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Ranking Movie Adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’ –– From Curmudgeonly Cynical to Christmas Crowd-Pleaser

Will the Four Films Make You Go “Bah Humbug!” or “God Bless us Everyone!”?
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Graphic by Tyler Kim
Though not included in this review, other adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” include “Scrooge” (1970), “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (1983) and “Barbie in a Christmas Carol” (2008).

Few literary works are as associated with the holiday season as Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, “A Christmas Carol.” Unsurprisingly, the 1843 novella has been adapted to the silver screen far more than just a few times, with over 100 versions, according to The Internet Movie Database. But while they may all share the centuries-old “Scrooge” archetype whose corrupt soul finds redemption by the final act, no two adaptations are the same. This article ranks four different adaptations from the 1980s to the 2020s from worst to best, providing a comprehensive guide for binge-watching during the holiday season.

“Scrooged” (1988)

Some movies are evident products of their times; “Scrooged” suffers this fate. This historic relic should be left in the 1980s alongside the Atari 5200 and Sony Walkman because unlike its source material, this Bill Murray flick has aged poorly. So poorly, in fact, one may argue that in today’s day and age even the antiquated Atari has the capacity to provide more entertainment than “Scrooged.” 

Whether it is the film’s overwhelmingly cynical mood, the seemingly inconsequential emotional beats or a climax involving a drunk ex-employee attempting to murder Murray’s television executive character in a violent shootout, this movie makes some bizarre choices that neither capture the essence of “A Christmas Carol” nor hold up very well for modern enjoyment. My sincere apologies to the Generation-X readers to whom this movie may carry nostalgia. 

“A Christmas Carol” (2009)

Remember that decade when studios tried to use motion capture suits to animate full-length films? No? Oh, how lucky you are! Look away now before Robert Zemeckis’ uncanny valley nightmare fuel of an animated film takes you back to the late aughts. 

“A Christmas Carol” may be the most direct adaptation of the source material on this list, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the best. A fantastic cast –– including the likes of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, among others –– is unfortunately reduced to terrifying Xbox 360-era animated figures. The art style in which these characters are rendered is reminiscent of melting wax sculptures crossed with a hint of sleep paralysis demon. If you are truly hell-bent on watching a motion capture Christmas film, watch Zemeckis’ “The Polar Express” instead. Or any other movie on this list below.

“Spirited” (2022)

The newest entry on this list is surprisingly decent! Christmas icon and Irvine legend Will Ferrell –– who made his Christmas film debut in the excellent “Elf” (2003) –– stars across Ryan Reynolds in this tap dancing, time traveling movie musical. Though the plot veers into camp territory and indulges in a less-than-necessary love subplot with Octavia Spencer, “Spirited” nonetheless puts a fresh spin on “A Christmas Carol.” 

But, the premise may be a bit too modern: the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) works for a corporation-like entity that salvages one dark soul a year, while Reynolds’ “Scrooge” is a media consultant attempting to spark a culture war over Christmas trees whilst bullying an 11-year-old. Some of the gags, most in the form of dated references in Deadpool-style quips, may not age too well. If you enjoy movie musicals and can stand self-deprecation, go ahead and watch! If that does not sound like you, avoid like the plague. 

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” Kermit the Frog famously asked in “Rainbow Connection” from the 1979 film “The Muppet Movie.” Maybe he should have asked why there are so many movies about “A Christmas Carol.” Either way, I do not mind at all because “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is hands down the best adaptation on this list. 

Touching, timeless and with heartfelt humor, the Muppets faithfully retell the classic Dickens tale. Michael Caine gives a phenomenal performance as the miserly Scrooge, giving his absolute all –– a remarkable feat considering his costars are all puppets. All the songs are timed perfectly, never overstaying their welcome –– quite rare for a family-friendly movie musical. Admittedly, the film may not be perfect, but it is pretty darn close. If you had to choose only one film on this list to warm the heart of a curmudgeon, there would be no better choice than “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”

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About the Contributor
Tyler Kim, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Tyler Kim is an Editor-in-Chief for his third and final year writing for the Portola Pilot. Besides the production's monthly spreadsheet, you'll be sure to find in his tabs a seemingly random Wikipedia page filled with purple links, far too many podcast subscriptions on Spotify and numerous second-draft comments where he advises writers that their diction may not be the mot juste. If you wish to pique his interest mention a Wes Anderson film, Aaron Sorkin show, Pax Romana or the New Yorker crossword (unless it's a Monday).
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