10. The Real Ghostbusters – “Xmas Marks the Spot” (1986)
Thanks to Ray Parker Jr.’s unforgettable theme, every child of the ’80s knew exactly who to call should we find specters in our bedrooms. But what if Ebenezer Scrooge was the victim crying for help and the offending apparitions were actually the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future? Hypotheticals be damned, because that’s precisely what happens when Peter, Ray, Winston, and Egon accidentally stumble into the past and disrupt the most famous intervention in Christmas history. It’s not until they return to modern-day NYC and find the Christmas spirit absent (f-bombs swapped out for humbugs) and A Christmas Humbug rather than A Christmas Carol topping the best-sellers list that they realize they’ve altered the holiday season forever. Not many ’80s cartoons still hold up today, but the concept of having the Ghostbusters answer Scrooge’s call and accidentally obliterate Christmas remains one of the most creative instances of blending a modern property with the classic tale.
Standout Spirit: Dr. Peter Venkman acting as a surrogate Ghost of Christmas Past by wearing a blonde wig and tutu and pushing Scrooge around in a wheelchair while the old miser has a View-Master strapped to his head. It’s so memorable that we almost forget Peter shares a voice actor with Garfield.
09. Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010)
Leave it to Dickens to change the fortunes of men, even in worlds apart from our own. When a space liner with a passenger haul of 4,003 souls hurtles towards a deadly crash landing on an unfamiliar planet, the Doctor races ahead in the TARDIS and appeals to the only man who can control the skies and bring the ship down safely. That man is Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), a cruel moneylender who holds the planet hostage and freezes people as collateral for loans. Inspired by Dickens’ classic tale, the Doctor travels back in time as the Ghost of Christmas Past and rewrites Sardick’s present. Unfortunately, the scheme doesn’t go quite as planned, and the Doctor learns that a brokenhearted man may be no more reasonable than a heartless one. Can the daft, quip-a-minute Doctor figure out a Plan B in time to save Christmas? Only time shall tell.
Standout Spirit: The Doctor for pulling double-duty as both the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future. And for apparently getting engaged to Marilyn Monroe.
08. Scrooge (1970)
“What the dickens have they done to Scrooge?” asked the theatrical posters when director Robert Neame and composer Leslie Bricusse’s musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol originally came out. The tagline presumably refers to the fact that audiences would now find Scrooge singing and dancing in addition to bah, humbugging. Unfortunately, it’s an utter failure as a musical, each song more forgettable and obvious than the last. For instance, a single scowl from Scrooge makes a song like “I Hate People” completely superfluous in addition to painfully awful. What they should’ve been advertising was Albert Finney’s interpretation of the titular tightwad. Finney plays Scrooge as a sneering, hunchbacked gargoyle, cartoonish in voice and utterly conspicuous in demeanor among his fellow man. It’s a portrayal all the more powerful when we witness the present Ebenezer alongside the younger, robust version, also played by Finney. We see how a lifetime of greed has contorted and ravaged him, most poignantly when the two Scrooges share a window and watch Belle walk out of their life. The film also contains redeeming curiosities like Scrooge’s collection rounds, courting of Belle, and descent into hell with a chain that makes Marley’s look like one belonging to a small pocket watch. It’s all fascinating — just please stop singing before I snap and start decreasing the surplus population.
Standout Spirit: The force must have been strong with Alec Guinness’ Jacob Marley as he sashayed, floated, and sang while bound in the chains and lock boxes of a lifetime of cold indifference toward mankind.
07. Scrooged (1988)
The very premise of Richard Donner’s Scrooged is a potshot at the entertainment industry. If Ebenezer Scrooge were around today, clearly he’d be a vain, sarcastic, hotshot network television exec (or POTUSA) obsessed with ratings rather than the well-being of his fellow man. Looking back, everything from the casting (hey, Bobcat Goldthwait!) to the special effects to Bill Murray’s hairline screams the ’80s, and the movie mostly comes across as a half-baked vehicle to let Murray play the asshole character he does so well. (Hell, the last 20 minutes of the film could’ve been the A Very Murray Christmas prototype). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of yuletide joy to be found here. Watching Murray be a jerk — stealing an old lady’s cab, timing security’s response after firing an employee, or suggesting that a props man staple antlers to a mouse’s head — still plays as delightfully dickish as ever, and sign us up for spoofs like Bob Goulet’s Old-Fashioned Cajun Christmas; madcap slapstick performances from ghosts David Johansen and Carol Kane; and gags like a production of A Christmas Carol starring Buddy Hackett and Mary Lou Retton. It’s all so dated but still earns laughs, and perhaps the real genius of Scrooged comes from the meta element of having Murray’s Frank Cross experiencing Dickens’ tale while simultaneously trying to produce it as a live television special. In almost no other adaptation do we find the Scrooge type transforming — or suffering a nervous breakdown — in front of anyone but the visiting spirits.
Standout Spirit: Carol Kane, the Ghost of Christmas Present, squealing with delight while dressed as a demented Tinkerbell and physically assaulting Bill Murray all across town. It’s worth the price of admission. Honorable mention to Buster Pointdexter for his gritty, realistic portrayal of a typical cabdriver.
06. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)
If you’re from the American side of the pond, you’re likely unfamiliar with the Blackadder family dynasty, a long lineage of conniving, parasitic males (each played by Rowan Atkinson — hey, kids, it’s Mr. Bean!) looking to scheme their way to a higher station. As it turns out, Ebenezer Blackadder is the black sheep of his family in that he’s actually a decent chap. After Ebenezer gives away his mustache store’s entire annual profits, his Christmas dinner, and all his gifts to every pitiable figure and open hand that darkens his door, he’s visited by the Spirit of Christmas. While usually in the business of convincing Scrooges to be kinder, more generous souls, the spirit shows Blackadder his rotten descendants and accidentally convinces a good man to turn cruel and selfish. British humor isn’t for everyone, but if you long for A Christmas Carol where the nativity Jesus is played by a dog in heat named Spot and 17 pounds and a penny minus 17 pounds comes out to, upon careful calculation, 38 pounds, eight schillings, and four pence, then this carol might be for you.
Standout Spirit: Well, since there’s only one contender, it’s got to be Robbie Coltrane’s Spirit of Christmas, but there’s a lot to appreciate about a spirit who appreciates spirits.