For many kids this Holiday season, their first exposure to Ebenezer Scrooge will be Jim Carrey's kinetic, flailing mo-cap performance in Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol. Carrey has always done the "living cartoon" thing well, but I prefer my Scrooge more Alastair Sim and less Ace Ventura. In fact, Sim's 1951 portrayal of the character stands as the definitive Scrooge performance to me. Sim is believable at every turn in A Christmas Carol, and he gives Dickens' oft-repeated dialogue a vitality that set the bar for everyone that proceeded him.
There have been a handful of great Scrooges over the years -- Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, even Bill Murray -- but there are some actors who seem born for the role.
7. Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs is the youngest person on this list, but there's no rule saying Ebenezer Scrooge has to be ancient. I rather like the idea of a middle-aged Scrooge. If Scrooge changes his life at 80, he really only has a couple of good years left in him. If he changes his life at forty-six (Isaacs' age), then there's a certain satisfaction in knowing that Scrooge was able to turn things around at an age young enough for him to enjoy the rest of a full life. He'd get to watch the Cratchit children grow up, and he could entertain the idea of reconciling with his ex-fiancee Bella.
Isaacs is best known for his portrayal of villains including Peter Pan's Captain Hook, The Patriot's Col. Tavington, and most famously as Harry Potter's Lucius Malfoy. He's especially good at self-centered heavies, but Isaacs rarely gets the chance to show his range. The role of Scrooge would be perfect for that.
6. David Warner
It took David Warner a little while, but he now looks exactly like Ebenezer Scrooge. He's got to be pretty familiar with the material; he played Bob Cratchit in the 1984 Christmas Carol television movie (the one with George C. Scott). I'd actually forgotten about that until I was researching this piece. As a matter of fact, I couldn't immediately remember any characters that Warner played that I could describe as "warm."
The ones that kept coming to mind were his sourpuss turns in Tron and Time Bandits. Warner can turn off his emotions as an actor, playing cold in a way that truly feels cold. It's almost hard to picture Warner selling the gradual change that comes over Scrooge as the story unfolds -- not that I doubt his ability as an actor, it's just that he'd be so picture perfect as the "bah, humbug" Scrooge, I can't picture him joyously throwing open the windows and celebrating Christmas at the very end of the arc.
5. Ernst Thesiger
Possibly the least known entry on the list, Thesiger is a character actor from Hollywood's early years, best known for his role as Dr. Pretorius in James Whales' Bride of Frankenstein. The man is deliciously snide. You've never seen anyone say "have a potato" with more contempt than Thesiger does in The Old Dark House, able to inject those three ordinary words with withering condescension, annoyance, and general disdain.
Thesiger would've made a killer Scrooge -- probably the scariest one on this list. Could he have dropped his natural scowl when Scrooge has his change of heart? I think so, as he does get downright joyous at times in Bride. It's too bad we'll never see Thesiger in the role.
4. Brian Cox
I think more than any other actor listed here, Cox's Scrooge would feel the most real. He'd wear his miserly lot in life like a heavy burden, so you'd feel that burden lift as the story progressed. There's a weariness to many of Cox's best roles, and I think that world-weary approach would add a fresh dimension to Dickens' character.
A Christmas Carol still has the power to entertain, probably more out of comfortable familiarity than actual emotional investment, but when was the last time it made you empathize and reflect on your own life in any way that it might compare to Scrooge's? Brian Cox can handle all of the routine character beats, and brings a quality to the table that might actually make you feel sad that this man Scrooge has consciously chosen a life that's left him all alone.
3. Bill Nighy
Bill Nighy actually reminds me a lot of Thesiger, but with a slightly more winking approach to his haughty character work. Even in things like Underworld, Nighy treads a line just north of camp, and I'd expect his turn at Scrooge to be sarcastic and droll.
Nighy seems born to deliver Dickens' dialogue in the early scenes where Scrooge turns away the charities or chastises his nephew -- the words dripping with archly comedic bile. The drawback to Nighy as Scrooge would be the potential that he would play the character too hilariously awful for the drama to have any sort of impact, but, I'd sacrifice a little bit of that melodrama for the chance to see Nighy run wild with the role.
2. Alan Rickman
I don't think I need to do much convincing here. It's Rickman's big roles -- Severus Snape, Hans Gruber, The Sheriff of Nottingham -- that make him an obvious choice for Scrooge, but it's the less-showy roles that really sell me on Rickman as Ebenezer Scrooge. He's not always the arrogant heavy, and you can see some of that humanity in Rickman in Love Actually and the underseen Truly, Madly, Deeply. Rickman is fantastic at playing villains, but that's only because Rickman is fantastic.
There's no actor alive today I'd rather see in the part.
1. Peter Cushing
With the advent of motion-capture filmmaking, there's the possibility that a deceased actor could "appear" in a film as a computer-generated avatar for some other actor in the ping-pong ball jumpsuit. I'm not necessarily advocating this practice, but if it ever means I get to see Peter Cushing play Ebenezer Scrooge, then I'm all for it (like anyone will ever do a second motion-captured Christmas Carol movie...).
Cushing is an underrated actor, best known for his portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, but most beloved for his numerous roles in British horror films. Cushing is classy and versatile, and he looks the part, and I mean that in a way that when I imagine Scrooge in my head, I see Peter Cushing -- all angular features and ice-blue eyes. He would've been amazing in the role, and I have no doubts that Cushing's Scrooge would be the standard bearer for any actor playing the role that came after him.