A Christmas Carol is one of the longest-running and most adapted tales of all time. More than 170 years after it was published, Dickens tale of a greedy miser eventually finding redemption through the help of ghosts has remained a Christmas classic thanks in no small part to the insane number of adaptations it’s inspired. There’s musicals, stage plays, cartoons, episodes of television, and even one man shows. Some have Muppets and some gender flip the lead. Even if you don’t like the story, due to the amount of versions out there, odds are, there’s at least one for you. With all those versions, come a helluva lot of Scrooges, so whittling it down to fifteen was a herculean task. So with the help of Romona Comet, I complied a list of the best of the best.
These are The Fifteen Greatest Scrooges Of All Time.
15. Seymour Hicks | Scrooge (1938)
Having played Scrooge on stage and in one of the very first adaptations of the story, Hicks was synonymous with the role long before talkies came around but what worked in those mediums didn’t translate to sound. Since the ghosts aren’t represented at all (weird choice, I know), Hicks has to sell the fact that he’s talking to things we can’t see, so his performance comes across as a bit hammy in the physical department but when it’s just him counting money or muttering bah humbug to himself, he’s rather good. It’s theatrical through and through but the melancholy and loneliness of his life still manage to shine through.
14. Tim Curry | A Christmas Carol (1997)
Few actors have as strong a collection of villains in their filmography as Curry. From the camp to the creepy, he’s nailed every facet of evil, which would make him a no brainer for Scrooge on paper but for some reason, it never fully comes together. If he was cast in a live action adaptation, I suspect it would’ve worked. Curry has one of the all time great voices in Hollywood but when you take away his emotive eyes and wild gesticulations, you’re losing a lot of what makes him great. He still gives a solid vocal performance, I just can’t help but wonder how great he could’ve been with all his tools at his disposal.
13. Vanessa Williams | A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)
Oh, what would the holidays be without A Diva’s Christmas Carol? I’m not going to lie to you, I am not a huge fan of this movie. It’s campy as all get out and it also stars Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past… but… it’s worth watching. Why? Because Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a pop star who hates Christmas and is a real PITA. Williams plays up the camp to her advantage and gives a new meaning to the word diva. She is truly an awful, awful person and it takes an unflattering episode of VH1’s Behind the Music (remember those!?) for Ebony to finally see the error of her ways. Williams would go on to star on Ugly Betty as the conceited, self-absorbed Wilhelmina Slater, someone who could have quite possibly been Ebony’s sister. She is truly the best thing about A Diva’s Christmas Carol and an extremely underrated “Ebenezer Scrooge”.
12. Basil Rathbone | The Stingiest Man in Town episode of The Alcoa Hour (1956)
The most obscure performance on this list Rathbone (famous for playing Sherlock Holmes), portrayed Scrooge on an episode of The Alcoa Hour called The Stingiest Man in Town which was later adapted into an animated special voiced by Walter Matthau. I almost cheated and put both in this entry because I know the latter is far more well known but as good as Matthau is at playing a crum-bum, Rathbone gets the edge. He’s not as mean or contemptuous or miserly as other performances but since he has to sing damn near all of his lines, I think he’s afforded some slack. He may not have the name recognition of some bigger actors that have played Scrooge like a Kelsey Grammer or a Henry Winkler or a Cicely Tyson but he’s consistently good throughout and when he has his big transformation scene — complete with a song to mark the occasion — you really buy it.
11. Albert Finney | Scrooge (1970)
Musical versions of A Christmas Carol are hit or miss, with this one being the most divisive. You either love it and think it’s one of the best or are put off by it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I originally wanted to put this below the Vanessa Williams one, a version I guarantee none of you have seen, so that should tell where I land on it. I think Finney is an exceptional actor but he’s miscast here. He gets points for pulling double duty by playing the younger and older versions of himself but since the older make up is negligible, the effect doesn’t work. Knowing this, he tries to overcompensate by hunching his back and doing a lot of facial contortions, that end up looking more like Little Nicky than a sad old man. It’s a distracting performance but he does sell the third act redemption as good as any other actor, so there are some highpoints as well.
10. Patrick Stewart | A Christmas Carol (1999)
While not my favorite performance of Scrooge, I do believe the 1999 tv movie starring Jean Luc Picard as Ebenezer is probably the most faithful to the source material. Patrick Stewart perfects arrogance in this adaptation and I enjoy watching his transformation from a fearsome miser to a man redeemed. Stewart manages to reflect so much in his expression alone that you can see when the emotional journey begins to take its toll. The downside is that while I like that we see a different side of Scrooge, it also felt like maybe Stewart wanted so badly to put an original spin on the story that it ended up hampering him and there are times it came across as awkward – for lack of a better term. Even so, despite those quibbles, Stewart’s Scrooge is still miles above some of the other variations we’ve gotten on the character, so I am happy to keep him on this list.
09. Jim Carrey | A Christmas Carol (2009)
It took me a while to figure out how I felt about Jim Carrey playing such an iconic character. For me, at least in terms of Christmas movies, Carrey was the Grinch. Hilarious on one hand, but also… a bit too much at the same time. I was afraid he would overdo it as Scrooge, make the old miser so silly that we end up laughing at him instead of fearing him. Thankfully I was somewhat impressed after watching Disney’s 2009 computer-animated adaptation. The animation itself, why still not perfect, was miles away better than director Robert Zemeckis’s first go at it with The Polar Express in 2004. Carrey does add a bit of humor to the role, but he keeps it reined in and manages to keep Scrooge’s cold-heartedness intact. The movie itself has quite a few flaws, and Carrey’s accent can be a bit distracting at times, but its a pretty fine performance all things considered.
08. Scrooge McDuck | Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
One of the very first adaptations of A Christmas Carol that I ever saw, I remember thinking A Mickey’s Christmas Carol was so long. As a young child wanting desperately to go to bed on Christmas Eve, a 26-minute cartoon felt like a lifetime. But, I also have to credit this animated special for starting my love of A Christmas Carol. A lot of the adoration began with Scrooge McDuck playing Ebenezer Scrooge himself. A miserable old miser, Scrooge slams the counting-house door in the face of his nephew (Donald!), forecloses on a honeymoon cottage owned by his then fiancé, and makes his clerk, Bob Cratchit do his laundry for a ha’penny. He’s terrible, just terrible! But he’s also quick to reform once the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future appear to whip him into shape (it is only 26 minutes, mind you). I still don’t know why they named this A Mickey’s Christmas Carol (fine, name recognition, I get it) because the real star here is Scrooge McDuck!
07. Guy Pearce | A Christmas Carol (2019)
Darker than coal and meaner than a bag of snakes, Knight’s reimagining of the Dickens story isn’t for everyone but even its detractors must admit it at least brings something new to the Christmas table. Focusing more on the abuse young Scrooge suffered through that helped shape his cynical worldview, the miniseries is a little lopsided in the retelling of the tale. It focuses a bit too much on the past and gives short shrift to the redemptive arc. Pearce doesn’t run down the street in joy nor does he do any dancing at the end. I understand that wouldn’t exactly work with its bleak tone but without it, the viewer is robbed the satisfaction of watching a miserable man find his humanity. If it had that missing piece, this would be a strong contender for the top five because everything else about it, Pearce included, is amazing.
06. Quincy Magoo | Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
There have been numerous animated versions of the tale, with many iconic actors and characters taking up the mantle of Scrooge. The previously mentioned Tim Curry and Jim Carrey both brought their individual strengths to the role, while Fred Flintstone, Yosemite Sam and Scrooge McDuck were a delight for fans of those characters but for my money, the best animated version (not including Sim) is Magoo. I know, I know Scrooge McDuck is literally named after the old curmudgeon and is perfect for the role but pop them nostalgia glasses off and you’ll see I’m right. Framed as a play where Magoo is playing Scrooge, the TV Christmas special takes full advantage of that premise and crafts jokes around it. Granted, a lot of those jokes involve the near sighted Magoo knocking over pieces of the set or similar such mishaps but it’s an idea that’s still being used today. In addition to that, the always reliable Jim Backus is great and the songs aren’t bad.
05. Reginald Owen | A Christmas Carol (1938)
One of the rare adaptations that explores the lives of some of the tale’s supporting characters a bit more and does so in a way that casts light on Scrooge’s character, or lack thereof, the 1938 version fleshes out Scrooge through other people’s POV more than just relying on flashbacks and I think that was an excellent idea. It creates the myth of the miser for Owen to slip into without much effort. Since this one is aimed at younger audiences (no scary ghosts or mean old nastiness here), it also helps soften the edges while also maintaining the spirit of the story. Casting Owen, who was mostly known for his comedic work, also helps make accessible for all viewers. He’s mean without being nasty and greedy without being cruel. He walks the line between being watered down and evenly balanced perfectly and his performance is the reason this version is still beloved all these years later.
04. Bill Murray | Scrooged (1988)
In Richard Donner’s modern take on the Dickens classic, Bill Murray absolutely thrives in the role of Frank Cross (aka Ebenezer Scrooge), a selfish, successful television executive who sacrificed love and family to rise to the top. The cast is fantastic, but it’s really Murray doing what he does best that carries the film. His take on Scrooge is a cynical one. Mean-spirited, a little chaotic, and utterly unredeemable… well, until the end, obviously when it’s finally the prospect of a premature death that knocks some soul into the man. We laugh at his unraveling because it’s so damn funny, but we also feel for him when he loses the girl and finds a pleasant homeless man frozen to death in the street. There are very few actors who can make an audience root for such an abhorrent character, but Bill Murray is that man.
03. George C. Scott | A Christmas Carol (1984)
My personal favorite on this list, George C. Scott is the Ebenezer Scrooge that I grew up with. It was hard for me to even imagine watching another adaptation of Dickens’s classic… except for maybe Scrooge McDuck… but I was also very young and had a very short attention span. Scott’s Scrooge is one that seems to be damn near gleeful as he spits out a detestable comment about workhouses and Scott truly seems to embody the cold cruelty that envelopes Scrooge in the book. His attempts to reason with the spirits are both amusing and heartbreaking at the same time. George C. Scott was certainly a gifted actor and one who could intimidate with a mere look, which is on full display in this 1984 adaptation. His temper is a quiet one, but no less menacing than any of the other actors on this list. I truly do believe his take on the character is the “meanest” of all of them and watching Scott’s performance, you understand why Scrooge is one of literature’s greatest villains.
02. Michael Caine | The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The one thing I absolutely love about Michael Caine’s performance as Scrooge is the dedication he gives to the role. He’s the only human in an entire film filled with Muppets and he never breaks character or behaves in such a way that would remind us… hey, we’re watching a Muppet movie and Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t seem to realize his clerk Bob Cratchit is a frog. Oftentimes the actors in the Muppet movies purposely overact or act cartoonish to fit in with the atmosphere, but not Caine. He gives the role the same kind of intensity you would expect to see from him had this been a serious movie and while his performance is fantastic, it’s also hilarious. Which is the whole point.
01. Alastair Sim | Scrooge (1951) & A Christmas Carol (1971)
The Scrooge that all others are measured against, Sim was so good in the role, that twenty years after he played him, they brought him back to voice the character in an animated version, both of which are the best adaptations of the story. He sells the supernatural elements better than any other actor (he confronts some with genuine bluster and others with abject horror), is truly nasty to everyone he meets and his gradual metamorphosis has never been equaled. When he wakes up on Christmas day, he’s so gleefully happy, that his newfound child-like joy actually scares people. They treat him as if he was an alien inhabiting the body of the man they knew as Scrooge. It’s a remarkable transformation that 70 years later, we’re still talking about. Sim is the definitive Scrooge and he’ll never be bested.
Which Scrooge portrayal is your personal favorite? Tell us down in the comments below!