A Christmas Carol Films Ranked

“Marley was dead: to begin with”. As Rizzo the Rat might say, spoiler alert! 

In December 1843, Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” (unnecessary full title: “A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas”) and it was a hit. Each edition published quickly sold out and prompted Dickens himself to undertake hugely popular public readings during Yuletide in the following years right up until his death in 1870. An inevitable staple of the leadup to Christmas, Dickens’ timeless story has become one of the most frequently adapted titles for stage and screen in the English language.

This is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cruel, miserly and solitary businessman who despises charity, human warmth and empathy shown to others, especially during the festive season. To Scrooge, Christmas is “a humbug” and those who keep it and make merry, such as his impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit and kindly nephew Fred, are merely deluding themselves and others of the notion that we are kindly by nature. Following his usual 24th December dismissal of cheer and goodwill, Scrooge is visited the night before Christmas by three ghosts offering visions of his his past, present and future, and in so doing inspire lasting change in his outlook on life and his treatment of others.

If we considered every film, television special, miniseries and animation, we wouldn’t be done in time even for next Christmas, so we’ve limited our selection in this edition of Ranked to the most prominent film adaptations released theatrically. Based on creativity of the adaptation, critical reception and how each version evokes the spirit (pun intended) and message of Dickens’ work, this is The Film Magazine’s A Christmas Carol Films Ranked.

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9. Spirited (2022)

The second prominent contemporary reimagining of Charles Dickens’ supernatural fable appeared 34 years after Scrooged and is pretty shy on everything that appealed about Richard Donner’s film.

Advertising hotshot Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) is the latest target for the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) to save from themselves, despite his soul being branded “irredeemable”.

If you’re going to quip about “all the other adaptations nobody asked for” in your film, you’ve really got to make sure yours delivers on its own terms. Spirited doesn’t.

New elements introduced in this version include the reason that the towering, hooded Christmas Yet to Come (voiced sporadically by Tracy Morgan) doesn’t talk is because he gets stage fright whenever it’s his line, and Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) has sex with the Scrooge stand-in because “it’s been a while” for her. Ha-ha.

“Now you’re going full Dickens on me?” Spirited ineffectually folds the Dickens story back in on itself and adds an unnecessary extra plot twist to it to stave off the boredom.

It’s also an original musical, for better and worse. You get one funny song (the so-bad-it’s-good bad cockney-accented Victorian musical number “Good Afternoon”) and one lovely one (a tender duet between Present and Octavia Spencer’s Kimberly, “The View from Here”), but generally the music sucks. At least the dance numbers are pretty energetic.

Spirited just doesn’t work on any compelling level, smothering the natural charisma of its two stars and Octavia Spencer, and dragging on its runtime to an annoying degree with witless humour and mostly lacklustre musicality.

8. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (2022)

Netflix’s animated version of A Christmas Carol is actually a loose remake of the 1970 Albert Finney musical Scrooge, but this time starring an actor who can actually sing.

Jacob Marley’s wintry entrance scene and ominous warning to Scrooge is well done and easily the most imaginative sequence in the film, but all too often the visuals (particularly how the human characters are realised) seem more good-enough kids TV quality or overwhelmed by too many admittedly impressive environmental effects.

There are a couple of decent one-liners here, like Scrooge puzzling over the reality of his situation with “My dreams are never this… exciting” and commenting in surprise to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come “You don’t speak? Your colleagues are really rather fond of speaking”.

The ghosts all receive pretty creative re-designs, with Marley (Jonathan Pryce) looking like a creature from Elsa’s ice palace in Frozen, Christmas Past (Olivia Colman) portrayed carrying a candle made entirely of wax, and Christmas Present (Trevor Dion Nicholas) looking and acting like Santa if he appeared as a guest on ‘Drag Race’.

Everyone knows Luke Evans can belt out showtunes in his sleep, and he equips himself admirably here, especially in a nice duet with Jesse Buckley, even if you’d struggle to hum along to many of these songs by the time the credits roll (except the two best ones lifted from the Finney film, “I Like Life” and “Thank You Very Much”).

The voice talent filling out the ensemble is impressive and little ones will probably quite like it because it’s colourful, not too scary and there’s a bit where a dog farts on Scrooge’s face. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol is just about passable, but you will want to watch a more inspired version of this timeless story in short order.

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