The 10 greatest Scrooges in film and TV: Who's your favorite?

a-christmas-carolImage Credit: Everett CollectionWhen Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843, cinema was still some 50 years away. Television, over 100. And yet it almost seems like it was written with the screen in mind — maybe because its great anti-hero, Ebenezer Scrooge, is almost like a moviegoer himself when he gazes upon images and events that he can’t directly influence. Certainly A Christmas Carol‘s countless adaptations for film and television bear out its endless visual appeal. But what precise mixture of malice and humor makes a great Scrooge?  Here are our picks for the finest to grace screens big and small. Who’s your favorite?

10. Albert Finney in Scrooge (1970)

Scrooge may have found Christmas goose and plum pudding indigestible, but Albert Finney seems ravenous. At least when it comes to him chewing the scenery. He plays Scrooge less like a Dickens character and more like that crooked man who walked a crooked mile, of Mother Goose nursery rhyme fame. But it’s fun to see him cut a rug at Scrooge’s own funeral to the tune of Leslie Bricusse’s “Thank You Very Much,” the great show-stopping tune of this otherwise ho-ho-hum musical.

9. Reginald Owen in A Christmas Carol (1938)

Owen (National Velvet, Mary Poppins) played many a great curmudgeon, but he found his greatest outlet for geriatric snark in MGM’s charmingly studio-bound 1938 production.

8. Bill Murray in Scrooged (1988)

Does anyone play a comical jerk as well as Bill Murray? Five years before he perfected the form with Phil Connors in the decidedly Dickensian Groundhog Day, he played TV executive Frank Cross, as fearsome a miser as any Yuletide ghosts have ever tried to redeem.

7. Mr. Magoo in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

With his face pinched tight like a crab-apple — and his purse-strings even tighter — TV’s lovable near-sighted misanthrope (originally conceived as a McCarthy-esque reactionary) was born, er, drawn to play Scrooge.

6. Cosmo Spacely in A Jetson Christmas Carol (1985)

A Jetson Christmas Carol is possibly the most subversive version of the tale on this list. Yes, the Jetsons play the Cratchits — if the Cratchits were upwardly mobile, conspicuously-consuming members of the literal jet set — to sprocket entrepreneur Mr. Spacely’s Scrooge. However, Scrooge doesn’t reform because he’s touched by a vision of the Jetsons’ grief over the loss of family dog Astro (the Tiny Tim of this scenario), but instead because he’s jealous of their fantastic wealth after they sue him for making the sprocket that killed the pooch.

5. Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol (1951)

British theater vet Alastair Sim, perfectly described by comedian Ronnie Corbett as “a sad-faced actor with the voice of a fastidious ghoul,” is often considered the silver screen’s definitive Scrooge, though his 1951 flick looks a tad creaky today. Still, it embellishes Dickens’ narrative with so many details on Ebenezer’s slide into moral (although certainly not financial) bankruptcy that it could be alternatively titled Scrooge: Money Never Sleeps.

4. Scrooge McDuck in Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Hard to believe it took Walt Disney Animation 36 years after his first comic book appearance in 1947 to put Scrooge McDuck in an animated telling of the story that inspired his creation. A po-mo Carol, it reuses old Disney characters, like J. Thaddeus Toad as Fezziwig, while exaggerating certain parts of the story for comic effect — Scrooge doesn’t just break up with Daisy Duck, he forecloses the mortgage on her honeymoon cottage!

3. Vanessa L. Williams in A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)

As Ebony Scrooge, lead singer of an ’80s girl group who ditched her partners and went solo at the first opportunity, Williams gave us a glimpse of the catty ‘tude that she’d later perfect as Wilhelmina Slater. Kathy Griffin is on hand as a fame-whoring Ghost of Christmas Past, and, even better, the Christmas Future segment is an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, with a deliciously insincere tribute to the “deceased” Ebony from Brian McKnight (as himself). Still not sold? Check out Ebony’s ’80s-homage dance anthem “Heartquake” and A Diva’s Christmas Carol will be in your letter to Santa.

2. Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Why does Michael Caine’s performance work so well? Because he doesn’t act like he’s in a Muppet movie. At all. Take away Gonzo, Kermit and their buddies, and you’re left with Caine’s deeply felt take on the tragedy of Scrooge’s life — that even though he becomes a better man, he can never get back all the decades he wasted. Just look at his performance during the song “The Love is Gone,” when he stands weeping behind his beloved Belle. Devastating. But with Caine and the Muppets, the film becomes a daring collision of opposites: literate storytelling and non sequitur pratfalls, sincerity and irony, even art and criticism.

1. George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol (1984)

Yes, it took an American to perfect the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. While there are many things to love about Clive Donner’s 1984 adaptation for CBS — its authentic recreation of 1840s London, its use of period music, its deeply talented ensemble of David Warner, Susannah York, Roger Rees, Edward Woodward, and Joanne Whalley — it’s really Scott who stands out. Never has there been a Scrooge more resistant to change, more thoroughly nasty, more clueless as to the nature of his circumstances. When he explains the function of clothing to poor Bob Cratchit, one senses his disappointment over the gross inadequacy of the whole human race. When he’s abandoned by the Ghost of Christmas Present in a dangerous part of London, Scrooge almost rhetorically asks, “What have I done … to be abandoned like this?” and genuinely doesn’t perceive the answer. Scott’s performance is at its most heartbreaking at the very moments it’s at its funniest — the mark of a true master. Made-for-network-TV movies used to be this good?

Who are your favorite Scrooges, PopWatchers? Any glaring omissions from our list?

Comments (123 total) Add your comment
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  • Debbie

    The George C. Scott one is definitely my favorite. However Patrick Stewart’s should be on this list also. Just watched that one yesterday.

    • Mells

      Whoa!! Patrick Stewart wasn’t even on the list?!?!?! Coal in your stocking this year Christian!! That’s an egregious oversight!!!

      • CBloss

        I totally agree with that. My mind jumped to Stewart when I read the title of the article.

      • Caiti

        yay i third Patrick Stewart

      • jp

        Exactly. EW put a cartoon duck over Patrick Stewart. Bah Humbug.

      • siobhan

        DITTO! No love for Picard. Shame on you, EW!

      • Ed

        Alistair Sims #5 and No Patrick Stewart? OMG!! Cultural Ignoramus

      • side3

        Patrick Stewart immediately came to mind for me as well.

    • Jim

      Agreed Debbie! Where is Patrick Stewart?? He is known for his one man “Christmas Carol” show … wow, what an omission.

      • Alan

        COSMO SPACELY over Mr. Stewart?!?!?!

      • greg

        Indeed! How did they miss Patrick Stewart entirely? The movie was just on the other night!

      • Dicazi

        Exactly what I was going to type. I’ve never even heard of it! In 1985???

    • Merges

      I’m in total agreement! For me, it’s Alastair Sim first, George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart tie for second. I can’t decide which is better, they are both awesome!

      • Tom

        I agree to this as well but with a slight edge to Patrick Stewart for second. God bless all, everyone.

    • iggy

      Another vote for Patrick Stewart

    • d

      i just saw that one too (on tnt) i thought it was great. the part at the end when he like has a heart attack and then laughs is freaking awesome!

    • Fingerlakes Dave

      What? No Patrick Stewart?
      Yet they put Vanessa Williams in????
      The mind boggles!

    • LOL

      Alastair Sim wins this easily. The 1951 version is the best of all. Look for it. You won’t be disappointed.

    • Tarjay

      This PopWatch reviewer is clearly all of 22. Why include some many animated Scrooges? Unless you’re 22 and not far from your cartoon-watching days. I’d drop a lot of those off the list.

    • Autumn

      i absolutely agree with you!!!! i love george c scott’s the most. most scrooges i notice try to like bend their back and distort their voice and it is portayed as weak and stupid. Scott, on the other hand, does absolutely nothing to his apperance or voice. he just does it, which makes it more realistic. its like he was born just to be in this movie!

  • Mavis

    I am always partial to Bill Murray in Scrooged! I can’t get enough of the airings on AMC!

    • Frank Anderson

      Yeah, tha he lost out to so many cartoon characters makes me wonder if this writer is two years old. His choices suck. Guess that’s what we get now that EW can’t keep any decent writers on staff other than the movie reviewers and the only passable Ken Tucker.

    • Tajah

      Bill Murray! Perfection. I love Scrooged, and it is holiday fare each year.

  • Buffy Freak

    Just saw Patrick Stewart in a TV version (from 1999 I think) and he was pretty great.

  • cbow

    What about Patrick Stewart? He has to be 1 or 2.

  • ally

    I have seen Sir Patrick Stewart’s one-man performance of “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway about 4 times. He is amazing. The TV version is very good, but nothing compared to his work on the stage!

  • kim in kentucky

    Totally agree with Scott being #1 – but would like to add Patrick Stewart as a Honorable Mention.

  • Richard

    Alastair Sim behind Vanessa Williams and Scrooge McDuck? Ridiculous.

  • Jenna

    Vanessa Williams? Really??

    • ally

      I know – I thought the same thing!

    • Jilli

      My sentiments exactly!

    • Mavis

      It’s because Popwatch Overlord Michael Slezak is obsessed with her!!!!

    • jp

      Not to mention the great holiday annoyance, Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

  • Dave

    Michael Caine! Michael Caine!

    • Mr. Holloway

      “Why does Michael Caine’s performance work so well? Because he doesn’t act like he’s in a Muppet movie. At all.”

      I can’t even properly express how much I agree with this statement.

      • Caitie F

        Exactly! That is what makes the movie so great and why it will always be my favorite version!

      • Meghan

        Agreed!

  • Douglas Anderson

    Michael Caine in A Muppet Christmas Carol is by far the best. The way he plays a very serious Scrooge while the muppets are all around him is incredible. He acts as if he is doing serious theater. That makes this movie absolutely incredible.

  • Lark214

    Bill Murray is my favorite! Scrooged is my go-to Christmas movie and I watch it every Christmas Eve. And I still get choked up at the end, every time! Classic Murry!

  • Andrew

    Wow. This list is terrible.
    Vanessa Williams? Scrooge McDuck?
    Spacely? Just dumb.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    Mr. Magoo – watch it every year. I’d put 7-10 higher on the list and add Patrick Stewart.

    • ruaripadraig

      I agree…loved “Razzleberry Dressing” ever since I was a kid.

  • Mary Anne

    Alistair Sim is my number one with George C. Scott being number 2.

    • Kelly

      Exactly!

  • Lara

    Alistair Sim – Definitely the best Scrooge in my opinion. I love his giddiness on Christmas morning when he wakes up to discover he has a second chance. My Christmas Eve must watch movie!!

    • Norma

      Lara, you are so right. Alistair Sim should be #1, not #5. He put the ultimate touch of Scrooge into his version. The giddiness, the small facial expressions all go into making Alistair Sim’s version of Scrooge THE one to watch!!

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