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Bah humbug? The best and worst 'A Christmas Carol' adaptations, ranked

Let's rank the Scrooges that stand the test of time!

By Tara Bennett
Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. (L to R) Isabel, Scrooge, Past in Scrooge: A Christmas Carol.

December is here again and with it comes warm sweaters, the hustle and bustle of holiday prep and, for some, the annual watching of (some version of) Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The now-iconic story began as a novella published in 1843, but it has since morphed into a ubiquitous holiday season stalwart that retains its mighty power to melt our grumpy hearts and remind us what's important about this time of year. 

As such, A Christmas Carol has been adapted a freakish amount of times in its 170 years of existence, for stage, radio plays, graphic novels, and television and film. Heck, even this year, November gave us Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in the Apple TV+ movie, Spirited, and on Dec. 2, Netflix's animated film, Scrooge: A Christmas Carol

That's a lot of "bah humbug!" to have to wade through, so SYFY WIRE is here to help you parse out the high-grade wassail from the rotgut this season. We've ranked the value of some of the most well-known, and just most recent, A Christmas Carol film and television adaptations and ranked them from so-so to "can't miss!"

10. A Christmas Carol (2019)

A Christmas Carol (2019)

If you like your A Christmas Carol unfailingly dark and sketchy then we recommend the 2019 limited series co-produced by the BBC and FX. I mean, it's not exactly a surprise you find out it's written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, which is one heck of a bleak drama. Points to Guy Pearce for his interesting take on Scrooge and a really scary Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Watch this one with the lights on.

9. Scrooge (1970)

Albert Finney in Scrooge (1970)

Musical versions of A Christmas Carol tend to be either twee or delightful, depending on the quality of the songs and the blocking of the singing and dancing. While Albert Finney's Scrooge is arguably one of the Top 10 portrayals, the overall musical quality of this one doesn't stand up as well over time. A bit throwback and dated, there's some charm for purists though.

8. A Christmas Carol (2015)

A Christmas Carol (2015)

Who doesn't want to see former Doctor Who, Colin Baker, in A Christmas Carol? Okay, not everyone but this version of the classic, audiences get more music and Baker as Charles Dickens. It's low-budget and has a digital look to it that bumps against expectations but there's some originality here to explore. 

7. Spirited (2022)

Spirited (2022)

Will Ferrell singing with abandon around the holidays is usually a plus. Yet in Spirited, it's not his greatest effort. In fact, his Buddy the Elf in Elf kinds sings circles around his Ghost of Christmas Present here. So, while this is touted as a musical, it works better for the comedy bits amongst the talented cast.  

6. A Christmas Carol (2009)

A Christmas Carol

Perhaps the greatest Scrooge of all is the uncanny valley? The 2009 A Christmas Carol, which was directed by Robert Zemeckis and animated by ImageMovers of The Polar Express fame, brings to life Dickens' story entirely with performance capture technology. Jim Carrey is Scrooge here, which you'd think would be fun but there's a weird look to projects like these that still haven't been ironed out. If you can get past that, there are some creative sequences here. 

5. Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged (1988)

Director Richard Donner gave us the most bonkers Scrooge with Bill Murray playing a contemporary take on the character. This one is pure comedy with Murray leading the insanity in a cast featuring legends like Robert Mitchum, Carol Kane, John Forsythe, Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard. The end sing-along remains a high note when it comes to memorable holiday charm. 

4. A Christmas Carol (1999)

Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1999)

For years, Sir Patrick Stewart did a one-man theater production of A Christmas Carol that became legend. But in 1999, director David Jones adapted the theater piece into a traditional television movie with Stewart as Scrooge and a supporting cast featuring Richard E. Grant, Joel Grey, Dominic West, and many more. While you don't get to see the wizardry of Stewart playing all the roles, you do get to see his incredible take on the character and that's a must-see. 

3. A Christmas Carol (1984)

A Christmas Carol (1984)

In the perfect match of gruff demeanor to role, George C. Scott slipped into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge like he was for it in the 1984 television movie adaptation. He's seamless in giving us a man who achieved peak miser, which makes his particular transformation all the more potent. It remains a favorite for many Boomers and Gen X and it's worth seeking out for the great cast and production design.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

A Muppet Christmas Carol makes Dickens' story work as a musical, a comedy, a tear-jerker, and a tour de force of puppetry. Featuring Paul Williams' original songs and directed by Brian Henson, this adaptation is both cheeky, compelling, and really emotional. It's able to slide back and forth with perfect timing. And on top of it all is Michael Caine's fantastic performance as Scrooge. Watching that man commit in every scene, whether it features singing vegetables, penguins, or Robin the frog as Tiny Tim, only reminds you of the full range of his talent. 

1. A Christmas Carol (1951)

A Christmas Carol (1951)

For most, this 1951 adaption of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge remains the benchmark for all adaptations. Shot in black and white, it's a gothic period piece that works extremely well as an effective, chilling ghost story. Sims is excellent as the mean old man who crumbles in the face of his misdeeds. And his epiphany on Christmas morning is pure joy. 

Stream even more A Christmas Carol adaptations on Peacock.