Of all the great literary classics, none has stood the test of time more so than Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol.” With nearly a hundred adaptations across television, film, stage plays and other mediums, it’s a story that people just love to tell time and time again. Now Ryan Reynolds is taught the meaning of Christmas when he’s visited by Will Ferrell in the new movie musical “Spirited.” The film is just one of the many modern retellings of the Dickens story, but with so many adaptations and versions, can it compare to the following films on this list?
7. “Scrooge” (1970)
“Spirited” isn’t the first musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” The first film to bring a Broadway twist to the classic tale was the 1970 adaptation “Scrooge.” Albert Finney portrays a very cartoonish version of Ebenezer Scrooge, even more so than some of the actual cartoon versions. The film is incredibly cheesy and in all honesty isn’t a great movie, but it’s charming in how silly and dated it is. It’s clear that everyone making it is having a good time and a lot of that fun leaps off the screen. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, Alec Guinness, torment Scrooge in a nightmare sequence only the 70s could give us?
“Scrooge” is streaming on PLEX.
6. “A Christmas Carol” (1999)
One of the most overlooked adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” came just before the millennium and starred Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. The film captures some of the darkly comedic elements of the original Dickens story and is surprisingly cinematic for a television movie made in 1999. It should be noted that this is also technically an adaptation of Stewart’s stage-play production, but it’s clear that the actor shines when in front of the camera as he makes for one of the best on-screen Scrooges to date.
“A Christmas Carol” is streaming on VUDU.
5. “Scrooge” (1951)
Yet another film version that decided to not take the name of its source material, “Scrooge” (1951) is often the film many envision when they think of the character Ebenezer Scrooge. Alastair Sim is arguably one of the most iconic Ebenezer Scrooges, and this film version is often regarded as one of, if not the best version of the story. While I still feel the following four films are better, I do agree that this is an essential version of “A Christmas Carol.” Sim and all the other actors are giving A+ performances and bring so much nuance and gravitas to these memorable scenes.
“Scrooge” is streaming PLEX.
4. “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (1983)
Standing as one of the shortest adaptations at only 26 minutes, this is still one of my all-time favorite versions. Told with beautiful animation and beloved Disney characters, this made-for-television special sees Scrooge McDuck as the old curmudgeon being taken through an abridged version of the Christmas classic. The comedy is on point, and the animation is so warm and inviting that you can’t help but feel the Christmas spirit whenever this version comes on.
“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is streaming on Disney+.
3. “A Christmas Carol” (1984)
Fun Fact: This was the first version of “A Christmas Carol” I ever saw, and it’s a true sign of quality that images from this movie stick with me to this day. George C. Scott is a fantastic Scrooge and I would argue that next to “Patton” this is his best role. Scott is phenomenal and his acting during the big climax in the graveyard is the best version of that scene ever put to film. It’s also backed with a terrific supporting cast including the late-great David Warner.
“A Christmas Carol” is streaming on Tubi.
2. “Scrooged” (1988)
You could argue that this one is a cheat since it’s not a direct adaptation of the Dickens story, taking many liberties with the source material (heck, “A Christmas Carol” exists in the world of the movie). However, this is still one of the best adaptations and remains the gold standard for bringing the story into the modern age. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a Scrooge-like television producer putting on a live television production of “A Christmas Carol” who must be taught the meaning of Christmas with the help of three spirits. Murray is such a loveable jerk and the film has a wonderfully dark comedic edge that I wish more versions would tackle.
“Scrooged” is streaming on Paramount.
1. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
There’s no reason a Muppet version of “A Christmas Carol” should be this good. With the right combination of performers, writing, directing and puppetry, this still stands as the best adaptation in my humble opinion. Michael Caine is the face I see when I think of Ebenezer Scrooge and his performance is even better when you realize he’s taking the material completely seriously while acting alongside a bunch of puppets. The comedy is great all across the board, and being Muppets property, the songs are fantastic as well. It’s not the most accurate version, and the other human actors leave little to be desired, but for the movie I think of when I think “A Christmas Carol,” it will always be this adaptation with these characters. It’s simply one of the best Christmas movies of all-time.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” is streaming on Disney+.
By Adam Beam