6 Darkest Film And TV Adaptations Of A Christmas Carol

There’s a reason why Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been told so many times over the years. It’s a classic story about redemption and the power of the Christmas season, but many people forget that the book wasn’t written as the joyous, celebratory Christmas tale that they now associate it as.

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When Dickens wrote the novel, he didn’t set out to write a feel-good holiday classic. He wrote it as a supernatural horror story, and the book contains some truly spine-chilling prose that hasn’t been translated as well on screen as often as it should. There have been several different film adaptations and reinterpretations of Dickens’ story over the years, but which ones manage to capture the yuletide darkness and haunting imagery he initially set out to scare people with?

6 Scrooged (1987)

While not a direct adaptation of the original story, Richard Donner’s dark comedy, Scrooged, deserves a mention for its refreshing and alternate take on Dickens’ book. Starring Bill Murray as TV network President, Frank Cross, the film captures most of the same story as the original tale, while also putting a more comedic spin on it and making it unique enough to stand on its own merits.

Bill Murray is funny as always with his typical Murray-isms, and he uses them effectively to bring about a more modern sense of cynicism than the typical Ebenezer Scrooge portrayal. For all its comedy, the film counterbalances it with some rather dark imagery: a walking decomposing corpse, a man on fire, another man frozen to death, Murray’s vision of being cremated while still alive, etc. It’s one of the best films directed by Richard Donner and a perfect film for anyone looking for a different interpretation of a classic holiday story.

5 A Christmas Carol/Scrooge (1951)

In easily one of the most recognizable and best Scrooge performances of all time, Alastair Sim headlines this adaptation from 1951 in the role he was born to play. From the very beginning, with the initial music cue in the opening credits, it feels and flows much more like an old-fashioned horror film from the time period as opposed to just another typical Christmas Carol film. With the movie also filmed in black and white, the cinematography helps to keep the chilling on-screen ambiance too.

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Although it may not exactly be one of the most faithful adaptations, its music, cinematography, and the acting from Sim (along with the rest of the cast)      , manage to capture the novella’s spirit and ominous tone better than any other live-action film or TV special has ever made an attempt to.


4 Chuck Jones’ A Christmas Carol (1971)

With Alastair Sim reprising his role as Scrooge, produced by Chuck Jones, and directed by Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘s animation director, Richard Williams, this half-hour short film runs just long enough to provide its viewers with enough nightmare fuel for the entire Christmas season. Its animation is impressive, but it also creates an extremely uneasy feeling of terror and dread.

Surprisingly, however, the animation and the detail of its imagery are not the only two scariest elements. The sound effects, especially during the Jacob Marley scene, and the lack of a musical score throughout a majority of the runtime are highly effective in creating a truly tense atmosphere. The fact that this kind of animation was even allowed to air on TV in the early ’70s is nothing short of surprising.

3 A Christmas Carol (1984)

While Alastair Sim set the golden standard for an actor’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, when it comes to ideal casting in the 1980s, it’s impossible to get any better than George C. Scott. Fans of the story are sure to be impressed with Scott’s on-point performance (despite his poor attempt at an English accent), but fans of the horror genre will also have their own reasons for getting heavily invested in this particular version.

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From its music to its lighting and cinematography, it practically turns into a horror film during the climax with Ghost of Christmas Future, and even more so with the reveal of Ignorance and Want. It also has perhaps one of the scariest live-action portrayals of Jacob Marley that has ever been brought to the screen. Being a made-for-TV film, it’s obvious that the production was set with a lower budget, but had they been given more money and weren’t stuck with the limitations of network television. Who knows how much darker and scarier it could’ve been?

2 Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

While not widely regarded as one of the best films directed by Robert Zemeckis, Disney’s A Christmas Carol is widely regarded for being one of the most faithful adaptations of the original work. A large majority of the dialogue and 19th-century language is ripped straight from the pages of Dickens’ novel, and it captures the same sense of supernatural eeriness and foreboding doom.

Of course, Zemeckis does tweak the story a bit, adding some lighthearted and comedic elements to some of the darker scenes as to not alienate any of the younger viewers. Thankfully, however, that doesn’t end up taking too much away from the overall darkness of his version, with the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present being just as intimidating as they are inviting, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is one of the most nightmarish interpretations ever.  There’s also certain poetry in having Jim Carrey play not only Scrooge but all three ghosts as well. It sure makes for some of the finest acting he’s ever done.

1 FX’s A Christmas Carol (2019)

Guy Pearce in A Christmas Carol FX

One of the more recent adaptations of the tale, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight creates quite possibly the most intense and darkest take on A Christmas Carol in this 2019 mini-series. Steven Knight might seem like an unusual choice to tackle such a classic and beloved tale, especially considering the content and structure of a show like Peaky Blinders. While he gets the bare essentials of the story and characters right, he does take some notable creative liberties.

Scrooge has always been a despicable character, but both Knight’s writing, combined Guy Pearce’s acting, make for a Scrooge that is so much viler and evil than the rest. It’s enough to make its viewers wonder if this version of the character is even worthy of redemption. With added story elements that include some extremely dark and mature themes, there’s no real Christmas spirit to found in this adaptation. Even with the ending, it doesn’t have capture the same warm, redemptive feeling of the holiday season that the other ones do.

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