What’s the film that filled you with the festive spirit the most when you were a child? For us, and we know for many of you, it was Santa Claus: The Movie. Starring the future Big Lebowski himself, David Huddleston, as Santa, and Dudley Moore as head elf Patch, Santa Claus: The Movie has become a cult favourite since its release in 1985.
It may not be the most well-remembered Christmas movie these days, but it’s still close to our hearts. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Santa Claus: The Movie.
10. It was almost directed by horror movie legend John Carpenter
Producers Pierre Spengler and Ilya Salkind had some surprising directors on their wish list for Santa Claus: the Movie. After first choice Roger Donaldson was busy making The Bounty, Spengler and Salkind approached the unexpected candidate of John Carpenter, best known for such horror movies as Halloween, The Fog and The Thing (although he had also recently made the more upbeat sci-fi fantasy Starman).
Carpenter expressed interest in Santa Claus: The Movie, but he insisted on a level of creative control that the producers were not willing to give him, and wanted to cast Brian Dennehy as Santa. Unable to reach an accord, Carpenter walked away, and Santa Claus: The Movie was instead director by Jeannot Szwarc. Best known for Jaws 2, Szwarc had previously worked with producer Salkind on 1984’s Supergirl.
9. Dudley Moore was always first choice to star
Like director Jeannot Szwarc, Dudley Moore also had a pre-existing relationship with producer Ilya Salkind, having come close to starring in both Superman III and Supergirl. Because of this, the British funnyman actor was always the first choice to play head elf Patch in Santa Claus: The Movie. Thanks to his star power at the time, Moore was granted creative input into the film.
Moore’s casting as Santa’s most trusted elf came as the result of a short scene in his earlier hit film, Arthur. One moment in that 1981 film sees Liza Minnelli’s character ask Moore if he is “Santa’s Little Helper.” This made an impression on producer Ilya Salkind, who immediately envisaged Moore playing one of Santa’s helpers for real.
8. Harrison Ford and Dustin Hoffman were both considered for John Lithgow’s bad guy role
The villain of Santa Claus: The Movie is B.Z., the greedy and unfeeling president of the B.Z. Toy Company. Originally, the producers hoped to cast a major star in this role, offering it to Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds and even talk show host Johnny Carson, all of whom turned the part down.
In the end, the role went to John Lithgow, who had not long since risen to prominence with roles in Terms of Endearment and Footloose. Producer Ilya Salkind realised Lithgow was a good fit for the role because of his “Grinch-like” appearance.
7. Freddie Mercury almost sang the theme tune
Songwriters Bill House and John Hobbs composed Santa Claus: The Movie’s power ballad theme song It’s Christmas (All Over the World). The songwriters had a specific vocalist in mind to perform the track: Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Apparently Mercury did record a demo for the song, but eventually had to pull out of the film because his Queen band mates had already committed to the Highlander soundtrack instead.
As a result of Mercury’s withdrawal, It’s Christmas (All Over the World) was instead performed by Sheena Easton, who had previously performed the James Bond theme song For Your Eyes Only. Unfortunately, the Santa Claus: The Movie theme song did not prove to be a hit single.
6. Paul McCartney wrote songs for the film that were never used
Freddie Mercury wasn’t the only musical legend courted for the soundtrack of Santa Claus: The Movie. Paul McCartney was also approached to contribute music to the festive film, and composed an original song entitled Once Upon a Long Ago. However, for reasons which are unknown, the song would not ultimately be used in the film.
Instead, the former Beatle (who had already composed and recorded a beloved Christmas song of his own, 1979’s Wonderful Christmastime) wound up releasing Once Upon a Long Ago as a single in 1987 and including it on his compilation album All the Best! Interestingly, some sources say the song was originally intended to be a duet between McCartney and Freddie Mercury, the other rock legend who was almost part of the Santa Claus: The Movie soundtrack.
5. Marvel did a comic book adaptation
In common with many other beloved kid-friendly movies of the era, Santa Claus: The Movie was adapted into a special one-off comic book, by no less than Marvel Comics. The legendary comics publisher was actually struggling to stay in business at the time, and in the hopes of boosting sales they began their Super Special series, most of which were either adaptations of movies or TV shows or promotional tie-ins with other prominent properties.
Earlier Marvel Super Specials included adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner, and issues based around the rock band Kiss. Santa Claus: The Movie was the 39th issue in the series: only two more were published, adaptations of the movies Labyrinth and Howard the Duck.
4. The film was a box office flop
It’s fair to say that hopes were very high for Santa Claus: The Movie when it opened in November 1985. With a budget said to be somewhere between $30-$50 million, it was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time, and it needed to be an even bigger hit to make its money back.
Unfortunately for the producers, this did not come to pass. With box office takings of only $23.7 million, Santa Claus: The Movie was a total flop, and it effectively ended the film career of producer Ilya Salkind. It probably didn’t help that they released the movie only one week after mega-blockbuster Rocky IV.
3. It’s been called one of the worst Christmas movies ever
Critics aren’t always kind to Santa Claus: The Movie. In fact, in his book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, film critic Alonso Duralde lists Santa Claus: The Movie as one of the worst Christmas movies of all time. He describes it as “a train wreck of a Christmas movie that’s so very wrong that you won’t be able to tear yourself away from it.”
Today, Santa Claus: The Movie sits on a 20% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. This is slightly less than another of the most hated Christmas movie, 1965’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which is rated 25% fresh.
2. James Cagney and Fred Astaire were considered to play the Ancient One
For the small but key role of The Ancient One, the wisest and oldest of the elves, the producers originally hoped to cast a major movie legend in this role. To this end they first offered it to James Cagney, who was 86 years old at the time. Cagney is said to have liked the idea, but turned it down as he was simply too infirm to take on any acting roles (the actor would pass away in March 1986, several months after the film’s release).
The producers then reached out to Fred Astaire, but when he didn’t respond to the offer the producers gave the part to Burgess Meredith, at the suggestion of his friend Dudley Moore. There was a certain irony here, as Santa Claus: The Movie was buried at the box office by Rocky IV – which was the first Rocky movie in which Burgess Meredith did not appear.
1. Dudley Moore named Patch after his own son
When Dudley Moore was originally cast in Santa Claus: The Movie, he was poised to play an elf named Ollie. However, at the actor’s own suggestion the character was renamed Patch. Moore insisted on this name change in tribute to his son Patrick, who was nicknamed Patch.
Santa Claus: The Movie proved to be the beginning of the end for Moore’s tenure as a major box office draw. Most of Moore’s later films, including Like Father Like Son and Arthur 2: On the Rocks also under-performed, and he largely stepped away from the limelight. Sadly he descended into ill health in the later 90s, before passing away from pneumonia in 2002, aged just 66.