Before you start cursing the Christmas season, remember what happened to ol’ Scrooge? In the spirit of curmudgeons (and those who help them), here are seven versions of A Christmas Carol that put their own twist on the oft-adapted Dickens classic.
1. “A Bionic Christmas Carol”
This Six Million Dollar Man episode from December 1976 sees Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) forego his Christmas holiday when he’s sent to check on a NASA contractor whose penny-pinching methods have compromised the safety of a module being tested for use on Mars. But Steve’s real task is to get the company’s owner—the grouchy cheapskate Mr. Budge (Ray Walston, star of My Favourite Martian)—to rediscover the spirit of Christmas.
As you might guess, there are no ghosts in this tech-boosted tale; instead, Steve dons a Santa suit and uses his bionic talents (including karate-chopping a fake tombstone) to convince Budge, who accidentally overdoses on sedatives and is therefore highly suggestible, to stop treating his long-suffering nephew (Bewitched’s Dick Sargent) like reindeer poop. Steve also takes it upon himself to make sure the nephew’s family gets a Christmas tree…by scaling a giant evergreen outside their house and casually ripping off one of the branches.
2. “Xmas Marks the Spot”
One fateful holiday season, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon sent the guys stumbling back in time through a snowstorm to Victorian England. Their services soon come in handy when they meet a certain Mr. Scrooge, who’s being bothered by three spirits. You know, on Christmas Eve. The Ghostbusters take care of business, as usual, but don’t realise what they’ve done until they arrive back in New York City and realise that since Scrooge never learned all those valuable lessons from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, he never changed his ways. As a result, everyone runs around muttering “Bah humbug!” instead of singing carols and spreading joy.
The wacky plan to correct the timeline sees Egon creep into the ghost vault to spring the Christmas trio, while Peter, Ray, and Winston return to Scrooge’s time so they can pretend to be the ghosts, at least until the real ones return and finish the job. Things work out so well in the end that even the group’s resident Scrooge—Peter, of course—has a change of heart and realises Christmas isn’t so dreadful after all.
Bill Murray didn’t actually voice Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters; in the episode mentioned above, he was played by Lorenzo Music, the original voice of future Murray character Garfield. But the world would not be denied seeing Murray in a riff on A Christmas Carol, thanks to this 1988 comedy directed by Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon). Murray plays TV executive Frank Cross, a self-centered yuppie who forces his minions to work through Christmas Eve on a live broadcast of, appropriately enough, A Christmas Carol, and it isn’t long before the ghosts turn up to show him the many errors of his ways.
Murray is a sarcastic delight as always, but the supporting cast is also wonderful, including Alfre Woodard as his beleaguered assistant, whose young son is the Tiny Tim of this tale; Bobcat Goldthwait as a disgruntled former employee; Karen Allen as Peter’s kind-hearted ex; and David Johansen and Carol Kane as the wisecracking Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Like Die Hard and Gremlins, Scrooged has become an offbeat holiday classic—though unlike those two, there’s apparently a remake starring Kevin Hart on the way. Bah.
4. “Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol”
This Doctor Who Christmas special from 2010 features Michael Gambon as Kazran Sardick, a bitter miser who controls his planet’s electrified, fish-filled atmosphere, and cares so little about anyone or anything that he refuses to allow a floundering space ship (with Amy Pond and Rory Williams among its thousands of passengers) clearance for an emergency landing. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) swoops in to save his friends and—after some ambient inspiration from Dickens—realises he’ll need to save the old man’s soul first.
That involves going back in time to Kazran’s childhood for a series of fun-filled Christmas Eve visits over the years, each time un-freezing a certain lovely woman (Katherine Jenkins) who’s one of dozens of people imprisoned as debt collateral by Kazran’s horrible father (also played by Gambon). Gambon is fantastic as a man whose psychic pain proves to be no easy fix, even with things like sonic screwdrivers, a sleigh pulled by a flying shark, and true love trying to make him turn toward the light. The end result is a surprisingly bittersweet (and not-so-surprisingly, random and weird…this is Doctor Who, after all) spin on the familiar Scrooge story.
5. “A Jetson Christmas Carol”
This episode wasn’t part of the original 1960s Jetsons series, but rather the mid-1980s revival. It first aired in 1985, and though of course it takes place in the groovy future, “A Jetson Christmas Carol” features a totally ‘80s sequence where Jane, Judy, and Elroy finish up their holiday shopping at the local mall, a place where moving footpaths take you right to the entrance of “Mooningdales” department store. It also puts a spotlight on George’s greedy boss, Mr. Spacely, who makes George work late on Christmas Eve and then falls asleep while drooling over his piles and piles of money.
He’s visited by his old partner (“Marsley”), who warns him that three spirits are on their way—including Christmas Future (looking suspiciously like a vintage computer), who shows Mr. Spacely a vision of the Jetsons living high on the hog after winning a lawsuit against Mr. Spacely over a faulty dog toy. Even worse, he learns he’s become a penniless pariah. Panicked, he rushes to their house with an emergency vet for Astro (thereby preventing the lawsuit) and tons of gifts, including nuclear roller skates for Judy, buying back everyone’s affections and saving Christmas in the process. Thanks?
6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
This 1992 musical actually stays pretty true to the source material, aside from the fact that other than Michael Caine as Scrooge, the majority of characters are portrayed by Muppets. The Great Gonzo narrates as a fourth-wall-breaking Charles Dickens (with help from Rizzo the Rat, as himself), Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit, hecklers Statler and Waldorf play the ghostly Marley brothers, Fozzie Bear plays rubber-chicken impresario “Fozziwig,” and so on.
A trio of new Muppets portray the ghosts, including an acceptably terrifying take on Christmas Yet to Come…unless you’re Gonzo and Rizzo, who peace out for that segment. Most of the fun of The Muppet Christmas Carol is seeing the Muppets do their thing even when it takes you out of the movie (Animal going wild on the drums at Fozziwig’s holiday party; Sam the American Eagle briefly forgetting he’s supposed to be playing a British character), but the whole thing is classic Muppets—heartwarming without being corny—and it more than holds up for annual viewings.
7. “A Solstice Carol”
On this festive 1996 episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, the Winter Solstice stands in for Christmas, and Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) portray the Three Fates rather than the usual ghosts. Their mission: to convince a cruel, Scrooge-like king not to shut down an orphanage after the kids are caught making merry—which is extremely against the law, of course. Xena’s ready to kick some royal arse, but Gabrielle insists that storytelling could be just as convincing. (That said, she agrees “if the plan fails, we punch faces.”)
With help of the sympathetic king’s clerk, a mischievous donkey, some disguises, a whole lotta improv, the sudden re-emergence of a long-lost face from the king’s past, and a climactic fight using all manner of toys, bells, baked goods, feather pillows, and other random stuff—look, a few faces were obviously going to get punched here no matter what—glad tidings are restored. The king becomes a nice guy again, the kids are saved, and the last line of the episode is Xena saying “Gabrielle, you are a gift to me.” The true reason for the season!