Even though it's been 180 years since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, the lessons this iconic story teaches remain relevant. So relevant, in fact, that the tale has seen many TV and film adaptations.
Some follow the story closely, and others change the setting or the characters slightly to bring the story into the modern world. No matter which adaptation you watch, the message of Christmas will shine through.
1. Scrooge (1951)
Alastair Sim's depiction of Ebenezer Scrooge lives up to the essence of the character. He breathes life into the text that can hardly be equaled. His performance, combined with the dramatic flare of the film, makes this one a definite must-see.
Shows How Far Scrooge Has Come
The redemption arc that Sim conveys hits hard, and his is the most dramatic. How he sings, dances, and stands on his head shows just how far Scrooge has come.
2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Despite needing to act with mostly Muppets, Michael Caine's depiction of Ebenezer Scrooge is a close second to that of Alastair Sim. Caine shows the character arc in a great way and does it while acting seriously with Muppets. The story is still entirely told without omitting pieces despite being designed for kids… and a musical.
Kermit Is a Convincing and Sympathetic Bob Cratchit
The ghosts are even creepy, especially the Ghost of Christmas Future. It doesn't even phase you that most of the actors aren't real people. Kermit the Frog is a convincing and sympathetic Bob Cratchit as well. What these performers do with their voices gives the entire film an emotional punch, which is really what you're looking for in this story.
3. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
Mickey Mouse also presented a great Bob Cratchit in this 1983 animated version. It is also a great introduction to the story for kids since it is shorter and features cartoons. While the Ghost of Christmas Future is still a bit scary, it's nothing compared to the other versions of the story.
Fun to Watch
Playing his namesake, Scrooge McDuck is Ebenezer Scrooge, and the story is fun to watch. For a family-friendly version of the story, this one is perfect.
4. A Christmas Carol (1971)
In another animated version, the most exciting thing about this one is that Alastair Sim reprises his role by providing the voice of Scrooge. This British-American animated adaptation is beautifully drawn, and it is entertaining to hear Sim again as he embodies the character.
1971's A Christmas Carol is short — only 25 minutes — but still has enough time for some creepy parts. Another unique choice in this one is that Scrooge flashes back to different moments when he could have been kinder, which adds to the impact of his redemption arc.
5. A Christmas Carol (1999)
Patrick Stewart has played many iconic roles in his time, including Captain Picard and Professor X, but in 1999 he added another name to that list—Ebenezer Scrooge. He was well-prepared for it, too, because he had played the role both on Broadway and in London. This adaptation was also nominated for an Emmy.
Keeps Often-Forgotten Scenes
1999's A Christmas Carol also keeps scenes from the book that are often forgotten, such as visits to a lighthouse and a ship during the trip with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Picard presents a decent Scrooge with the experience to back him up.
6. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
For a different type of story, The Man Who Invented Christmas shows a fictionalized account of Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) writing the novel itself. It gives some engaging scenarios — some true, others not — that reveal his process of creating the iconic storyline.
In addition to presenting the story surrounding the writing of the novel, it also takes creative license by having his characters come to life beside him. Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge, the grumpy man that we come to love.
7. A Christmas Carol (1984)
This British-American TV movie features George C. Scott in the role of Scrooge, along with other big-name stars such as Frank Finlay, David Warner, and Roger Rees. With the star power, it is an interesting look at the story. Scott was even nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of the greedy old miser.
The big difference with this one is that the pacing of the story is much slower than many others. Scott's redemption scenes are also impressive and helped lead to his award nomination.
8. Scrooged (1988)
If you're looking for a nontraditional look at this story, Scrooged is the best one. It brings the story forward to the 1980s in a high-speed entertainment world. Bill Murray plays the Scrooge-like character named Frank Cross, a TV executive obsessed with hitting big numbers with his network's live broadcast of A Christmas Carol.
Grotesque, but Funny
The humor is sometimes a bit grotesque, but it's a funny movie. We are shown Frank's cruelty as he suggests stapling antlers to a mouse's head. It then goes into his lost love, similar to Scrooge when he casts aside love for money. Three spirits also visit him to help him achieve his redemption arc in a way only Murray can convey.
9. A Christmas Carol (2009)
Robert Zemeckis took on the story of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey in the role of Scrooge. While Carrey adds his usual over-the-top flare to the part, the computer animation is a bit strange with his face.
Interesting Take on the Story
Despite that, some of the other scenes work pretty well with this style. Not only does Carrey play Scrooge, but he plays all the ghosts as well, which is an interesting take on the story.
10. Scrooge (1935)
While not the first adaptation, it was the first in more than 10 years after three previous silent film versions of the film. Director Henry Edwards' version includes Dickens' introduction, which many others do not. It also shows a rich Scrooge (Seymour Hicks) like the other adaptations, but demonstrates how he chooses to live modestly.
A Modest Scrooge
Although the redemption sequence doesn't have quite the effect as other adaptations, it still is a worthwhile addition to your watchlist if you're interested in the Scrooge character.
11. A Christmas Carol (1938)
Reginald Owen portrays Scrooge in this version, which came out just a few short years after Seymour Hicks in Scrooge. The interesting thing about 1938's A Christmas Carol is that it takes a deeper dive into the lives of the supporting characters. It also goes a bit further in the storyline than the book in that Bob Cratchit is actually fired by Scrooge and then buys his family a huge feast anyway.
A Deeper Dive into Supporting Characters
Owen's portrayal is a testament to the character. The ghosts aren't quite as elaborate as the other versions, but the reveal of Scrooge just being a lonely old man is one that can hit even the most coldhearted.
12. Spirited (2022)
The newest film on this list, Spirited, gives us two popular actors: Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. While a bit on the long side at 127 minutes, the gimmick here is that the movie not only presents the story of our favorite Ebenezer, but it is also a musical.
From a Ghost's Perspective
While a different spin, the storyline follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell), who picks a dark soul each Christmas Eve to be redeemed by the trio of spirits. When he chooses Clint Briggs (Reynolds), it turns things around on him when the ghost begins to contemplate his existence. This one is interesting in that it's the only one told from a ghost's perspective.
13. A Christmas Carol (1997)
In another musical adaptation, we have Tim Curry as the voice of Scrooge in this 1997 animated film. With the perfect voice of a villain, Curry is well-cast in this role. He also gets the chance to play a character who is redeemed, which isn't always the case for him.
A Well-Cast Villain
Some liberties are taken with the storyline as Scrooge has a song battle with people in a tavern. Curry gets to demonstrate his excellent singing skills here, which is why this often-overlooked version shouldn't be missed.
14. A Christmas Carol (2019)
This three-part British miniseries aired consecutively in the U.S. on FX as a single movie features Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge. Look no further if you want an even darker version of the original story.
A Darker Version
Scrooge is even crueler here throughout this three-hour film. Here, he is presented as a coldhearted villain who has caused death. It also delves into his past extensively. While it is an interesting take, it is a harsher film.