Heaven

In Highway to Heaven’s “The Last Assignment” episode, Ed Asner channels Jolly Old Saint Nick as an angel who dresses up as Santa Claus. He plays Harold, an angel who has been on a probationary period on Earth for the last 200 years because he keeps breaking the rules as an angel by using his powers to directly help people. While Harold breaks the rules for noble reasons, he soon realizes that his good actions inadvertently lead to bad things happening because of him.

Asner played a very reminiscent character of Santa Claus in that he likes to give, especially to less fortunate people. Still, since the show is about faith, he soon realizes the problem with automatically giving people exactly what they want. The episode cleverly shows the pros and cons of recklessly giving to people who are desperate, and Asner’s performance as the well-meaning but rule-breaking Harold helps the message stick the landing.

3 The Story of Santa Claus

Nicholas “Santa” Claus, 1996 Direct-To-Video Animated Film

The Story of Santa Claus

Because it delves into Santa Claus’ backstory, this is one of the few movies prominently featuring Santa Claus as its main character. While the focus isn’t only on Santa Claus, it explains his motivations, how he got to the North Pole, how he built his alliance with the elves, and how he delivers presents year after year. Asner voices the well-meaning Nicholas, who starts out as a struggling toymaker who likes to give his toys away instead of selling them. Asner nails his compassionate nature and optimism despite the odds working against him.

Asner easily pulls off the novice Santa Claus who eventually embraces his role in a pretty innocent story about how he became who he was. As an added bonus, the movie even explains how Santa got into toymaking in the first place, which not many stories about Santa have ever delved into. By the time he wins in the end, it makes for a heartwarming children’s movie.

2 The Regular Show

Santa Claus, “The Christmas Special”

Santa Claus in The Regular Show

Asner’s Santa Claus isn’t featured much in this episode besides the beginning and end. However, because it is so out of right field and so clever, it’s one of Asner’s best portrayals of the character. Because Asner played other, more traditional versions of Santa, it makes it all the funnier when he plays an action hero who subverts all expectations as Santa Claus since he’s not fat nor jolly. Because an invention with an elf goes awry, Santa has tasked the main characters with destroying it before the elf can destroy everything about Christmas. Santa playing a muscular action hero is funny enough, and the plot is as humorous as it is original. Asner’s performance as Santa Claus, while subverting expectations, is surprisingly effective.

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1 Elf

Santa Claus, Feature-Length Film

Elf is considered one of Will Ferrell’s most rewatchable movies and among the best Santa Claus movies ever made, with Asner having a key role in what makes it so special. Despite being only in part of the movie, Asner makes his Santa performance his own, all while keeping the essence of the character. He has a few funny lines while adding some original material to Santa. When he reunites with Buddy, he lets Buddy know that just because he doesn’t have an elf’s genetic makeup doesn’t mean he isn’t one. If that’s not enough, he tells Buddy that he’s more of an elf than anyone he’s known.

Asner also maintains Saint Nick’s jolly ways without being over-the-top. He sounds like someone who’s been on the job for years but still stays excited about Christmas, no matter what. Asner playing Santa before was probably why he was an easy choice, while also being why many think of him when they think of cinematic Santa Clauses. His screentime wasn’t too big, but Asner’s believable demeanor as a live-action Santa Claus helped make Elf into the Christmas classic it is.