From "Spirited" to "The Muppet Christmas Carol," We Ranked 10 Scrooge Movies
Stop me if you've heard this before: there's an old, miserly man named Ebenezer Scrooge, and despite the best efforts of his nephew Fred, he's content to be miserable for the rest of his life. Others suffer around him — including his employee Bob Cratchit and his family, including Tiny Tim — but Scrooge doesn't care. That is, until Christmas Eve night, when three ghosts help him visit Christmas past, present, and future. They remind him of the first girl he ever loved, Belle, who he let go because he was so obsessed with money. They tell him that if things continue as they are, Tiny Tim will die. And when Scrooge finally dies, too, people will celebrate in the streets. Scrooge, thinking he's damned to hell, wakes up on Christmas morning full of life and ready to make up for his mistakes. Tiny Tim lives.
The story of "A Christmas Carol," first told in Charles Dickens's 1843 novella, has inspired artists for generations and become a Christmas classic. There have been dozens of Scrooge movies, ranging from lively musicals to chaotic modernizations, faithful dramas to Muppet-filled spectaculars. I set out to rank 10 major adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" and movies all about Scrooge, and the task ultimately made me reflect on why exactly people have been drawn to this story for so long. I mean, Scrooge sucks. That's his whole thing. He's a rich, white male capitalist who doesn't care about anyone else. Why does he deserve redemption?
But once I really sat with that, I started to wonder: if Scrooge doesn't deserve redeeming, do any of us? We might not be quite as bad as he is, but we all hurt each other and ourselves. We make mistakes. We choose the easy and convenient over the difficult and time consuming.
When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he's reborn. "A Christmas Carol" then is a promise that we can always change our ways. We can always turn over a new leaf. We don't have to keep living the way we've lived before. Scrooge has been through a lot of grief and loss. He's lost his sister and the love of his life, and he can never go back and make things right with them. He cannot change his past but has to accept the pain and sorrow of it all and move forward to make tomorrow better. (This is part of why, as you'll see, I don't like adaptations that let Scrooge reconnect with his love interest, which I think dilutes the bittersweetness of the ending.)
Ahead is my ranking of 10 major "A Christmas Carol" movies all about Scrooge, including Apple TV+'s "Spirited" and Netflix's new "Scrooge." Some are very faithful, while others put major twists on the stories readers and viewers have come to know and love (I'll add upfront that I am biased toward musicals).
"A Christmas Carol" (2009)
This version of "A Christmas Carol," directed and written by Robert Zemeckis, has a very hard time justifying its existence. The digital animation is bizarre and garish, just as it was in Zemeckis's "The Polar Express." Jim Carrey — famously not British — voices not just Scrooge but also all three ghosts, with different accents for all of them (though, of course, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come doesn't speak; Carrey's body was used as the model for the character). The only voice performance with any zip behind it is Colin Firth as Scrooge's nephew Fred. This one is not a musical, but it seems kind of self-conscious about that and uses Christmas carols constantly to try to liven up the soundscape. It doesn't work.
"Scrooge," released on Netflix this December, is a weird combination of things. In some ways, it's an animated adaptation of 1970's "Scrooge" (which we'll get to later on the list). It uses some of that movie's most famous songs, including "Thank You Very Much," and also some of the less famous ones, like "I Like Life," but gives them new arrangements that I think take out some of the joy and fun. It also mixes in new songs written just for the movie. Scrooge is voiced by Luke Evans, with Olivia Colman as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Jessie Buckley as Scrooge's lost love Belle, and Johnny Flynn as Bob Cratchit.
Despite the all-star cast, something about this movie doesn't click for me. Part of it is that Evans's vocal performance doesn't feel believable for an old man. It also adds in new scenes, and a lot of them — especially one where we find out Scrooge caused Bob's dad to lose all his money — just don't work, and the movie emphasizes Scrooge's past relationship with Belle too much. The end of the story is classic — Scrooge shows up at the Cratchits' house with a Christmas goose — and this movie decides to stage its own, way less emotionally affecting ending. Something I realized watching all these movies is that I pretty much always have a crush on Bob, and though I already love Flynn, it didn't happen here (though Flynn's "Christmas Children" is the highlight of the soundtrack).
At the same time, after I watched this, I got lots of TikToks of people thirsting over animated Scrooge and especially his very sad duet with Buckley, "Later Never Comes." So maybe you'll like this one!
In 1988's "Scrooged," Bill Murray plays the ruthless head of a TV network, Frank Cross, who's forcing his crew to work on Christmas Eve to broadcast an over-the-top production of "A Christmas Carol." There are enjoyable parts here, particularly Alfre Woodard as this movie's version of Bob Cratchit. But Murray's Cross is a bit too much of a jerk. The movie is also overly focused on Cross's relationship with his lost love Claire (Karen Allen). One of the most bittersweet parts of "A Christmas Carol" is that Scrooge can't get his love back, but this movie loses that element when it gives Cross his romantic happy ending.
"Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983)
"Mickey's Christmas Carol" clocks in at a slight 26 minutes, making it perfect to watch with kids you want to introduce to the classic story, and not quite good enough for anything else. The short film also feels like the creators were a little lazy when it came to matching the cartoons' personalities to the characters they portray; Goofy plays Jacob Marley, which feels wrong. However, the movie does introduce Scrooge McDuck, who became a classic Disney character after this, which is honestly kind of weird in a fun and interesting way. Mickey, Minnie, and their tiny mouse children are also very cute as the Cratchit family.
"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962)
Admittedly, I have a lot of nostalgia for "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Growing up, it was my music teacher's favorite, and every December, she showed it to our class. Mr. Magoo is a cartoon character created in the 1940s who continued to star in short films and TV specials into the 1970s, but you don't need to be familiar with him and his lore to get into this version. "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" first aired on NBC in 1962, and some of the delight of watching this special is enjoying the gorgeous vintage art style. Every background is absolutely gorgeous, as is a lot of the character design. The special also features music by legendary composer Jule Styne, who did the music for musicals like "Funny Girl," and it has its own strange allure. Some of the harmonies in "The Lord's Bright Blessing" sound wrong, but they have a weird haunting quality that always gets stuck in my head. At 52 minutes, it's worth the running time.
We also watched "Scrooge" in elementary school, and my memory of it was that it was very long and unenjoyable. As an adult, I stand by the length complaint — it's one hour and 53 minutes — but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really enjoying this version. Albert Finney's version of Scrooge is not my favorite, but the '70s costuming creates such a rich and gorgeous world. Plus, the songs are good, including "Thank You Very Much," which at this point is arguably more famous than the movie itself. The first time they sing "Thank You Very Much," it's ironic and dark, and at the end the reprise is full of joy and life. It's a good one! Fun fact: Alec Guinness, the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, plays Jacob Marley.
"A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000)
In 2000, VH1 premiered its own version of "A Christmas Carol," and it's one of the boldest reinterpretations. Vanessa Williams stars as Ebony Scrooge, a famous pop diva who makes her whole crew miserable. She ruins Christmas Eve for them when she demands they throw a massive charity concert. Eventually, we learn that she used to be in a girl group, and after one of the members died, she struck out on her own.
This movie rules. The fake pop songs are great, and Williams is the perfect diva. The three Christmas ghosts are all super unique, and the twists it puts on Bob Cratchit (her ex-boyfriend and manager) and Scrooge's nephew (now Ebony's niece) are so inventive. It's funny, heart-warming, and very fun. The one problem is this movie isn't officially streaming anywhere, but it's worth doing a search for it.
By the time I sat down to watch "Spirited" from Apple TV+, I had watched eight versions of "A Christmas Carol" in less than a month. After eight versions, you start to ask yourself questions like, "Did Scrooge really change after all of that?" and "Why did they even pick this guy for the whole magic ghost thing anyway?" and "Do other people get the magic ghost thing or just this one guy?" I can only imagine that this film's writers, Sean Anders (who also directed) and John Morris, went on a similar journey when coming up with the script for this.
"Spirited" gives us a whole business of afterlife ghosts intent on changing hearts and minds once a year. The vibe isn't that dissimilar from the afterlife in NBC's sitcom "The Good Place," except everyone is constantly singing. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) decides that this year, they should dream bigger and go for someone who's been deemed "unredeemable" — Ryan Reynolds's Clint Briggs. Clint is a media consultant who's unafraid to shape controversies and stir outrage over nothing at all. Octavia Spencer plays his coworker who gets wrapped up in his worst schemes.
I loved this movie. The songs are great, Ferrell and Reynolds have good chemistry together, and the twist it puts on the story of "A Christmas Carol" is overall interesting. "That Christmas Morning Feelin,'" the movie's first song, has happily made its way to my Christmas playlist.
"A Christmas Carol" (1984)
I was surprised how much I loved 1984's "A Christmas Carol." Where other adaptations, as I've noted, are keen to dig into the story of Scrooge's failed romance with Belle, this one pulls emotions from something sadder. Almost every version involves some relationship between Scrooge (played here by George C. Scott) and his nephew Fred (Roger Rees). But this movie gives more depth to Scrooge's relationship with his sister, Fred's mother, when she was alive. When we see Scrooge as a sad, lonely boy at school, we also get a scene of his sister begging their father to let him come home. Their love is warm and palpable. When Scrooge apologizes to Fred and his wife at the end of the film, it has a new emotional weight that I really cherished. Scott's Scrooge is a top-tier interpretation of the character.
And if you're a musical hater, this one is not a musical, and it clocks in at a pretty perfect 100 minutes.
"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992)
Everything about "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is pretty much perfect. Michael Caine gives one of the best human performances in a Muppet film ever. Watching his Scrooge be cruel to the Muppets is both shocking and hilarious, and the way he slowly lets their joy seep into him is a beauty to behold. "Scrooge" is a perfect little villain song for the townspeople to sing about him. Kermit's Bob Cratchit is so tender with his Tiny Tim (played by Robin the Frog), and the movie has the best interpretations of the three ghost characters. The creative team took the time to match the Muppets with the characters that match them best (Fozzie the Bear as "Fozziwig" is deeply inspired).
But what brings this one really over the top is Gonzo and Rizzo's performance as the narrators, with Gonzo technically portraying Charles Dickens himself (and Rizzo just being his hilarious friend). It gives the movie irreverence and humor that embody the spirit of Dickens's original work, as Ethan Warren argued in his 2019 essay in Bright Wall/Dark Room.
At the end of the film, Gonzo tells Rizzo what happens to everyone in the story, and his delivery of the line "Tiny Tim . . . who did not die!" gives me enough Christmas cheer to get me through the next 12 months.