Stop me if you’ve heard this before: there’s an old, miserly man named Ebenezer Scrooge, and despite the best efforts of his nephew Fred, he’s content to be miserable for the rest of his life. Others suffer around him — including his employee Bob Cratchit and his family, including Tiny Tim — but Scrooge doesn’t care. That is, until Christmas Eve night, when three ghosts help him visit Christmas past, present, and future. They remind him of the first girl he ever loved, Belle, who he let go because he was so obsessed with money. They tell him that if things continue as they are, Tiny Tim will die. And when Scrooge finally dies, too, people will celebrate in the streets. Scrooge, thinking he’s damned to hell, wakes up on Christmas morning full of life and ready to make up for his mistakes. Tiny Tim lives.
The story of “A Christmas Carol,” first told in Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella, has inspired artists for generations and become a Christmas classic. There have been dozens of Scrooge movies, ranging from lively musicals to chaotic modernizations, faithful dramas to Muppet-filled spectaculars. I set out to rank 10 major adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” and movies all about Scrooge, and the task ultimately made me reflect on why exactly people have been drawn to this story for so long. I mean, Scrooge sucks. That’s his whole thing. He’s a rich, white male capitalist who doesn’t care about anyone else. Why does he deserve redemption?
But once I really sat with that, I started to wonder: if Scrooge doesn’t deserve redeeming, do any of us? We might not be quite as bad as he is, but we all hurt each other and ourselves. We make mistakes. We choose the easy and convenient over the difficult and time consuming.
When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s reborn. “A Christmas Carol” then is a promise that we can always change our ways. We can always turn over a new leaf. We don’t have to keep living the way we’ve lived before. Scrooge has been through a lot of grief and loss. He’s lost his sister and the love of his life, and he can never go back and make things right with them. He cannot change his past but has to accept the pain and sorrow of it all and move forward to make tomorrow better. (This is part of why, as you’ll see, I don’t like adaptations that let Scrooge reconnect with his love interest, which I think dilutes the bittersweetness of the ending.)
Ahead is my ranking of 10 major “A Christmas Carol” movies all about Scrooge, including Apple TV+’s “Spirited” and Netflix’s new “Scrooge.” Some are very faithful, while others put major twists on the stories readers and viewers have come to know and love (I’ll add upfront that I am biased toward musicals).