Depending on your philosophy on film, it seems the further back you go in time, the more classic film adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" become. Of course, this excludes a few excellent TV adaptations from the last 50 years that sometimes exceed any made for the big screen. As with Jane Austen books, though, we can't say more movie adaptations of Charles Dickens' Christmas classic won't be done again, even if we think there's nothing new to say in the context of our times.
Or is there still a way for "A Christmas Carol" to be relevant through new eyes? We've seen our share of modern twists to the story, with the most recent being a corporate CEO being turned from Donald Trump with a small heart into Donald Trump with a big heart. "Scrooged" was the last time we saw that variation in a big screen setting, and later TV series pastiches copying the same theme.
Recently, Turner Classic Movies aired a rare 1964 TV adaptation called "A Carol for Another Christmas." Not seen since it originally aired, it was one of the first examples of the modern take on the Dickens tale where we see Scrooge (here, Daniel Grudge, played by Sterling Hayden) as an industrial tycoon in the 20th century. While accused of being leftist propaganda, Rod Serling wrote this adaptation to remind how far ahead he was from other writers.
But if the above is unfortunately obscure, how far back do we have to go in order to lock down big screen versions of "Carol" that will still be known in 100 years? As of now, it seems those born in the last 30 to 40 years will forever cite 1992's "The Muppet Christmas Carol" as one of the most entertaining interpretations that's still faithful other than comprising a mostly non-human cast. It's proof of how malleable the Muppets and Disney continues to be in adapting their characters into unexpected literary classics.
What then of the very faithful "Carol" movie interpretations that have been done so seldomly? The general consensus still says that the 1951 version with Alistair Sim stands alone. You can say that even if the 1970 musical "Scrooge" and the 1984 George C. Scott TV adaptation are lumped with the first as the trilogy of "Carol" tales we'll still be seeing in AMC marathons 20 years from now.
There may be a missing piece to that trilogy, however, if you go by a certain animated telling in 1971 that again featured Alistair Sim doing the voice of Scrooge. Co-produced by Chuck Jones, this "Carol" was broadcast on TV first and then released theatrically to rave reviews for its visual daringness. It also changed Oscar voting procedures for Best Animated Short Film when it won that category despite its earlier TV airing.
The visual innovations of the above film have mostly been missing from more recent "Carol" adaptations. No matter that a 2009 3D version was done with Jim Carrey, even if the film's dazzling motion capture technology didn't quite capture magic like it was supposed to. Regardless, expect to eventually see a new big screen take with CGI that takes place in the 21st century; a time that's beginning to look too much like London, 1840s.
Any version ahead that's ultimately remembered will in how believable Scrooge is acted out during his final turnaround scenes. For now, this distinction still goes to the late Alistair Sim for sheer comedy, fervency, and believability.