The Return of Santa Claus: The Movie — The Box Office Bomb Beloved By Brits | Features

“I’m frankly stunned to learn that Santa Claus: The Movie is so beloved over there [in the UK]”, says Alonso Duralde. As the author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas and co-author of I’ll Be Home for Christmas Movies, Duralde is well-qualified to articulate the prevailing American opinion of the film.

He tells me it’s “shrill,” “overdone” and “obnoxious”. He featured it in Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas in his chapter on the world’s worst Christmas films and also included it on a list of “7 Christmas Films So Bad, They’re Bad” that he wrote for Rotten Tomatoes. To me, as a British millennial, “Santa Claus: The Movie” seems as out of place there as “A Christmas Story” (1983) or “Elf” (2003) would be. 

The two films that BBC Television has shown most often on Christmas Day (usually the day when UK TV audiences are largest) are “White Christmas” (1954) and “Santa Claus: The Movie”. In 2013, when Channel 5—another of the major British television networks—chose “The Greatest Christmas Movies Ever” for a countdown show it tends to rerun every December, “Santa Claus: The Movie” was included. And, in 2020, when BBC Radio listeners were asked to vote for the “12 Films Of Christmas”—the dozen best holiday films—Santa Claus: The Movie naturally made the list. 

Ask a cynic why “Santa Claus: The Movie” is popular in the UK and the answer you’ll most likely receive is “childhood nostalgia”. And there is truth to that. For many of us who were children in Britain in the 1980s or ’90s, the promise of the film’s title—that it delivers the definitive vision of Santa Claus onscreen—holds true. It defined our idea of Santa.

Tell me to imagine Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and what I see in my mind is pretty much David Huddleston, resplendent in his red costume, piloting his sleigh past the Statue of Liberty and shouting “Merry Christmas, pretty lady!” Tell me to imagine where Santa lives, and what I envision is more or less the charming wooden workshop where Dudley Moore, and all the other elves in the movie, craft brightly colored toys. 

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