Charles Dickens's classic yuletide ghost story is one of the most adapted works of literature in all of recorded writing. Even without reading the book, millions of people know the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his ghostly guides of present, past, and yet-to-come. But bringing a book to any other medium isn't always said and done.
We've seen versions of the story starring the Muppets, the Flintstones, and even Mickey Mouse in title roles of the classic characters, but what about a more traditional adaptation? Fortunately, we've called forth the spirits of Christmas Past and have collected 10 versions Dickens could be proud of.
10 The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
We're giving this film an honorary mention because it not only tells the familiar tale of Scrooge, Marley, and the three spirits but shines light on the life of the book's author. Dan Stevens plays a somewhat romanticized version of Charles Dickens, but through creative storytelling, we get a peek into his creative process.
We see the characters of Scrooge, the Cratchits, and all the rest come to life before the author's eyes, learning the story as he composes it. We also see the background in the writer's life and various elements that inspired the novel. It's a unique and interesting way to experience the tale, and one we highly recommend.
9 Orson Welles's Radio Version (1938)
We never said they would all be screen versions, did we? This version was actually a 1938 radio broadcast led by none other than Orson Welles and his group of players featuring Lionel Barrymore in the lead role as Scrooge. If you've not experienced an audio drama before, this is a good way to start.
The classically-trained Welles makes the words from Dickens's own novel jump as he relates the story of Scrooge's redemption, and the immersive effects are surprisingly good for the '30s, but it's Barrymore's vocal chops that really sell the affair. It's definitely an accurate version, just delivered differently.
8 Tales of Dickens: A Christmas Carol (1958)
We're Including this 1958 TV version for two main reasons, Basil Rathbone as Ebeneezer Scrooge and the dialogue that comes almost straight out of the original novel. The downside though, it's majorly rushed to fit in within a 30-minute broadcast. It's not that the performances are bad, they're just delivered almost a mile a minute.
Aside from the rapid-fire delivery, this adaptation is pretty good for a 30-minute condensed version. The performances are pulled off well, the script pays proper tribute to the source, and the costumes and designs try to match the book's original illustrations. Rathbone's Scrooge makeup definitely has an eerie quality to it we just adore.
7 A Christmas Carol (1938)
Now we're getting into some more higher-budget film adaptations with MGM's version starring Reginald Owen as a slightly more pompous Ebeneezer Scrooge. Originally, the role was catered to Lionel Barrymore, but Owen's version has some extra personality we love. It's not verbatim Dickens, but it's one of the best to get acquainted with the story.
The ghost's effects are also impressive for 1938, especially Marley's. This version definitely carries the sense of tradition the story has gained since its release and serves a solid entry for your standard Christmas Carol fare. Not perfect, but definitely one for the books.
6 A Christmas Carol (1951)
If you know the name Alistair Sim, you know him for one big role. Sim is the standard by which all Scrooges are based. This version covers all the bases that 1938's version did, but also adds a little more just to show off how outright cruel Scrooge can be at times.
Sim's version of Scrooge is definitely one of the more villainous on our list, which makes it all the more rewarding at the end when we see his soul redeemed. The main reason we put this above the more script-accurate 1938 version is the tone the film creates. There's a sort of chilling element to the film that makes us appreciate the warm ending.
5 BBC Version (1977)
Yet another TV adaptation of Dickens's classic, but this time with a little more panache than Rathbone's version. The 1977 BBC adaptation feels more like a play than anything else, and even captures a sense of drama as we follow Scrooge through his spiritual escapade. Blame it on better production value or simply a better pacing, it's still one we highly recommend.
We're very impressed with the quality of this version. From the design to the performances, including a young Patricia Quinn of Rocky Horror fame, we have to give this version a standing ovation.
4 A Christmas Carol (1985)
Alistair Sim might have set the bar, but George C. Scott became Ebeneezer Scrooge in the 1985 made-for-tv movie. Though the film takes one or two creative choices due to length, it still pulls a huge deal from the book and finds creative storytelling ways to bring it to film.
From the design to the delivery, this version is a near-perfect adaptation, including appearances of Marley's hearse, Ignorance and Want, and a chilling Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. But it's Scott's cold, cruel, and chilling performance as Scrooge that puts it on our list. It's certainly one of the easiest versions to find, so don't be afraid to put this one on this Christmas.
3 Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)
Say what you want about some of the motion-capture animations, this is easily one of the more book-accurate adaptations on our list. Why? Because not only is this version accurate, it's scarily accurate because it recognizes that A Christmas Carol is a ghost story first and a Christmas story second. And yet it comes from Disney!
This version from Robert Zemekis is definitely an impressive version, taking not only designs and depictions of the characters from the original book, but certain scenes and dialogue verbatim from the text, including the scary parts. If you can get past the weird animation style, this is definitely a top-tier version.
2 A Christmas Carol (Short Film, 1971)
Not only does this version pull designs, dialogue, scenes, and art-style from the original novel and illustrations, but was made by animation legend Chuck Jones, had Alistair Sim reprise his role as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and won the Academy Award for best short-subject. Talk about an impressive resume.
As far as animated versions go, this adaptation is almost as close to a perfect representation as you can get. Though it's not very long, it still encaptures every important point, chapter, and message of the novel. It's an adaptation Dickens himself would definitely praise, and one we recommend that everyone see.
1 A Christmas Carol (1999)
TNT's adaptation is definitely worthy of our number one spot for a few factors. It stars Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, was based on his own one-man-show adaptation, which was essentially a dramatic reading of the book. And we haven't even mentioned the then-revolutionary computer effects and stellar performances.
If Patrick Stewart isn't enough to get you to watch this version, then perhaps the almost identical-to-the-book script will. Passages of the source material become moving monologues, haunting visuals, and brilliant presentation. It's dark when it needs to be, heartwarming, and a holiday classic in every sense of the term. We'll happily give it a number one spot.