The 11 Best Movie Adaptations Of A Christmas Carol Ranked


Summary

  • A Christmas Carol has been adapted into various films, making it challenging to determine the best versions.
  • Different adaptations offer unique perspectives, such as exploring a female Scrooge or providing a darker, more supernatural twist.
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol stands out as a beloved classic, combining the whimsy of the Muppets with a heartfelt and faithful retelling of the story.


A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic that has been adapted often so finding the best versions of A Christmas Carol movie ranked can be tough. Charles Dickens wrote and published the novella A Christmas Carol in December of 1843, just in time for Christmas, and the work instantly became a Christmas mainstay. Arguably Dickens’ most popular work, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old businessman who is unkind to everyone he meets and thinks Christmas is a waste of time and money. Every Scrooge movie starts on Christmas Eve, when he is visited by three ghosts who show him shadows of Christmases past, present, and yet to come, allowing him to see how his miserly ways have led him to have a miserable, lonely life.

The basic idea has even served as inspiration for works such as Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as more direct cinematic adaptations. Any A Christmas Carol movie has become a holiday staple, with a new Scrooge movie being produced every few years or so. As recently as 2019, FX and the BBC produced a mini-series adaptation, starring Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge. From the classics like the 1984 version starring George C. Scott to Michael Caine giving a masterful performance opposite Kermit the Frog, here are the greatest US-released feature-length versions of A Christmas Carol, ranked from worst to best.

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11 Ms. Scrooge (1997)

A Female Take On Scrooge

A closeup of Ms. Scrooge

While most versions of a Scrooge movie are played by old men, typically in Victorian London, Cicely Tyson presented a version of the character for Hallmark in 1997. As Ebenita Scrooge, A Fall From Grace star Cicely Tyson portrayed a grumpy, rich older woman in the 90s who runs a savings and loan firm. It’s an updated version of the story, but falls into the trap that other 90s television films do of leaning into the 90s tropes a little too hard. Marley’s ghost, for instance, appears to Ms. Scrooge on her computer screen while she’s looking over ledgers.

While it’s a cute retelling of the story, and the gender-swap concept is definitely one worth exploring, it’s also not a great movie. It does escape the Hallmark movie tropes that have become a meme in recent years, but it is still a Hallmark Christmas movie, and therefore lacks the depth that most versions of any A Christmas Carol movie have. Cicely Tyson, however, is an icon and even though the material isn’t the best, she gives a wonderful performance as Ebenita Scrooge. She especially shines when Scrooge is experiencing the trips through the Christmases of her life via the three spirits.

10 A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004)

Kelsey Grammer Tries On The Role

Kelsey Grammar as Scrooge

Starring Frasier‘s Kelsey Grammer, the 2004 adaptation of A Christmas Carol movie aired on NBC and was also produced by Hallmark. This production was an adaptation of the 1994 stage musical but was somewhat of a lackluster version of the show. Kelsey Grammer gives a good performance as Scrooge but somehow feels a little miscast. It’s hard to believe him as a mean old miser, but maybe his inherent charm is what makes it more believable that his Scrooge can change.

This Scrooge movie starring Kelsey Grammer isn’t necessarily bad as much as it isn’t always sure that it wants to be a musical, even though it is. The musical performances don’t seem to measure up, especially compared to earlier musical versions of the story, which is a shame considering musical theatre icons like Jason Alexander and Jesse L. Martin make up the cast. Though it aired on NBC, it is still ultimately a Hallmark Christmas movie, for better or for worse.

9 A Christmas Carol (2019)

A Miniseries Adaptation

In 2019, the BBC and FX collaborated on a miniseries version of A Christmas Carol, which starred Guy Pearce as a younger version of the miserly Scrooge. This version took a darker look at the story and explored the reasons that Scrooge became so cold and uncaring. In this Christmas story, Pearce’s Scrooge experienced trauma and abuse in his childhood which, along with his analytical mind, shaped him into a cynical person who considered himself logical rather than cold. This version also leans into the ghost story aspect of A Christmas Carol in ways that most versions usually don’t. It’s a darker retelling of the classic, which also probably made it a polarizing version.

While it’s certainly a unique take on a Scrooge movie, the grittiness did sometimes feel a little misplaced. It’s less a warm Christmas fable and more a fantasy series, emphasizing the supernatural aspect of the ghosts. Pearce’s take on the character, however, gave Scrooge more depth of character, changing him from simply a mean old man obsessed with money to a smart man who had come to believe that logic outweighed love and human relationships, causing him to focus on the security that money brings.

8 Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (2022)

An Animated Carol

Scrooge making snow angels with kids in Scrooge A Christmas Carol

In 2022, Netflix released yet another A Christmas Carol movie titled Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. The animated musical features a lot of the same songs from the Albert Finney version, composed by two-time Oscar winner Leslie Bricusse, as this is supposed to be a loose remake of Finney’s famed original. The Scrooge movie hits all the major points of the classic Dickens tale, but with some obvious departures, like the fact that Scrooge has a dog. Scrooge has a great voice cast, with Luke Evans providing his singing and acting voice to the protagonist, and also starring Olivia Colman as a bubbly Christmas Past and Jonathan Pryce as a terrifying Jacob Marley. The animation itself is a sight to behold, as director Stephen Donnelly brings a supernatural/sci-fi twist to the old classic.

That being said, the animation in Scrooge: A Christmas Carol turned out to be a double-edged sword. Some sequences can be considered overwhelming, especially for children — who would be the main audience. This A Christmas Carol movie tried too hard to bring the tale into the future, with a Victorian London backdrop so colorful that it’s reminiscent of movies like Strange World. While other films have tried to update A Christmas Carol before, combining sci-fi with Victorian England turned out to be a pairing slightly too odd for the big screen. While Scrooge: A Christmas Carol does have some charming moments, the film is too jarring with its wild animation and constantly jumping tonal shifts.

7 Scrooged (1988)

A Bill Murray Classic

Bill Murray in Scrooged

Scrooged is a 1988 comedic adaptation of A Christmas Carol movie starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, an unkind television executive who is producing an extravagant live TV adaptation of the Dickens classic. In this version, Cross has his ghostly visitations while his network is filming their production, who show him the ways in which his cruelty towards the people in his life is leading to his downfall. Set in the 80s, Scrooged presents an updated version of the familiar Dickens story, changing the events that Scrooge experienced to fit Cross’ 20th-century life. This version splits the Bob Cratchit character between Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), an employee who Cross has fired for disagreeing with him, and Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard), Cross’ assistant who has a young son who doesn’t speak since witnessing his father’s death.

This movie relies heavily on the comedic stylings of Bill Murray, who plays up the slapstick and really leans into being a jerk for laughs. While it isn’t a perfect film, Murray brings enough charm to the curmudgeonly Cross that he becomes easy to root for. Cross is also a much younger character than Scrooge, and therefore feels much less set in his ways. Maybe that’s why his transformation doesn’t feel as profound as Scrooge’s does. The comedy of this film does sometimes take away from the heart of the story, but it isn’t trying to be as heavy as some versions of A Christmas Carol can be. It’s a funny Dickens-themed romp, and it’s a perfect time capsule of a 1980s film.

6 Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Jim Carrey As Scrooge

Disney released an animated version of A Christmas Carol movie in 2009, finally exploring the classic version of the story after previously making a short version starring their beloved characters Mickey Mouse and Scrooge McDuck. Jim Carrey took on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, both performing the motion-capture and the voice for the character. While Carrey is known for his sillier performances, usually taking any opportunity to ham things up for the cameras, he took on the role of Scrooge in earnest, using his signature physicality to find the unique way that Scrooge carries himself. Halfway between animation and live-action, director Robert Zemeckis had the actors actually perform every scene in the film, which allowed for the characters to be more dynamic than is typical of animation.

This version of the story feels a lot more adventurous than other A Christmas Carol adaptations. Disney takes Scrooge on a wild ride through his past, present, and future, allowing Jim Carrey to shine. The motion-capture animation has aged a bit since 2009 and looks a little jarring, however. The animation almost falls into the uncanny valley, mapping the actors’ faces directly onto the characters. Still, this Scrooge movie is a fun adventure and has all the heart that is to be expected from a Disney movie. It’s probably the best animated version of A Christmas Carol that doesn’t star a mouse and a duck.

5 A Christmas Carol (1999)

Patrick Stewart’s Take On The Character

Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol

Starring Patrick Stewart, best known for his roles as Star Trek‘s Captain Picard and X-Men‘s Professor X, this adaptation of A Christmas Carol movie aired on TNT in 1999. It was produced after Stewart performed a one-man show of A Christmas Carol on stage both in London and on Broadway. Patrick Stewart’s Christmas movie version of Scrooge is so well performed that he’s practically the definitive version of the character. The movie itself tells a faithful version of the story, which populates the world around Stewart’s powerhouse performance well.

Compared to earlier versions, this Scrooge movie aimed for stunning visuals, especially with ghosts who take Scrooge on his journey of redemption. Stewart brings a joyfulness to Scrooge once he makes his transformation which is heartwarming. Unlike earlier versions, Stewart’s version leans into the difference his journeys with the Christmas ghosts bring about, making his Scrooge one of the best versions of the character to ever grace the screen.

4 Scrooge (1970)

A Christmas Carol On Stage

Scrooge on stage in a musica.

This musical adaptation of Scrooge became an instant classic and earned Albert Finney a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. Releasing at a time when the big Hollywood musical like West Side Story was on its way out, the Scrooge movie leaned into the theatrics of the musical numbers, which made the film stand out. For all of the verve of the musical numbers, Finney managed to keep the grumpiness of Scrooge intact. He shines as the old curmudgeon, and is heartbreaking when Scrooge is faced with the reality of where his life is heading, should he fail to change.

This A Christmas Carol movie also served as an inspiration for the 1994 stage version, as well as other musical adaptations of the book. The songs are catchy and fit the story well, and the sarcastic anthem “Thank You Very Much” has become a hit outside of the context of the musical, as well. As one of the few adaptations of this story to win a major award like a Golden Globe, it’s clear that this version is one of the best.

3 A Christmas Carol (1984)

A Faithful Adaptation

Scrooge and a Christmas ghost

For an entire generation, this version of A Christmas Carol is probably the definitive iteration. Starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, it first aired on CBS in 1984. Scott’s Scrooge is a serious, joyless man who seems to be unkind almost as a reflex. This Scrooge movie is very faithful to the novella and feels as if the character from the book has come to life. Scott’s version of Scrooge is endearing as he explores the Christmases of his life, and the moments where his humanity begins to crack through his icy exterior help to build the idea that the character can change.

The thing that works best about George C. Scott’s Scrooge in this Christmas story is that even when he finally has his shift from cruelty to kindness, there is still a sense that he has to re-learn how to socialize kindly with other people. It’s a very realistic take on what Scrooge’s change might look like in real life. He is very much a man that wants to do better and not a man who is magically better. That choice makes this Scrooge a lot more relatable and is part of why this version is one of the best adaptations of the Dickens book. The heart of this A Christmas Carol movie doesn’t lose sight of the heart of the novella, which is that anyone, even the cruelest person, can learn to be better.

2 A Christmas Carol (1938)

An Early Take

Scrooge meets Marley's Ghost in A Christmas Carol

The 1938 adaptation of A Christmas Carol movie starred Reginald Owen and was one of the first feature-length productions of the story to hit the silver screen. Much like Scrooged, Owen’s Scrooge has a cynical view of life, though he’s less of the cruel curmudgeon that the character is often portrayed as. He simply finds no time for frivolity, dedicating himself instead to a lifetime of earning money. This version of the story removes the romantic backstory in favor of placing emphasis on his relationship with his nephew, his sister’s only son.

It succeeds, in many ways, in keeping the original story intact, even with the slight changes to Scrooge’s background. Owen plays Scrooge with heart, which endears him to the audience even when he’s at his meanest. When Scrooge finally has his change of heart, in the end, he reconciles with his nephew Fred, making him the new partner at Scrooge’s firm. This Scrooge movie has all the heart and warmth of an old Hollywood Christmas classic and is joyful to watch from beginning to end.

1 The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Adding The Muppets Was Genius

It’s tough to beat classic versions of A Christmas Carol that have been beloved by generations. However, The Muppet Christmas Carol movie has solidified its place as a classic in its own right. Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, in a version populated by Jim Henson’s beloved muppet characters like Kermit and Miss Piggy. Released in 1992, this version is narrated by Gonzo the Great, who plays Charles Dickens. The Muppet Christmas Carol tells its own musical version of the tale, featuring original songs. Though it’s a movie aimed at children, Michael Caine gives a performance that would be great in any version of the story. He doesn’t match the zaniness of the Muppets around him, instead fully committing to the reality of Scrooge’s situation, which serves the movie overall.

The reason this version takes the top spot is that not only does it not fail to capture the whimsy that Dickens intended in his original novella, but it also truly tells an emotional, heartfelt version of the story. While it can’t claim to be the definitive version of the story, it also is surprisingly faithful to the source material and created a version of the story that is accessible for all ages. It’s also a masterwork in puppetry, for which new techniques were created to allow the human performers to be in scenes with the muppets like Kermit in a way that hid the puppeteers but looked as though the Muppets were walking the same streets. A lot of skill and talent went into making this version of A Christmas Carol movie, and it paid off in a film that looks and feels as good as it did in 1992.



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