The Best Adaptations of A Christmas Carol 

Ward off the bah humbugs with these amazing adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.

best christmas carol adaptations

When it comes to choosing the best A Christmas Carol adaptations, it’s a tricky time of year. Friendships are made and lost; families torn apart. Just kidding. It’s not that serious … right?

You know the story: A penny-pinching old miser gets a wakeup call–or three–from mysterious apparitions who visit him one Christmas Eve. It’s Charles Dickens’ novella classic A Christmas Carolwe all read it in grade school and have watched it come to life again and again on screens big and small. Here, we share the best A Christmas Carol adaptations. Fair warning: Silly puppets, vivacious musical numbers, and a curmudgeonly Bill Murray await.

A Christmas Carol (1938)

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  • Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Debating the best true film adaptation of Dickens’ yuletide tale can result in a war (of words). Some prefer the 1938 version written by Hugo Butler; others will fight to the death defending the more famous 1951 version, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Well, we’re going to include both on this list because, in my household, the two are a must-watch every Christmas! 

Although actor Reginald Owen gives a fantastic performance playing a believable grouchy, selfish Scrooge turned empathetic and charitable, the reason this version is notable in my opinion is the performance from Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit and Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim. In this version, Bob Cratchit is fired and forced to give a week’s compensation to Scrooge after an accidental snowball mishap. But he doesn’t let his misfortune caused by his callous boss get the better of him for long. Instead, he decides to run to the market to pick out a goose for his family’s Christmas feast, along with some freshly roasted chestnuts. 

The uninhibited joy with which his family greets him once he arrives home is incredibly endearing. Likewise, the young actor who plays Tiny Tim is adorable and makes it easy for the audience to understand why his family cherishes him—he brings a sense of Christmas cheer to the household despite his illness. Not to mention this Tiny Tim gives one of the best lines, I dare say in all the Christmas Carol adaptations, when he eagerly waits for his mother to carve the juicy Christmas goose and, enthusiastically, with small hands shaking in anticipation, says, “I’d like to stroke it!” Strange—but also so adorable! How can you not love this version? 

A Christmas Carol (1951)

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  • Photo Credit: George Minter Productions

One of the most beloved and well-known adaptations on this list, this 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge will have you chuckling and weeping throughout. Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge is lauded as one of the best and is viewed as one of the most satisfying redemption arcs. The talented actor realistically shows audiences how a man might act if he escaped a sad, lonely demise. Sim dances, sings, and even attempts to stand on his head—frightening his charwoman, Mrs. Dilber, so much that she screams while trying to flee down the stairs in a hilarious scene near the end of the film. 

This moment, in particular, will have you laughing aloud and getting teary-eyed the next, as Scrooge assures Mrs. Dilber he hasn’t gone mad and promises to give her a raise and the rest of the day off from work. Scrooge’s transformation from a cold, greedy man to a giddy, grateful and generous one is as heartwarming as it’s going to get. This one definitely needs to be a part of your Christmas movie marathon tradition.  

Scrooged (1988)

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  • Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Everyone loves a good sentimental holiday tearjerker. Well, this isn’t that. But you will need a towel to absorb those laugh-’til-you-cry tears that’ll fall upon viewing Scrooged. Good thing lead character Frank Cross is gifting them out by the barrelful in Richard Donner’s Carol-inspired comedy, which stars Bill Murray as Frank, the contemptuous jerk who changes his way one fantastical Christmas Eve.

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

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  • Photo Credit: Walt Disney Productions

If you’re looking for a version to share your love of A Christmas Carol with your kids, but maybe you don’t think they’ll be able to sit through the longer, more serious adaptations yet, you can opt for the shorter animated reimagining that features Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit. It spotlights some of your favorite Disney characters while staying true to the heartwarming tale. 

Let’s not forget the memorable Goofy as Jacob Marley, Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Willie the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Without giving too many details away, I’ll just say that the scene that introduces the shadowy, cigar-smoking Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come may have fueled my nightmares as a child, but it is still one of the most memorable and creative ways to represent the terrifying fate that awaits Scrooge McDuck if he fails to have a change of heart.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

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  • Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Rat infestation aside, we’re pretty sure Sir Dickens wouldn’t mind this musical reimagination starring Michael Caine and a bunch of puppets. In fact, he’d probably fall head over webbed feet for the amphibious Cratchits, the six-rodent caroling band singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and the blue-haired nutso with a crooked nose playing narrator—you might know him as Gonzo. We know we did.

Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)

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  • Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

So it’s animated, yes. But don’t be fooled by its kid-friendly package—this one gets a bit dark and actually has bouts of action that could rival any Bond film. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has a knack for finding the humanity in any subject, this version stars Jim Carrey as a crotchety old hunchbacked Scrooge and Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge (1970)

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  • Photo Credit: Cinema Center Films

This version is a musical film retelling whose songs brilliantly add to Albert Finney’s performance as Scrooge. Whether it’s the song Scrooge sings after refusing to offer money to those in need called “I Hate People” or the optimistic song after his transformation called “I’ll Begin Again,” the tunes bring a unique charm to the story that can only be found through the various slow, sweet melodies and catchy group numbers. 

Finney won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and the film was nominated for four Academy Award nominations, including for Best Original Song with the earworm “Thank You Very Much.”

A Christmas Carol (1971)

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  • Photo Credit: Richard Williams Productions

Clocking in at just 25 minutes, this exquisite short film manages to hit all four ghosts, stay true to Dickens’s original ghost-story tone, and even add a little whimsy all its own. Directed by Richard Williams, who animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Something that no Carol tale has ever done—or made-for-TV special for that matter. 

Plus, fans of the 1951 version will be pleased to know that Alastair Sim reprises his role as Scrooge and still gives audiences as stellar of a performance as he did 20 years prior.