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The Ghosts of Christmas Carol’s Past

by Maggie McAteer

There are a lot of different versions of A Christmas Carol, the definitive Christmas tale in which a grumpy old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by three ghosts who show him there is still time left to be good. In total, there are over one hundred different adaptations of the classic book in just film and television alone. Just this year, two new ones have been released; Scrooge: A Christmas Carol from Netflix, and Spirited from Apple TV+. Most of the adaptations are, admittedly, not great. But to alleviate the pain of having to sift through the countless different versions, here’s a list of the best, the most popular, and the most interesting adaptations of A Christmas Carol, ranked from the worst to the best. So before you go check out one of the new versions, take a look at some of the more classic versions of this timeless tale.

11 - A Christmas Carol (1910)

This movie ended up in last place for me, but it certainly wasn't an unpleasant watch. One of the oldest ever adaptations of A Christmas Carol, this short film was better than I expected it to be. My bar for the earlier versions was rather low, given that they just didn’t have access to the same tools that we do today, but this far surpassed it. In this depiction of the classic tale, Scrooge is visited by all of his ghosts in the same place and the scenes they show him are projected onto the corner, which was quite an interesting effect. Additionally, this adaption goes past just showing Scrooge and his ghosts all the way to the end with his redemption as several of the adaptations do, providing the arguably most important part of the story. This short film is available on Youtube for free.

Overall Score - 4/10

10 - Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2001)

This is one of the scarier adaptations that I saw, and I think I would have really enjoyed it if not for the animation style. I could not stand it at all. The voice acting was pretty good and most of the shots were really interesting, but the animation was just too hard to get past. If you think you can stand it, then it’s worth watching, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it. Also, the animators were very excited about it being in 3D, so a lot of the shots emphasize that effect, which was cool at first, but then got kind of exhausting. This movie is available on Disney+ with a subscription.

Overall Score - 5/10

9 - Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost (1901)

This was the first cinematic adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and it was super fun to watch. Considering the tools available to them at the time, the film’s crew did really well, and I was surprised especially in the special effects area. It was really interesting to see how they had to create special effects without all of the technology we have today. In this version, Scrooge is only visited by one ghost, his old partner Marley, and Marley plays the part of Christmas’s past, present, and future. Since it’s a silent movie, it can be hard at times to figure out what exactly is going on, but if you know the basic story of A Christmas Carol, then it’s easy to figure it out. This short film is available on Youtube for free here.

Overall Score - 5/10

8 - A Christmas Carol (1951)

It’s widely believed this is the best version out there, but I just could not get through it. It was so, so boring. This movie just took all the wrong parts of A Christmas Carol and stretched them out for way too long. They chose to go really in depth on the Ghost of Christmas Past, which was cool because there were a lot of scenes I’d never seen before, but at the same time, all I was concentrating on was when it would end. That said, I do think this is a fairly good movie. There were a lot of really cool shots that added to a more unsettling atmosphere, and the effects that they used for the ghost’s transitions were very magical. I didn’t particularly like Alistair Sim’s acting as Scrooge in this movie, or the actors for some of the ghosts either. This movie is available on PLEX for free with ads.

Overall Score - 5/10

7 - A Christmas Carol (1914)

This was the first of the early adaptations I saw that was akin to a contemporary movie. It not only showed Scrooge’s side of the story, but also went deeper into Bob Cratchit’s life, which I liked. When they had the title cards to introduce the characters and give context for the scene, as is typical in a silent film, the actor’s name popped up beneath the character’s which was a nice touch. The actors in this movie were really good as well, and I could actually tell what was going on and what the characters were feeling, which is no small feat when they can’t speak. As the film reached its end, they went further in-depth than a lot of modern adaptations go and followed it until its end in the book where Scrooge becomes best friends with Tiny Tim. This short film is available on Youtube for here.

Overall Score - 6/10

6 - Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

This animated special was really fun to watch. I have never seen anything by Mister Magoo before, but I found myself dying of laughter watching this. It isn’t that great of a movie, but I watched it with my family and we found a lot of unintentional humor. It’s the sort of thing that tried to be funny but was so bad at it that it actually ended up being hilarious. They all have American accents, and especially Magoo’s sounds so out of place in this very British story. But the longer he said the classic Scrooge lines in his weird American accent, the more I found myself laughing. However, if you do decide to watch this one, skip the songs. None of them can sing, no matter how many times they try – which is a lot. Additionally, they did the ghosts out of order so the Ghost of Christmas Present was first instead of the Past, which bothered me. This animated film can’t be found on any streaming services, but you can buy or rent it from iTunes or Google Play or rent it from your public library.

Overall Score - 7/10

5 - Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

Ever wanted to see Scrooge McDuck play the character he was named for? This is your chance. In a short movie filled with all your classic Disney characters, Scrooge is almost an over the top cartoonish villain… almost. Disney still manages to dive deep into the heart of this story in less than half an hour, keeping the essence of the tale while telling it with that nostalgic Disney animation style. If you've ever watched any Disney movie or short, especially the classic ones, this is a blast to watch, even as a teen or an adult. Scrooge is hilarious to watch as he learns his lessons. It’s quite funny and very family friendly. The one thing I didn’t really like was the obviously computer added snow effects that went on top of the more classic animation. It didn’t ruin it for me, but it made it harder to watch. This animated film is available on Disney+ with a subscription.

Overall Score - 7/10

4 - Scrooged (1988)

This movie was by far the most interesting version of A Christmas Carol, simply because it was set in a different time period (1980’s New York City). It was the same basic story, but set through a different lens and it was just so fun for me to try and figure out what scenes went where. I kept having those sort of “Aha!” moments when I figured out where one scene from the normal Christmas Carol corresponded with the scene in Scrooged. That said, while I do think it is more fun to watch if you know the story of A Christmas Carol well, it’s also a pretty good stand alone movie. There’s also the added irony of Bill Murray’s character of Frank Cross producing a TV version of A Christmas Carol throughout the movie. This version is a little more mature than most of the other ones, and is definitely more PG-13, so I would be careful if watching it with younger siblings or kids. This movie is available on Amazon Prime Video with a subscription.

Overall Score - 8/10

3 - A Christmas Carol (1984)

George C. Scott’s performance may possibly be my favorite iteration of Ebenezer Scrooge. By the time I watched this movie, I had seen a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol, but none of them had a Scrooge like this. For some reason, every person who delivered the same lines taken straight out of the book, like “Then they should do so and decrease the surplus population,” says it in more or less the same way. Scott, by contrast, took the emphasis and moved it to different places, changing the way I saw the character. For me, the best part of this movie was his performance. The movie also did a really good job of establishing how evil he was in a way that I found simultaneously chilling and hilarious, and the filmmaking was quite intriguing and did a wonderful job of establishing an unsettling mood. This movie is available on Amazon Prime Video with a subscription.

Overall Score - 8/10

2 - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppets had made a movie, stopped jewel thieves, and taken Manhattan, but in 1992 they took on the greatest challenge of all - turning heartless Ebenezer Scrooge into a Christmas loving gentleman. This movie is so great because the Muppets take their effortless humor and place it side by side with the stunning performance by Michale Caine, ending up with a blend of Christmas spirit great for kids but still enthralling for adults. The songs that inevitably occur (because it’s the Muppets!) are well written and well produced, adding a touch of sentimental kindness at times or just the right amount of sadism, in the case of Scrooge. In addition, the story is told through the lens of not only Scrooge but also two Muppet narrators. This is a storytelling technique that excellently helps introduce the story to a younger audience who might not know the original story well. This movie is available on Disney+ with a subscription.

Overall Score - 9/10

1 - Scrooge (1970)

I loved this movie. So. Much. It’s a musical version where the songs fit and the actors can actually sing, and the tunes are so catchy and good. Additionally, it has parts I haven’t seen anywhere else. For example, during the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge actually goes to Hell. It’s a bit scary, but also it’s so cool to see them try and take the same recycled story in a new direction. It stars Albert Finney in the infamous role of Scrooge, and he does a wonderful job of delivering the classic lines of the character. Also, in the scene where Marley, played by the wonderful Alec Guiness, comes to warn Scrooge of the ghosts, the special effects and just the atmosphere of the scene are so good. This movie just has a way of revitalizing the same dry old scenes with new life, and that’s something that I instantly connected with. This movie is not available on any streaming services, but you can buy or rent it on Amazon Video or iTunes or rent it from your public library.

Overall Score - 9/10


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