Science fiction portrayals of Santa Claus range from sinister to downright bizarre.

Christmas is just around the corner and we are all eagerly anticipating what Santa will put in our stockings. Saint Nick’s global gift-giving spree has long been associated with folklore, magic and mythology, but there are a number of films which suggest Father Christmas is less of a polar magician and more of a scientist. 

As far-fetched as it may sound, different pop culture portrayals of Santa can tell us a lot about our fears, anxieties and desires about different facets of science. 

Here are some of the weird and wonderful examples of Santa science that have appeared on screen over the years. 

The mad Santa scientist 

Picture this: a child, enchanted by the spirit of Christmas, looks expectantly towards the fireplace as a benign Santa abseils into the cosy parlour. Heart-warming, right? Except then, another Santa follows after him. And then another, and another – until the room is populated by boozy, smiling Santas. 

This memorable scene is from the 1995 science fantasy film The City of Lost Children, in which a malicious scientist masquerades as Kris Kringle to steal children’s dreams with the help of six clones and a brain in a vat. His aim? To restore his youth, of course! 

Robot Santa 

In the world of the sci-fi sitcom Futurama, global warming has been cancelled out by nuclear winter and palm trees have replaced the now-extinct pine trees as the Christmas tree of choice. Former traditions of the festive season have been lost to a terrifying new holiday known as ‘Xmas’, where people follow a planet-wide curfew to hide from a psychotic killer robot version of Santa. 

You see, in 2801, the Friendly Robot Company invented a robotic Saint Nick to distinguish the naughty from the nice. Unfortunately, a programming error set the jolly robot’s standards too high, turning him into a crazed murderer determined to chop off heads and stuff the remaining wounds with toys from his bag of horrors every Xmas. 

Operation Yuletide 

In the science fantasy comedy Arthur Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year is carried out like a military operation by a battalion of elves in camouflage gear and night-vision goggles. 

Wielding technology like the Nice and Naughty Detection Device and the HOHO 3000, the Christmas operation is run by Santa’s ambitious son in eccentric military-style and brings joy to the world at a rate claimed to be 1,860 times the speed of sound. 

This film will teach you a lot about festive efficiency and the pros and cons of spaceship-driven Christmas versus traditional reindeer power. 

Santa in space 

If you don’t mind a bit of US Airforce propaganda in your holiday film and have always wanted to know how Martians celebrate Christmas, Santa Claus conquers the Martians may be the sci-fi comedy for you. 

Often included on lists of the worst films of all time, the 1964 movie is a great example of how Santa has always been associated with cutting-edge technology, science and outer space. 

In this film, Martian children watch too much Earth TV, which leads to a crisis on their planet and eventually to Santa’s abduction from his home at the North Pole. This Martian mission is perceived as such a scandal on Earth that the US military is mobilised. 

On Mars, Santa brings fun, freedom and laughter, leading the population to realise their education system – which involves feeding knowledge directly into children’s brains via machine – is alienating families and preventing kids from enjoying their childhood. So, Santa’s laughter revolutionises Martian education. 

A scene from Santa Claus conquers the Martians. Photo: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

Santa’s sweatshop 

By far the most curious gem in the cinematic Santaverse is a fantasy comedy from 1959 that is completely bewildering from today’s perspective. 

In Santa Claus vs the Devil, Father Christmas is not just the boss of a sweatshop specialising in child labour, but also a cosmic stalker. From his ‘magic observatory’ in outer space, he uses a gigantic telescope to peek into the beds of little earthlings. He can also observe their dreams and has a key that opens all doors on Earth. His most devoted helper is a senile wizard in a laboratory who mixes the knockout chemicals that Santa uses to stun the children when he delivers presents. 

These chemical weapons include sleeping and dreaming powders, and ‘magic stardust’ produced in an urn of copper, nickel, uranium, plutonium and platinum. Yes, that’s right: Santa basically contaminates children with radioactivity. 

Stories can tell us a lot about how we imagine science beyond data and research papers. Pop culture is where most of our ideas and attitudes about science are shaped, as we engage with concepts explored in movies, TV shows and comics. 

In the way that the looming techno-apocalypse has been depicted on screen through terminators, towering tripods and AI running amok, the Santa cinematic universe is the place where collective understandings and fears about science are created and explored. 

Top image: A scene from Arthur Christmas. Photo: Maximum Film/Alamy Stock Photo

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