It just isn’t Christmastime until you’ve enjoyed A Christmas Carol. The timeless Charles Dickens classic has been a staple of the holidays since its release way back in 1843. The tale of bitter old Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts who lead him on a journey of redemption is a beloved and popular one, having never been out of print. And of course, it has been adapted for the screen (both large and small) time and time again, from the modern day all the way back to the dawn of cinema.
Not all of those adaptations have been memorable, of course, but some of them have stood the test of time and become holiday traditions for fans around the world. If you love the story of the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” who recovers his humanity over the course of one fateful (and ghostly) night, you owe it to yourself to experience one or more of these flicks this holiday season. Here are the 15 Best Adaptations Of A Christmas Carol.
15. Christmas Carol: The Movie – 2001
We start our list with a relatively unique (and recent) entry. This film from 2001 is a hybrid of animation and live-action. The story is framed as Charles Dickens (played by Simon Callow, who also voices Scrooge) giving a reading of his classic tale, which is then presented in animated form.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this adaptation is its remarkably strong cast. Kate Winslet provides the voice of Scrooge’s former love Belle, and the Oscar winner showcases her impressive singing ability with the track “What If”, a lament for her character’s relationship with Scrooge. Elsewhere, Nicolas Cage is a truly inspired choice for the voice of Jacob Marley. It’s classic Cage, and makes you wish someone would cast him as the character in a live-action adaptation. Michael Gambon (who will feature elsewhere on this list) is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the always dependable Rhys Ifans plays Bob Cratchit.
14. A Christmas Carol: The Musical – 2004
The classic Dickens tale lends itself well to musical adaptations, with this being the first of three such versions to feature on our list. Kelsey Grammer delivers his usually spirited performance in bringing the old miser to life, with lots of help from an impressive cast. Jason Alexander (George Costanza himself!) is Jacob Marley, while fans of The Flash on The CW will recognize Jesse L. Martin as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge’s former love (in this version, she’s named Emily) is played by Jennifer Love Hewitt.
All of the actors contribute to the impressive score, with Grammer and Martin particularly standing out with their singing abilities. “What A Day, What A Sky”, “Christmas Together” and “The Lights of Long Ago” are a few of the standout numbers. Your mileage with this one may vary depending on your appreciation for musicals. With a terrific cast and a few interesting tweaks to the Scrooge ‘formula’ it’s definitely worth a viewing.
13. Scrooge – 1970
Kelsey Grammer wasn’t the first Scrooge to sing!
In 1970, this musical version of the classic tale hit the big screen. 11 songs were stuffed into the familiar story, and ranged from children singing about their dislike for Scrooge to Marley’s ghost delivering a stirring lament to his fellow spirits. Albert Finney was just 34 years old, but he was quite convincing as the miserable (yet musically gifted) old miser in a Golden Globe-winning performance. The film also attracted some Academy attention, earning four Oscar nominations for Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score and Song.
If you like your Scrooge a little more traditional, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re tired of the same old story and think you’d enjoy a spin on the formula, look this one up. It throws plenty of curve balls, from sending Scrooge on a trip to hell to receive his own Marley-like chain to dressing him up as Santa Claus for the joyful resolution. Plus, you get the OG Obi-Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness, as a singing Jacob Marley.
12. Cash On Demand – 1961
This one’s a bit of an odd choice, perhaps, as this film isn’t an adaptation of the Dickens story. It is, however, certainly inspired by it. Hammer Films’ 1961 thriller, Cash On Demand stars Peter Cushing as Harry Fordyce, a stuffy bank manager whose exacting specifications and sour temperament alienate him from his hard working staff.
Two days before Christmas, Fordyce’s beloved bank is infiltrated by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. Worse, the robber threatens the bank manager’s family, forcing him to help carry out the crime, lest they be killed.
No ghostly visitors appear for the bank manager in his time of need, and as the robber turns the screws and the pressure ratchets up, his meticulously ordered existence begins to unravel around him. With his family in danger and his own life spiraling out of control, his co-workers become his saving grace, and like Scrooge, he finally learns to appreciate the people around him.
11. An American Christmas Carol – 1979
Halfway through the run of Happy Days, Henry Winkler (aka, The Fonz) made the curious choice to bury his face under a lot of makeup to play the role of Benedict Slade, an elderly Scrooge-like money lender. Set during the Great Depression, the film follows Slade as he happily relieves the poor of their valuables when they cannot repay their loans (one such item, fittingly, is a first edition copy of A Christmas Carol).
There are a few interesting twists on the Scrooge formula in this one, chief among them being the choice of the young Winkler for the part. This casting call allows him to shed the makeup for flashback scenes playing Slade’s younger self.
Aside from the American setting (and the different time period), the ghosts that visit Slade appear to him as some of his poor clients. David Wayne is particularly good as a local bookshop owner and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Another treat is seeing a pre-Fraggle Rock Gerard Parkes (Doc!) as the manager of an orphanage as well as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
10. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol – 1988
What if the typical Scrooge journey was inverted? What if a caring and generous man sees the error of his ways and becomes a ruthless miser overnight? That’s the premise for this special installment of Blackadder.
Rowan Atkinson is Ebenezer Blackadder (of course). Despite running a successful mustache shop, the titular character is constantly scraping by because he keeps giving his money away to charity (and the occasional orphan). Blackadder is so generous that the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane, long before his days as Hagrid) visits him, not to help him change his ways, but to compliment him on all his good work.
Of course, the Spirit can’t resist showing Blackadder some of his less savory ancestors, and the perennial nice guy is intrigued by their bad behavior, and decides he’s tired of being pleasant. He adopts his new attitude just in time to show it off to the visiting Queen, who was ready to grant him the title of Baron for all his good deeds.
9. Scrooge – 1935
This isn’t the first film adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Actually, it’s not even close. That honor goes to the silent film, Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost, released in 1901. In the 30-plus years between that film’s release and this one, there were a handful of other versions, some short, some full-length. This version, however, was the first to boast sound.
Playing the role of Scrooge is Seymour Hicks, who had been performing the role on stage for over 30 years, and even starred in a silent version of the story in 1913.
The limitations of the era are on full display in this version. To say special effects were in their infancy would be an understatement. The production doesn’t even attempt to put Marley’s ghost on the screen, instead rendering him invisible. Of the three ghosts, only Christmas Present is realized by an actor. Past is a blurry shape on the screen and Future is reduced to a finger. Still, despite the lack of visual excitement, all the key pieces of the story are here. The Cratchit family also gets more attention than in many other versions; perhaps because a family at home is a lot easier to film than a ghost!
8. A Christmas Carol – 1984
This one is a favorite of many, and it’s certainly a faithful retelling of the story. George C. Scott was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. His take on the character is subtly different than many that had come before. Whereas Scrooge is often portrayed as being a completely miserable man, Scott’s version of the character takes a fair amount of joy in his anti-Christmas attitude.
Directed by Clive Donner (who was the editor of the 1951 Alastair Sim version), this one boasts a strong cast. Edward Woodward (TV’s Equalizer) serves as the Ghost of Christmas Present, while Michael Gough (Alfred in 1989’s Batman) also appears.
Notably, fans who wish to visit Scrooge’s grave can do so thanks to this film. For the scene when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own grave, the filmmakers etched the character’s name on an existing stone at St. Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury, England (the name of the stone’s original owner had deteriorated beyond recognition). The stone, marked ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’, remains there to this day.
7. Mickey’s Christmas Carol – 1983
You’d need a heart as cold as Scrooge himself not to appreciate this Disney retelling of the story. If you haven’t seen this version (shame on you), it’s exactly what you’d expect from the title; the story of Scrooge, filled to the brim with all of Disney’s classic animated characters.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse are the Cratchits. Goofy serves as Jacob Marley, with Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Pete the hefty cat slotting in as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future respectively. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot other Disney notables like Chip and Dale, Big Bad Wolf and Huey, Dewey and Louie along for the ride.
Of course, who else could be Scrooge but Scrooge McDuck? Sadly, the stingy old duck doesn’t jump into any pools of money here, but he’s perfect as the miserable rich guy who rebuffs his nephew’s invitations to Christmas dinner. That nephew being Donald, of course.
6. A Christmas Carol – 1999
You’ve probably noticed a trend that most if not all of the entries on this list boast very strong casts. Then again, A Christmas Carol is a beloved and classic tale, so it’s not all that surprising that so many actors want to be a part of it, and this version from 1999 is no different.
What can be said about Patrick Stewart that hasn’t been already? He’s a celebrated actor for a reason, and he brings just as much malice to Scrooge as he does warmth to Professor Xavier and Captain Picard. He is well suited to the role, having honed it in a series of public readings before making the film.
Other standouts in the cast include Joel Grey, who once again finds himself under copious amounts of makeup (much like his roles in Cabaret and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins) to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. Dominic West, fresh off of his bit part in The Phantom Menace, serves as Scrooge’s nephew.
5. Doctor Who’s A Christmas Carol – 2010
The hugely popular revival of Doctor Who took its own stab at the story of Scrooge with this 2010 installment featuring Matt Smith’s eleventh doctor. When the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory are stuck on a space liner that is caught in the electrical clouds of a strange planet, he seeks out the man with the power to change the weather: Kazran Sardick. Played wonderfully by Michael Gambon, Sardick, like Scrooge, is a bitter old man with a broken heart that has never mended. Though he possesses technology that controls the clouds over his planet, he declines to use it to save the failing ship and its occupants, forcing the Doctor to travel in time throughout Kazran’s life to find the source of his pain and try to change it.
The Doctor discovers the story of Kazran’s abusive father, and of the woman he loved who remains frozen in cryostasis with a terminal disease. Essentially acting as all three Christmas ghosts, the Doctor even brings Kazran’s younger self to the future to see the man he has become, which is the key to finally warming the old man’s heart.
A moving story, it’s a true showcase for Smith’s iteration of the Doctor, and one of the series’ finest Christmas specials to date.
4. Scrooged – 1988
A modern (well, for when it was released anyway) spin on the story of Scrooge, this one features comedy legend Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a ruthless network executive who cares about ratings first and everything else…never. Cross is feeling the pressure with a live adaptation of A Christmas Carol set for Christmas Eve when he is visited by the ghost of his old boss, who serves as his own personal Jacob Marley and sets him on the traditional Scrooge journey. It’s not quite traditional, though, with a crazed taxi driver as the Ghost of Christmas Past and a joyfully violent fairy as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Via rehearsals for the network’s live show, we see bits and pieces of the traditional Scrooge tale playing out alongside Frank’s ordeal, with Buddy Hackett (as himself) playing Scrooge and gymnast Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim.
The strong cast also includes Karen Allen as Frank’s former love Claire, Alfre Woodward as his long-suffering assistant, and Bobcat Goldthwait as the increasingly drunk and violent Eliot Loudermilk. Three of Bill Murray’s brothers also appear; Brian Doyle-Murray as Frank’s father, John Murray as his brother, and Joel Murray as a party guest.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol – 1992
If you want to make anything better, just add Muppets.
Combining the Muppets with the story of Scrooge is a brilliant idea, and it resulted in a holiday classic and one of the most fun Carol adaptations ever made. Tons of credit is due to Michael Caine, who would make a fantastic Scrooge in a more traditional adaptation (and reportedly approached the project as though it was just that), but is especially good here playing off a bunch of puppets. Kermit the Frog is the perfect Bob Cratchit, Statler and Waldorf are ideal as Marley(s), and Gonzo and Rizzo add hilarity as the narrators.
Like the 1970 version, this one incorporates songs into the proceedings, but these are arguably better; “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas”, “Marley and Marley”, and “Thankful Heart” are among the notables. Though it underperformed at the box office, it received rave reviews and remains a holiday favorite for many.
2. A Christmas Carol – 2009
Robert Zemeckis has spent the better part of the last few years experimenting with performance capture in films like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and this adaptation. You might not expect such a modern technique to be fitting for an old story, but thanks to the strong performances throughout, it works perfectly.
Jim Carrey may be known for his comedic roles, but he has proven time and again he has dramatic chops too, and he puts them to good use here. Carrey does remarkable work in this one, performing not just as Scrooge but as each of the Christmas ghosts as well. Gary Oldman is also great as both Bob Cratchit and Jacob Marley, and oddly enough, he provides the motion capture (though not the voice) for Tiny Tim as well. The cast also includes Colin Firth as Scrooge’s nephew, Robin Wright as both his sister Fan and fiance Belle, Bob Hoskins as Fezziwig, and Cary Elwes in a number of roles.
It’s a little darker than your average adaptation, and takes creative license in certain sequences in order to inject some action into the proceedings (launching Scrooge up into the night sky after his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past and shrinking him for a chase scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future are among the source material departures). Those additions aside, this is a very faithful and incredibly enjoyable retelling of the story.
1. Scrooge – 1951
The New York Times has called this the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever made, and it’s hard to disagree. Alastair Sim is absolutely perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge, nailing each aspect of the character as he evolves from bitter and angry to frightened and regretful and finally renewed and joyful. The casting is ideal across the board; Marley, Bob Cratchit and Fezziwig, in particular, seem to leap right off the page.
Made well before any real development in the realm of special effects, the film nevertheless makes great use of the techniques at its disposal, convincingly rendering Marley’s ghost and each of the Ghosts of Christmas.
The film deviates from the source material in a few key ways. The most notable addition is the revelation that Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him, and his father hated him for it. On top of that, we learn that Scrooge’s sister died giving birth to her son, precipitating Ebenezer’s estrangement from his nephew. Elsewhere, the character of Mr. Jorkin, the conniving embezzler who lures a young Scrooge away from Fezziwig, was not in the book, but his presence provides added insight into Scrooge’s development from kind young man to hardened old sinner. Finally, his fiance Alice is shown as an old woman who never married, providing some hope that the redeemed Scrooge may seek her out. In the book, of course, her name is Belle and she marries and has a family of her own.
Do you love the story of Ebenezer Scrooge? What is your favorite adaptation of the classic story? Let us know in the comments.