A Christmas Carol Films Ranked

5. A Christmas Carol (2009)

Robert Zemeckis followed his strange, uncanny motion capture animated The Polar Express with his strange, uncanny motion capture animated Beowulf and then finally this strange, uncanny motion capture animated A Christmas Carol. It’s easily the most successful of the experiments and allows Jim Carrey unprecedented freedom of performance playing as he does not only Scrooge but all three visiting ghosts.

Carrey and Zemeckis play homage primarily to the 1951 Alistair Sim film in how Scrooge sounds and behaves, also in the look of his Spartan house. Motion capture technology allows Carrey’s performance to drive completely different physical bodies as the ghosts, the rest of the cast inhabiting slightly more cartoony versions of themselves, Colin Firth and Robin Wright looking pretty much like they normally do but Gary Oldman made shorter and more caricatured to better embody Bob Cratchit as Dickens described him. 

Despite a late action scene to show off the state-of-the-art technology being employed, this is a very faithful adaptation of Dickens’ work and is one of the few (along with the 1951 film) to feature the Ghost of Christmas Present hiding two wizened urchins representing humanity’s want and ignorance below his robe. 

It might be the least jarring of Zemeckis’ motion capture films, but it still passes through the uncanny valley on too regular a basis to truly get swept up in this story, presented to us like a fairground ride, enjoyable as the overall experience might be.

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4. Scrooge (1970)

The lesser of the two musical Dickens adaptations on this list, partly because it was unfortunate to be released two years after the excellent Oliver! (even reusing some of its sets) but mostly because what sort of colourful and feelgood romp could compete with the Muppets?

The production design is incredible here, making the most of the biggest spaces and best craftsmen available at Shepperton Studios in recreating Victorian London in the dead of winter, and this version leans more into the humorous aspects of the book than many as well.

Performance-wise look out for Albert Finney entertainingly chewing scenery in the title role, acting the songs to within an inch of their lives to make up for the fact that he can’t really sing. We also have David Colling as a particularly chirpy Bob Cratchit (who actually can sing), Alec Guinness as a camp, mocking Marley, and Kenneth More as the snarkiest Ghost of Christmas Present ever put to film. 

There are some weird storytelling decisions here though; Scrooge’s nephew (Michael Medwin) is renamed Harry instead of Fred for some reason and Scrooge himself briefly ends up in hell after his Christmas Yet to Come vision in the final act, before dressing as Santa to lead a procession carrying toys to the Cratchit house when he returns to the world of the living.

If we’re being brutally honest, for a musical it just doesn’t have many memorable tunes (the mercilessly ear-wormy “Thank You Very Much” aside), but they’re all mounted handsomely and performed with gusto.

3. Scrooge (1935)

A wonderfully theatrical Seymour Hicks reprises the titular role from the stage and an earlier 1913 British adaptation in this, the first sound version of “A Christmas Carol” on film, and the earliest surviving feature. He’s properly nasty to Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) for having the temerity to try and stave off frostbite with an extra lump of coal on the dying fire before his unexpected night time spiritual odyssey.

This film looks absolutely wonderful in a moody, expressionist sort of way, the high-contrast shadows, thoughtful set design and innovative low-key effects even looking pretty good in the colourised version that’s the easiest to get hold of today.

Some of the novella’s characters and events (Fezziwig and most of Scrooge’s early years) are hurried past or omitted but all the most important scenes and elements of the story are present and correct.

Especially memorable is this version is the particularly creepy scene of Scrooge conversing with the unseen – but heard in voice and rattling chains – ghost of Marley (an uncredited Claude Rains), and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appearing as a pointedly gesturing shadow. It’s a striking visual having Scrooge peer out of his own sleeping silhouette at his non-existent future, and the scene with beggars haggling with a sinister fence in a dark alleyway for Scrooge’s bedclothes and shirt has never been more disturbing.

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