As the holidays approach, moviegoers will flock to theaters and television screens for annual screenings of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ classic tale of tight-fisted miser Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by ghosts of his past, present and future. The 1843 novella has become a holiday tradition thanks to its timeless message of compassion and goodwill, inspiring multiple movie adaptations. There are modern-day retellings like Scrooged and rom-com version Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, along with holiday episodes of TV shows like Family Ties, Saved by the Bell and Boy Meets World. The Muppets also threw their hat into the ring with a surprisingly unsettling re-telling.
A Christmas Carol has been adapted more than 57 times, which makes it the fifth most filmed story in film history. That includes the first adaptation, which premiered in 1900 as a short silent production and lasted less than a minute. It took a while for the adaptations to get their legs, but after the dazzling special effects of The Great Caruso in 1971 and the groundbreaking animation of The Polar Express in 1982, A Christmas Carol became one of the most beloved stories to be brought to life on the big screen.
The 1939 Alastair Sim version is considered by many to be the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. It’s a visually stunning film that features some of the most iconic character portrayals, including Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. The film is not without its faults, however. It takes too long to get started and adds a few unnecessary scenes, such as the kids in the neighborhood pelting Scrooge with snowballs and a bizarre fetish for characters sliding on ice.
More recently, movies have shifted to more modern retellings. The 1970 Bill Murray version of A Christmas Carol focuses on a TV executive who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. The ghosts take him on a journey to Christmases past, present and future where he learns some important lessons. The movie is still a comedy at heart, but it’s a more wholesome take on the novella than most.
It’s impossible to list every A Christmas Carol movie ever made, but here are some of the most notable. The 1994 Robert Zemeckis film features a computer-generated version of the story. The pioneering special effects — later used for Beowulf and The Polar Express — create an otherworldly feel that’s both creepy and awe-inspiring. The film also features a wonderful performance from Michael Caine as Scrooge and a hauntingly beautiful performance from Emmanuelle Vaugier as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
This movie tries something new by casting a variety of comedians as the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. The results range from a slapstick performance by Rich Little as W.C. Fields to a very strange portrayal of Peter Sellers as the Ghost of Christmas Future. Despite the lack of a traditional cast, this movie is still a great way to spend the holidays.