Nothing New Under the Mistletoe - 40 Versions of "A Christmas Carol" You Should Check Out
When it comes to Christmas stories, there is nothing new under the mistletoe. Year after year after year, we are bombarded with tales of respect for humankind, family togetherness, redemption, and miraculous snowstorms that move in at 11:59:59 on Christmas Eve. (In fact, Hallmark Channel is airing 40 NEW Christmas movies this year!) It’s as much a part of 21st Century Christmas in the United States as online shopping and blow-up lawn Santas.
Aside from the ORIGINAL Christmas story (you know, with the baby Jesus and all), there is one story, in particular, that started it all and provided the structure for what we recognize as a "Christmas story." A Christmas Carol, first published serially by Charles Dickens on December 19, 1843, is the basis for most of the Christmas stories we consume, but it has also generated hundreds of its own iterations.
You know the plot. Ebenezer Scrooge: rich, old, and greedy, gets a visit from the ghost of his dead business partner, Marley. Marley tells Scrooge to get his shit together, or else Scrooge will be doomed to wander eternity weighed down with chains. Scrooge tells Marley to get fucked and he goes to bed. During the night, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Each spirit shows Scrooge what a failure he has become at life. By dawn, the old man has a complete change of heart and buys all of London new iPads. (Ok, the last part I made up to see if you were still reading.)
Every year, the story comes back to haunt us, sometimes as a faithful retelling, but just as often as a derivative version…And I am here for ALL OF IT. I don’t care if it's about puppets or ponies or figgy pudding, I will watch or read [almost] any retelling of this staid old fable. So, I thought it would be fun to try to find as many versions as I could and put them into this article.
I spent a few hours just writing down all the versions I know, but as soon as I sat down to Google the details, I discovered Wikipedia already has an exhaustive list published. (Of course…) And the list is even more insane than I could have imagined. According to the article Adaptations of A Christmas Carol on Wikipedia, there are 347 adaptations of the story. 347!!!! Those adaptations include, theater production, operas, ballets, movies, musicals, animated features, television specials, radio programs, episodes of popular animated and live action TV shows, graphic novels, and even a video game! I had no idea there were so many versions!
So I culled the list, plus added a few that didn't appear in the article. Thus I present to you, 40 versions of A Christmas Carol I either knew of or have seen, plus a few outliers that seemed interesting or entertaining. They are mostly in chronological order from 1853 (the first performance after the publication of the book) to 2020. I have put an asterisk on all the versions I’ve seen.
- The first public performance of the story was on December 27, 1853 by Charles Dickens himself at his first public reading at Birmingham Town Hall. He performed the story many times over the years, adapting the story in a listening piece. In many later versions—even the The Muppet Christmas Carol—an actor will play the part of Charles Dickens telling the audience the story. This meta story telling style derives from Dickens having performed the story himself many times during his lifetime.
- *Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901) is a 6 minute film from the U.K. It the first known screen adaptation of the Dickens story. Click the link to the Wikipedia article and you can watch the whole thing. Pretty cool!
- On December 25, 1934, Lionel Barrymore starred as Scrooge in a dramatic reading of the story that aired on CBS Radio Network. Barrymore played the part of Scrooge every year on different radio stations for the next 19 years. You can listen to the 1939 broadcast here.
- From December 24, 1973 until 1987, WNBC-AM in New York City broadcast an adaption of A Christmas Carol. Well-known DJ Don Imus played Scrooge. The other parts were played by equally well-known on-air talents such as Wolfman Jack (as the Ghost of Christmas Present) and Murray the K as Bob Cratchit. You can listen to the broadcast from 12/24/1975 here.
- Leyenda de Navidad (1947) is a Spanish adaptation starring Jesús Tordesillas Fernandez as William Scrooge. Apparently, Tordesillas appeared in 94 films in his lifetime, in case you needed another reason to feel insecure about your own career!
- Sanford and Son (1975); in the episode "Ebenezer Sanford", Fred gets a ghostly wake-up call in this spoof of A Christmas Carol.
- *The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), an animated made-for-TV musical produced by Rankin-Bass, which is THE provider of stop-motion animation classics like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. He is also responsible for the awesome Yeti/Abominable Snowmonster which was the stuff of my nightmares when I was a little kid. In the 1956 live-action television musical, Walter Matthau was the voice of Scrooge, and Scrooge was created to look like Walter Matthau.
- *Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), an animated featurette film featuring the various Walt Disney characters with Scrooge McDuck playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, Goofy as Jacob Marley, and Donald Duck as Fred.
- *A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott as Scrooge and David Warner as Bob Cratchet. There is still a replica tombstone from the 1984 adaptation, still in situ at St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury.
- The Real Ghostbusters (1986) (the animated series) In the episode "X-Mas Marks the Spot" the animated Ghostbusters travel back in time to 1837 England. They meet Scrooge, although they don’t know who he is. They accidentally bust all three Christmas ghosts. Apparently, they find out that Peter Venkman (the character played by Bill Murray in the live action movies) actually had a childhood similar to Scrooge’s childhood. So was that actually a tie-in to the 1988 movie Scrooged…?
- *Scrooged (1988), a modern retelling that follows Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a cynical and selfish television executive who produces a live Christmas Eve show. The film also stars Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard and Alfre Woodard.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), a musical film featuring The Muppets, beloved puppet actors from the creative mind of the late Jim Henson. The live action movie mixes well known Jim Henson puppet characters like Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog with real actors, like Michael Caine, who plays Scrooge. Gonzo, the puppet, plays Dickens who narrates the story. The story follows the original plot, but has bits here and there of Henson-style humor. If you are a millennial, you can probably mark your childhood around this movie.
- A Christmas Carol (1993 to the present), a one-man show of the work performed by Gerald Charles Dickens, great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, in which he plays 26 characters. Gerald Charles Dickens other claim to fame is that he won in an episode of the The Weakest Link (UK edition) in 2004, when he went up against other family members of famous people.
- *Northern Exposure (1994); In the episode "Shofar, So Good" which aired on October 3, 1994, Dr. Joel Fleischman learns the meaning of Yom Kippur from Rabbi Shulman and gets visited by the ghosts of Yom Kippur Past, Present, and Future.
- Beavis and Butt-head, (1995) "Huh-Huh-Humbug", an episode with Beavis as Scrooge. In this episode, Beavis is transported 25 years into the future where in the year 2020, he witnesses an entire world go crazy buying TP for their bungholes. A truly prophetic episode. (Ha. Actually, Beavis gets in trouble for cooking a mouse at work. At home, he falls asleep watching porn and has a dream in which he is a manager at a fast food restaurant who gets a visit from three ghosts.)
- Ebbie (1995) was a Lifetime network, made-for-tv movie that had the first female portrayal of Scrooge. Susan Lucci is Elizabeth "Ebbie" Scrooge, owner of a huge department store. The cruel store owner decides to make her employees work on Christmas, until she is visited by three Christmas spirits, played by her own store employees. (Fact is, I played a female Scrooge in my fifth grade’s production of A Christmas Carol in 1992. So yeah, I beat ya to it, Ms. Lucci! I also played the Charwoman, and I hammed that up like you’ve never seen. My horrific version of a Cockney accent should have been recorded for history—but alas my parents didn’t yet own a video camera in 1992. So you will just have to take my word for it.)
- Ms. Scrooge (1997) is a made-for-tv movies on the USA network. It stars Cicely Tyson as "Ebenita Scrooge.” (You can’t make this stuff up…) Ms. Scrooge is the the managing director of a loan company, and Katherine Helmond is her deceased business partner Maude Marley. The movie follows the standard three ghosts format, but the story is set in Providence, RI instead of London, and takes place is the modern world.
- *The Game (1997) is a Michael Douglas thriller that is not an outright adaptation of the Dickens story, and it doesn’t appear in the list on Wikipedia—but I recently watched this moive and the first thing I thought of was Scrooge. Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a rich, jaded, asshole business type who puts work over everything and even opens the movie by firing a long-time employee whose publishing company has become unprofitable (i.e. the Bob Cratchit of the movie.) Then while eating a sad little meal in his big empty house, the news anchor on tv starts talking to him and tells him to expect a series of tests as part of a game (Marley). The game is supposedly orchestrated by Van Orten’s brother, played by Sean Penn (Scrooge’s nephew). The game is series of tests in which the main character is buried alive in Mexico (a la the Ghost of Christmas Future). I won’t completely ruin the movie for you if you haven’t seen it, but if you have—tell me, do you see what I see??
- *A Christmas Carol (1999), this television movie aired on TNT and stars Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge. Apparently, Stewart previously performed a one-man stage adaptation of the story and that was used as the basis for this rendition. Per Wikipedia, this was the first version of the story to make use of digital special effects. Stewart was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance, which, like, is DUH.
- *A Diva's Christmas Carol (2000), this is a made-for-tv movie that premiered on VH1, and now plays on Lifetime Network. In this version, Vanessa Williams is "Ebony" Scrooge, a grouchy, greedy, aloof singer who was once part of an 80's era pop group called "Desire."
- *The Simpsons (2003) "'Tis the Fifteenth Season" After watching Mr. McGrew's Christmas Carol and buying himself an expensive present, Homer decides to change his ways and transform into Mr. Nice Guy. So nice, in fact, he even makes Ned Flanders jealous.
- Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!, (2005) is a kid’s book written by Esme Raji Codell and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. In this version, a rich but mean old man named Scroogemacher changes his greedy ways after the spirits of three rabbis visit him. Each rabbi brings him to a different era of Jewish history to teach him that it is good to remember the past.
- *American Dad! (2006) in the episode "The Best Christmas Story Never Told", main character, Stan Smith, is mad about Christmas becoming politically correct—he hates hearing people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The Ghost of Christmas Past comes to help Stan, but instead he forces the ghost to take him back to 1970 so he can kill Jane Fonda, who he blames for liberalism.
- A Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006), a direct to DVD special featuring Oscar the Grouch in the Scrooge role, of course. It’s pretty typical Sesame Street fare, but fun if you have little kids.
- A Klingon Christmas Carol (written c. 2006) is a play performed from 2007-2010 by a theater company in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is set in the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS from the Star Trek universe. The play is performed entirely in Klingon but with English subtitles. So yeah, sounds cool, if you are into that sort of thing.
- Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009). I did NOT know this (rather terrible) romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey was supposed to be a variation of the Scrooge story until I was researching for this article. I can’t remember, actually, if I’ve seen the movie or not, but if I have, I would probably deny it. In this garbage movie, McConaughey is a womanizer at a wedding who gets visited by the ghosts (are they DEAD???) of the woman he has wronged?? Or something. Honestly, I couldn’t even get through the plot synopsis of this movie. I admit, this is ONE version of A Christmas Carol I will give a hard pass.
- Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010) – this special Christmas episode of Doctor Who uses elements from Dickens' story. The Doctor tries to help the crew of a ship by convincing the miserly man who controls it to change his ways.
- Batman: Noël (2011), is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo. In this version, Batman meets up with the villains of his past. Typical Batman characters like the Joker and Robin play parts from the Dickens story. If you really love Batman, then you might get a kick out of this.
- Zombies Christmas Carol (2011), an adaptation of the original story by Marvel Comics in which zombies come to visit Scrooge instead of spirits. If Scrooge doesn’t change his ways, the world may turn into a zombie apocalypse.
- Epic Rap Battles of History (2013). This YouTube series focuses on pitting well-known historical figures, modern day celebrities, and fictional characters against each other in fictional debates performed as raps. On December 19, 2013, they aired "Donald Trump vs. Ebenezer Scrooge" in which Ebenezer Scrooge battles Jacob Marley (represented by Donald Trump), The Ghost of Christmas Past (represented by J.P. Morgan), The Ghost of Christmas Present (represented by Kanye West), and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which is just a guy in a skull mask and black, hooded robe—you know, Grim Reaper style.
- All American Christmas Carol (2013), A white-trash mom, Cindy Wegman, is a drunken mess until the ghost of one of her kids’ dads comes to visit her and warn her that she has to change. She is visited by three ghosts who encourage her to change her trashy ways. This movie stars Taryn Manning, Beverly D'Angelo, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Meat Loaf. Um….okay.
- On December 18, 2015, Kathleen Turner starred as "Scrooge" in a live radio performance of A Christmas Carol. A recording of the performance was broadcast on WNYC on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that same year.
- *Thomas & Friends (2016), in Season 19, episodes 19 and 20 "Diesel's Ghostly Christmas Parts 1-2" feature the ever-grumpy, sometimes evil, Diesel train in a Scroogelike adventure.
- *My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic includes a 2016 episode, A Hearth's Warming Tail , which riffs off the Dickens story by putting the story is the Pony universe on the eve of Hearth’s Warming, the Jesus-less, pony version of Christmas. Primary MLP character, Twilight Sparkle, tells Starlight Glimmer a story. In in, Scrooge/Snowfall Frost (portrayed by Starlight Glimmer) gets a visit from some equine spirits. I have seen this version many times with my kids, and it’s just full of pony puns and songs. It’s actually quite enjoyable, the first 100 times, anyway.
- *Family Guy (2017) in Season 16, episode 9 "Don't Be A Dickens at Christmas" Peter, ever a jerk, is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who take him on a journey around Quahog to try to get him to be a better person.
- *The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), this oh-so-meta movie is about how Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens—of Downton Abbey fame—came up with the story that became A Christmas Carol. In the movie, the character of Dickens is visited by the characters that end up in his story. The movie is a little bit about how a story was written that became an instant classic in its time, a little bit how eccentric—and sometimes VERY unlikable—the real Dickens could be, and a little bit about how the story influenced how Christmas came to be celebrated, in a very capitalistic sense. It’s definitely the Cliff Notes version of the real story.
- *A Christmas Carol (2019), a BBC mini-series (broadcast in the U.S. on FX) written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. Guy Pearce plays Scrooge, Stephen Graham as Jacob Marley, Taylor Swift’s main squeeze, Joe Alwyn, is Bob Cratchit.
- An Actors Carol (2019) is a comedic adaptation by Charles Evered which tells the story of an actor, named Hugh Pendleton, who has played the part of Scrooge too many times. During the play, Pendleton is visited by the spirits of other actors. Fun fact about Everend is that he used to write for one of my favorite sitcoms—Monk, which starred Tony Shaloub. Detective Monk is definitely a Scrooge-like character. He is a miser, occasionally visited by ghosts, and always working toward being a better person.
- Dolly Parton's Smokey Mountain Christmas Carol (2019) is set during the 1930s in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Ebenezer Scrooge is the greedy owner of a mining company town who, you guessed it, gets visited by a few ghosts before he has a change of heart. Performed for the first time last year at Boston's Emerson Colonial Theatre. If Dolly Parton can’t warm your cold, cold heart, then you are a lost cause.
- A Christmas Carol (2020), a film adaptation by David and Jacqui Morris. A grandmother narrates the story to her children as the children prepare a toy theatre for their annual performance of A Christmas Carol. The movie enters the imagination of the young girl in the family, and the cardboard stage transforms to reveal a magical world. I have yet to see this version since, apparently, it’s only playing in theaters in the U.K and Ireland. (Really, people? There’s a pandemic out there….) but I’m not surprised there is yet another new version. The cast includes Siân Phillips, Carey Mulligan, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, and Martin Freeman.
Not counted in this list are the hundreds of stage versions put on by theater companies every year. These performances are generally faithful to the original story, though, no doubt, full creative license taken by the directors and actors of those productions. Also not counted are the thousands of references made to the Dickens story that appear in other stories.
In fact, it was while I was watching old episodes of Reno 911! that I had the idea to write this article. In Season 5 episode 15, Lt. Dangle dresses up as the Ghost of Drunk Driving in order to scare teenagers straight by telling them drunk drivers go to hell. He’s dressed in a white body suit with chains and beer cars all over him and a sash tied under his chin, Jacob Marley style. This is just an allusion—a fucking hilarious allusion—to the story, not a retelling. So while that version doesn't count, it's still yet another way in which Charles Dickens story appears everywhere.
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