When it comes to choosing the best 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’s novella classic A Christmas Carol—we 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 Christmas Carol adaptations. Fair warning: Silly puppets, looney tunes, and a curmudgeonly Bill Murray await.
Debating the best true film adaptation of Dickens’s 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 battle for the former. Why? Because it’s the version our seventh-grade teacher introduced us to. And it still has an unbelievable 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes today.
Related: 10 Christmas Novels for Scrooges
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.
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.
Though Zack Morris, the lead heartthrob of the 90s teen-com, shuffles through an array of ugly sweaters throughout the series’ six seasons, the only time those gnarly woolens ever really make sense is in this two-part Christmas special, during which the crew, plus one homeless blonde beauty, act out, or rather straight-up butcher, the Dickens classic in a play put on in the mall. Watching it on Netflix should be your next holiday tradition.
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.
Before the train leaves animation station, we have to go ahead and throw in three of the best nostalgic cartoon versions of Dickens’s tale of redemption. They’re all available online, and though combined they don’t take but an hour to get through, the amount of nostalgia they deliver is infinite. Plus, Scrooge McDuck, Yosemite Sam, and Cosmo Spacely are some of the best Scrooges to ever spoof such a tale.
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.