Movies & Television

Humbuggin' Out: The 6 Best Film Adaptations of A Christmas Carol


A literary classic, A Christmas Carol has been a mainstay for many around Christmas time, though now the classic takes MANY forms. From the deluxe leather-bound versions of the original Charles Dickens’ story to cartoons covering the story all the way up to big-budget Hollywood spewing out a new version of the film every few years. This gives us a LOT of ground to cover when we talk about the best Christmas Carol adaptations. We decided to take TV (shows, not movies) off the list (Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol for the win) but rather, stick to the medium of ‘film’ to pick, that way we could actually have this finished by Christmas. TV movies are okay, too, just to be clear.

Now, presented in no particular order, the six best film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (shoutout to Tiny Tim, he got that pimp lean and cane thing going, kid had swagger before it was….oh wait, that wasn’t swagger, that was an oddly unnamed disease inserted into the story to make us feel awful than relieved for him, phew. Clearly, it worked)

A Christmas Carol (George C Scott, 1984)

This classic adaptation might be one of the better earlier examples. George C. Scott (a world-renowned actor for those who don’t know) just really used his acting skill to breathe life into a palpably angry Scrooge who just had no time for celebration when there was money to be made. And outside of the terribly dated effects of some of the ghosts (first in particular), you realize that early on, this adaptation pretty much hit every nail it needed to right on the head.

We all know one of the best moments in A Christmas Carol is the Christmas morning transformation of Scrooge from Scrooge into a joyful, altruistic soul, and this is where Scott’s performance really shines. He played the angry so well you almost don’t see how he can 180 that, but he does to great effect. May be old but check it if you haven’t, nice classic take on a classic.

A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart, 1999)

First of all, Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. If I need to say more to you to sell the awesome of this TV movie (like I said in the intro, TV movies count, episodes don’t), then you are a very different “geek” than I. While it could be said this is the darkest, most gothic version of the story yet, for me, that is the very thing that made it work. We must remember, this was not so much a moral tale at first as it was considered a “Victorian-era ghost story” to tell around Christmas. WE chose to warm it up over the years but let us not forget, this is a story of an awful human being who needs to be visited by dead people so he can change his life before it kills him and others. Not exactly lighthearted shit, you know?

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So really, the fact that we get lighthearted versions is actually kind of weirder, TBH, but they have their own merit as well, more on that later. There is just some weight that Patrick Stewart brings to this version, and the effects of the ghosts and each one of their vignettes are powerful. Sometimes creepy as Victorian ghost stories oft were, but if you are one of those souls who prefer their fare a bit lighter, we have, as a safer alternative…

A Muppets Christmas Carol (with Michael Cain, 1992)

Oh, come on, this version is almost impossible not to love. You have Michael Cain (who WAS the baddest badass in English cinema for 20 years) and the muppets, the creatures that elicit more joy than actual kittens do. What happens when you jam these two entities together? Freakin’ magic, that’s what.

For me, the biggest kick from this adaptation is seeing how miserable Scrooge can be, even when surrounded by Muppets. He is the only human in the film (note the metaphor, humans are angry creatures for real) and even when the cutest, sweetest Muppets approach him, BAH HUMBUG and they oft fly into a wall or something similar from the force of the expression and the passion with which Cain exudes such phrasing.

Which, in turn, makes his “awakening” at the finale that much sweeter. Suddenly you see a man surrounded by adorable muppets and almost realizing and embracing that. Adds a whole new level to the already awesome moral ghost story, but this was is the most family friendly (obviously!)

But another good one for the family is…

A Christmas Carol (Jim Carrey, 2009)

This Zemeckis film that uses CG overlay is a true treat for the eyes. The CG is some of the best in current cinema (still, to this day), it has some truly creepy elements and some truly fun moments, which offers a nice mix between the original ghost story and the more moral story we have turned it into.

Also. huge points for Carrey who did that thing where he played Scrooge as well as every single ghost, and though the end result sounds like it would be muddied, it isn’t. It is actually spooky fun if you just let yourself go and watch it for sake of seeing another version of this awesome story you may not have seen yet. And the visuals are jaw-dropping which makes it well worth watching more than once.

This leads us to our final (and honestly, best) version, IMHO, even though I said the list is not in order.

Scrooged (Bill Murray, 1988)

I know, I know. How the hell can you say a movie that reboots and modernizes the story is the best version? Easy, it tells the EXACT same story (just in a different time period), the film is fantastically cast and side achingly funny, still drove moral message home perfectly AND IT HAS BILL F*CKING MURRAY IN IT. Like you need any more reasoning than that. That wins, and Murray has a great deal of fun in the role, which makes those who watch it have fun, too.

And even though we could end the discussion with just the word MURRAY, I will still give you one more reason this version wins. Scrooged is what you do with a classic when trying to keep it fresh and introduce it to a new generation, and Scrooged did the “reboot” thing long before it was cool and they executed it flawlessly. Made something awesome even better, all thanks to……….


(image via)

Honorable Mention: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

This is the only one in the above lot that I ENSURE I watch at least once every Christmas season. But, considering it was a TV special and not technically a movie, I  had to delegate it to the honorable Mentions.

Humbug to that!

First published in December 2016; updated December 2021

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