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The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come, ranked by freakiness

From Mickey Mouse to Muppets to Scrooged, Spirited, and the great classics

You probably all know the story of Charles Dickens’ endlessly adapted 1843 holiday story A Christmas Carol, even if you’ve never read it. Tight-fisted, mean old miser Ebenezer Scrooge falls asleep on Christmas Eve and is visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, a man in a sleeping cap; the Ghost of Christmas Present, a rotund, jolly fellow; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a harrowing, silent specter of death. These three ghosts convince our miserly man to change his ways, but the third one does the heavy lifting, showing Scrooge how soon he’ll be dead and buried, while nobody mourns his passing.

In the text, Dickens describes the ghost as “shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.” This leaves a lot of leeway for adaptations to interpret, and A Christmas Carol is one of the most-adapted works of fiction of all time.

So in the holiday spirit, I decided to watch every film version and evaluate them on one single criteria: How scary do they make the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? Don your sleeping cap and come with us on a journey into holiday horror.

60. A Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006)

A robot “ghost” that looks like an egg with a christmas wreath on it floats over grouch in Sesame Street Christmas Carol Image: Sesame Workshop

If you were going into this one expecting to be spooked, I don’t know what to tell you. Oscar the Grouch as Scrooge contends with a CGI floating robot with googly eyes as the Ghost of Christmas Future. We get it, you don’t want to terrify the preschoolers, but there’s a reason it’s lowest on the list.

59. A Christmas Carol (1954)

A rave in a black and white image from A Christmas Carol (1954) Image: CBS

Fredric March stars as Scrooge in this, the first color televised version of the tale. Unfortunately, the only surviving version is a black and white kinescope. In a strange choice, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come doesn’t appear in human form at all. Instead, a myna bird caws Scrooge to the graveyard, where he finds not only his grave, but also Tiny Tim’s.

58. Christmas Cupid (2010)

Typical smug bastard dressed as santa in Christmas Cupid (2010) Image: Freeform

Christina Milian is the Scrooge figure in this ABC Family holiday comedy, and the three ghosts are her ex-boyfriends. Depending on your relationship history, this might seem scarier than it is. The third ghost is her boss, who she is also dating, dressed up like Santa Claus. He tells her that in the terrible future to come, they get married, then divorced. Bummer. Fortunately, as part of amending her wicked ways after the ghostly visitation, she dumps him.

57. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

A woman in a sparkly dress floats over the snowcovered woods in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s a stretch, but this Matthew McConaughey rom-com is based on the Dickens story, so it counts. The “Ghost of Girlfriends Future” that shows McConaughey’s womanizer protagonist Connor Mead the error of his ways is played by stunning Russian model Olga Maliouk, dressed in white rather than the traditional black cloak.

56. Rich Little’s Christmas Carol (1978)

scrooge in his old timely nightgown sitting on a desk next to Christmas Future, a man in a trenchcoat Image: CBC/HBO

It’s almost impossible to explain how popular comedic impersonator Rich Little was in the 1970s, but “HBO gave him a Christmas special in which he played every single role of A Christmas Carol as a different celebrity character” might do it. Scrooge is Rich Little as W.C. Fields, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is Little playing Peter Sellers as the Pink Panther movies’ Inspector Clouseau. So not scary, but extremely weird.

55. The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol (2011)

A smurfy finger points out from a dark cloak at another smurf in The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol (2011) Image: Sony Home Entertainment

The real revelation here is that Grouchy Smurf (the Scrooge of the story) acts like a dick all the time because Papa Smurf gives him a hat every year for Christmas. The ghost is Hefty Smurf. Not scary unless you have a phobia of gym bros.

54. My Dad Is Scrooge (2014)

A dog stands on the carpet in My Dad Is Scrooge (2014) Image: MarVista Entertainment

This is probably the only Christmas Carol where Scrooge gets headbutted by a llama. Our miser here is a farmer named EB, who is taught the magic of the season by a trio of talking animals. The third one is a dog that hypnotizes EB. This thing is so cheap and weird that when the animals talk, it’s sometimes just their lips moving over a still photograph. The dog doesn’t even dress up!

53. A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004)

A woman in white shredded robes does a luring hand gesture in A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004) Image: Hallmark Entertainment

This is a tough watch for numerous reasons, especially if you’re not a fan of Broadway musicals. Kelsey Grammer plays Scrooge, and he’s confronted by a white-clad Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come played by Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, most recently seen in Netflix’s The Crown). The costuming is pretty dire — she looks like she’s covered in damp toilet paper.

52. Chasing Christmas (2005)

A dorky guy with wavy hair and a red ascot stands next to a lit christmas tree in Chasing Christmas (2005)  Image: Freeform

Tom Arnold has tremendous divorced energy as the Scrooge figure in this mediocre comedy, where the Ghost of Christmas Past goes AWOL and leads him and the Ghost of Christmas Present through a series of scenes. Scrooge and the second spirit eventually make out, and there are a lot of cartoon sound effects. Yet to Come only shows up at the movie’s climax, and is just a sleazy-looking Euro guy in an ascot.

51. Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas (2006)

Taz emerges from the Christmas Future robes to scare Daffy Duck while the two stand in the snowy forest in Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas (2006) Image: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Here, the ghost is the Tasmanian Devil. He starts out the scene in the typical black shroud, but doffs it a minute or so later to engage in the usual Warner Bros. schtick.

50. Carry on Christmas (1969)

A stereotypical afro sunglasses hippie wears a necklace of flowers in a black void Image: Thames Television

The long-running British slapstick film series tackled Dickens for a Christmas special at the end of the swinging ’60s, but the Ghost of Christmas Future is just actor Bernard Bresslaw playing an incredibly broad hippie impersonation. Oh, and Frankenstein and Dracula are also in this, for unexplained reasons.

49. It’s Christmas, Carol! (2012)

Carrie Fisher in black holds a black umbrella to cover a brunette woman from the rain in  It’s Christmas, Carol! (2012) Image: Hallmark Entertainment

Carrie Fisher plays all three ghosts (and the Marley role to boot) in this Hallmark Channel take on A Christmas Carol set in the modern age. Emmanuelle Vaugier is the Scrooge figure, transformed into a hard-charging CEO with no time for Christmas. Not scary.

48. A Christmas Carol (2015)

A woman in a black veil stands behind a tree in A Christmas Carol (2015) Image: Reality Entertainment (RE)

This extremely cheap-looking Canadian musical production of the story was a labor of love (director Anthony D.P. Mann also plays Scrooge), for what that’s worth. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come talks and sings in this rendition. She’s just a lady with a white face in a big black hat. The whole thing has a community theater vibe.

47. Brer Rabbit’s Christmas Carol (1992)

A jack o lantern head hides under a white blanket in Brer Rabbit’s Christmas Carol (1992) Image: Reel Media International

The early ’90s were such a dire time for animation. This made-for-TV special — not produced by Disney, and with no connection to Disney’s Song of the South — is an ordeal to watch, and all the ghosts are just Brer Rabbit messing with Brer Fox through the use of household props and woodland actors. So the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come here is just a sheet on a mop with a jack-o’-lantern on top.

46. An American Christmas Carol (1979)

Henry Winkler in old age makeup playing Scrooge next to Dorian Harewood as Christmas Future Image: Sony Pictures Television

Henry Winkler — the Fonz himself — dons old-age makeup to portray Benedict Slade in this adaptation moved to Depression-era New England. The spirit who shows him the misery that awaits him after death is played with soulfulness by Dorian Harewood — the fill-in voice of Shredder from the Ninja Turtles cartoons!

45. A Christmas Carol (1969)

A 2D animated Ghost of Christmas Future points his bony finger in a graveyard in A Christmas Carol (1969) Image: Air Programs International

From a series of Australian animated adaptations called Famous Classic Tales, this is a pretty standard take on the story, complete with a third ghost that could pass for an unimaginative Scooby-Doo villain.

44. A Christmas Carol (2000)

A bald man guides a red headed kid through a cemetery in A Christmas Carol (2000) Image: ITV

This odd British TV adaptation moves the action to the present day, with Ross Kemp playing Scrooge as a council-estate loan shark despised by his clients and community. The third spirit that visits him on Christmas Eve is an eerily silent young boy who shows him the bad end that awaits, and in the film’s coda, we learn that the kid was his yet-to-be-born child. In theory this could be scary, but it’s executed so clumsily that it’s more laughable than chilling.

43. Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979)

A cloaked man wearing a skeleton mask meets scrooge in Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979) Image: NBC

David Bond plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in this honky-tonk musical adaptation of the Dickens story, with Gremlins’ Hoyt Axton in the Scrooge role. This was only aired once, during the late-’70s peak of Grand Ole Opry country music. Bond eschews the hood in favor of what looks like dollar-store Dracula makeup and some deeply weird hand gestures.

42. A Christmas Carol (1910)

A whispy ghost shows scrooge his gravestone Image: Public Domain

The oldest surviving film version of Dickens’ tale (except for the 1906 one, which didn’t have the three ghosts) is a 13-minute silent speedrun of the whole tale. The ghosts aren’t terribly scary, and as far as I can tell, the gimmick for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is “big lady.”

41. A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)

A hooded ghost shows Fred Flinstone Scrooge his deathbed Image: Turner Entertainment

This 70-minute animated take, featuring the usual Flintstones characters, depicts the ghost as a pretty generic hooded featureless figure. The one notable thing about this movie is that it actually shows Fred Flintstone’s corpse — or at least his massive, pale-white big toe sticking out from under a sheet.

40. The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)

A dimly lit ghost Image: Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment

A low-effort Rankin-Bass animated musical version of the classic story, with a hooded figure pointing a bony white arm at Scrooge’s tombstone. Perfectly competent, but nothing to write home about.

39. A Carol Christmas (2003)

A prison guard stands behind Tori Spelling Image: Hallmark Entertainment

This Hallmark movie had some serious stunt casting — Gary Coleman as the Ghost of Christmas Past! William Shatner as the Ghost of Christmas Present! Storied actor James Cromwell is the third and final ghost, and his expressive face does a lot to sell it, even though he’s just a mute limo driver. The bit where he closes Carol (Tori Spelling) into her coffin is a little freaky.

38. Old Scrooge (1913)

A transluscent ghost freaks out scrooge Image: Public Domain

Ghosts in these early silent adaptations were always very tall. In this silent version of the tale, our future ghost is just a lanky fellow wrapped in some bedsheets. Marley is actually significantly scarier.

37. A Christmas Carol (1982)

A creepy hooded guy in The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) Image: Nine Network

I think this animated Australian version of the story is the baseline “solid C” for scariness. It’s not imaginative at all — if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed that the ghost here is a big figure in a black cloak — but the rendering is fine, and the music really sells the scene. Perfectly decent but nothing to renounce your miserly ways over.

36. Scrooge & Marley (2012)

Image: Sam I Am Films

Chicago drag legend Jojo Baby plays the third ghost in this campy gay take on the tale, with Scrooge recast as a penny-pinching club owner visited by his deceased partner. Mr. Baby does a fine job, wrapped up in a mummy-like sheath of black fabric that casts a very glam silhouette.

35. Ebbie (1995)

Image: Lifetime

A Lifetime original movie starring Susan Lucci as the first female Scrooge? Look for scares somewhere else, pal. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is played by busy Bill Croft, most notable for playing prison guards or convicts in shows like Airwolf and Viper. He’s just a quiet but imposing guy in a hat and a black trenchcoat.

34. A Christmas Carol (1997)

Image: DIC

DIC was the go-to studio for affordable animation through much of the ’80s and ’90s, and this holiday special was as average as possible. Tim Curry plays Scrooge, and the adaptation gives him a bulldog named Debit because all cartoons must have a cute animal character. The ghost here is a glowing cloaked specter, nothing fancy or special, but it’s well designed.

33. A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)

Image: VH1

Vanessa Williams plays “Ebony Scrooge” in this perplexing made-for-VH1 holiday movie, which also stars Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Chilli from TLC. The stunt casting could have gone any number of ways for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but for some reason, it’s a haunted television set showing an episode of Behind the Music where everybody talks about how much they hate Scrooge now that she’s dead. Then it sucks her in, Poltergeist-style. Extremely weird.

32. A Christmas Carol (1994)

Image: Goodtimes Entertainment

Cheaply made animated special with the artwork done in Japan in a vaguely anime style. Our final ghost is a hooded figure wearing a rope as a belt. The whole enterprise is pretty artless and uninspired.

31. 2nd Chance for Christmas (2019)

Vivica A Fox looks shocked at an offscreen blonde Image: End of the Rose

Direct-to-DVD (and streaming) cornball starring Brittany Underwood as a spoiled pop star in the Scrooge role. Vivica A. Fox is mostly wasted as the third ghost, credited as “Death” — she enters the scene in cloak and bones, inspiring Underwood to ask whether she “died at Comic-Con.” But she plays through the flick just as her normal, fine self.

30. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Image: Walt Disney Animation

Disney animated projects are occasionally pretty scary — even the Mickey Mouse stories. But the Ghost here is just frequent Mickey nemesis Peg-Leg Pete, wearing a brown shroud and puffing a stogie. It’s a testament to how good the framing and animation is that he still feels threatening. The addition of a cigar does explain the billows of smoke around the spirit.

29. An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998)

Image: MGM Home Entertainment

The last film in the All Dogs Go to Heaven series has a convoluted plot about evil bulldog Carface scheming to hypnotize pets to steal Christmas presents. The good dogs dress up as the three spirits to change his ways, and the Ghost of Christmas Future starts off as an imposing hooded figure before whipping his cloak off to do a bizarre riff on Jim Carrey in The Mask. He does take Carface to literal hell, which is a little intense.

28. A Christmas Carol (1977)

A shadowy figure meets Scrooge in a graveyard covered in fog Image: BBC

Yet another BBC adaptation of the tale, with a perfectly acceptable shroud-clad spirit. He loses a few points because he doesn’t really seem to know what to do with his hands, leaving them hanging awkwardly while Scrooge monologues. But the massive hanging hood and creepy silence are both on point.

27. Una Meravigliosa Notte (1953)

Image: Olympic Film

I don’t speak Italian, so it’s difficult to evaluate how well the ghost comes off in this adaptation, which stars Paolo Stoppa as greedy Antonio Trabbi, visited by a trio of spirits who show him the error of his ways. This is the second film on this list where the ghost has no physical form, instead manifesting as an echoing voice-over. The cinematography does a lot to sell it, as Stoppa seems genuinely deranged and unsettled by the all-knowing voice in his head.

26. Ms. Scrooge (1997)

Image: USA Network

Cicely Tyson plays the Scrooge role in this gender-swapped version of the tale, in which the Ghost of Christmas Future warns her that the IRS will take all her money after she dies. He’s played by actor Julian Richings, who has a memorable face, but spends his whole part of the movie standing around expressionless in a suit. It’s just weird enough to be truly creepy.

25. A Christmas Carol (1938)

Scrooge barely sees the ghost of christmas yet to come hiding in a bush Image: Public Domain

One of the more famous adaptations, this one is solid, but the ghost is just a guy in a black cloak. When he walks, he sometimes sticks both of his arms out in front of him like Frankenstein’s monster. Every once in a while, you can see his weird skinny hand.

24. John Grin’s Christmas (1986)

A bald Black man lifts up his robe to reveal himself to Scrooge Image: ABC

This all-Black TV adaptation of the story has Robert Guillaume as the Scrooge figure John Grin, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is played by Trinidadian dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder, probably best known as Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die. The costuming isn’t anything to write home about, but Holder’s expressive face and wild mannerisms definitely deliver.

23. Tales From Dickens: A Christmas Carol (1959)

A robed ghost points offscreen in a cemetery to direct a scrooge with long white hair Image: Coronet Films

Early television programming didn’t have much to offer in terms of special effects, so the Ghost in this Basil Rathbone-starring adaptation is a black cloak walking around in some studio fog. Some nice stiff-armed pointing and a commitment to stillness and silence makes it one of the better of its type.

22. Scrooge (1951)

A hand raises in front of Scrooge who kneels on the ground Image: Renown Pictures

Alastair Sim is one of cinema’s most famous Scrooges, and he puts his whole back into cowering in fear of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It’s another shrouded figure, but its introduction is pretty good — a pale white hand held in the foreground of a shot for more than a minute as Scrooge freaks out. The best thing about this one is his implacability: None of Scrooge’s pleas move him in the slightest.

21. A Christmas Carol (1914)

A ghost appears next to a stone wall as Scrooge looks down at his feet Image: Public Domain

Another silent flim, this one running a little over 20 minutes. The ghost is a big guy in a black hood and cloak, played by the awesomely named and completely stone-faced H. Ashton Tonge. Charles Rock is an overacting machine as Scrooge, chewing scenery like it was a Christmas goose.

20. A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s Ghostly Tale (2006)

A walrus ghost Image: BKN New Media

This direct-to-video CGI animated film casts anthropomorphic animals in the lead roles. You will never in a million years guess what kind of animal the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is, so I’ll just spoil it for you: It’s a walrus with one broken tusk, crackling with some sort of eldritch electricity. It’s so inexplicable that it wraps around to being scary.

19. Scrooge (1922)

A transparent ghosts freaks out Scrooge in the graveyard Image: Public Domain

This is, chronologically, the first film that depicts the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come with its face fully shrouded, and it’s effective, even though the ghost is barely on screen for a minute in this silent short.

18. Ebenezer (1998)

A cloaked figure with long white hair walks on an old timely western street Image: TNT

Jack Palance as Ebenezer Scrooge in a version of the tale set in the Old West? Incredible, and the legendary actor goes wild as a card-cheating swindler who hates Christmas. The ghost here is a shrouded figure with some wisps of gray hair coming out from the cloak, and at the end of his scene, he reveals his face as Scrooge’s dead partner, Jacob Marlowe.

17. Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

The Ghost of CHristmas Future leads mr magoo blindly into the graveyard Image: NBC

The hapless blind codger has been cast as Ebenezer Scrooge in a theatrical adaptation of the Dickens story, possibly for insurance-fraud reasons. The third spirit is the stereotypical silent hooded shadowy figure, but animated in the classic UPA style, so it looks pretty cool and imposing. The original songs written for the movie and sung by Magoo kind of undercut the drama, though.

16. Scrooge (1935)

a shadowy hand points at something Image: Public Domain

The first feature-length Christmas Carol film with sound takes a pretty interesting approach with our third ghost, portraying him as an amorphous shadow that sometimes enfolds Scrooge, and at other times appears as a pointing finger cast on the snowy ground. Not super scary, but cool.

15. A Christmas Carol (1923)

A ghost appears in a burst of little lights in front of Scrooge Image: Public Domain

Another shadowy cloaked figure in this silent adaptation, but Russell Thorndike’s Scrooge sells the hell out of it well enough to bump it up a few spots.

14. A Christmas Carol (2012)

A bald bearded scrooge meets the ghost Image: October Eleven Pictures Ltd.

This relatively obscure adaptation directed by Jason Figgis does some odd things with the source material, deliberately removing some scenes to make the narrative bleaker. It’s pretty low-budget and obviously shot on video with the actors in different rooms, overlaid with cheap digital effects, but it manages to work OK. The ghost has a red cloak and some gross zombie makeup on his outstretched hand, earning points for being different.

13. A Christmas Carol (2018)

A younger Scrooge looks up in the darkness of night Image: Towerflix

The introduction of the final spirit in this Scotland-set version is straight out of a horror movie, all ominous whooshing noises and creaking violins. But in a departure from the norm, we never actually see it. Instead, it speaks in one-word pronouncements in a gravelly voice as Scrooge reacts to it. Points for originality and solid sound design, but the actor playing Scrooge doesn’t sell it as well as he could.

12. Spirited (2022)

A cloaked ghost points his skeleton hand in a moonlit graveyeard Image: Apple TV Plus

Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds mug it up in this comedy holiday musical made for Apple TV. It’s got good production values, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, played by former Raptors power forward Loren Woods (but voiced by Tracy Morgan), makes the most of its few minutes on screen.

11. A Christmas Carol (1984)

A window illuminates the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come Image: CBS

George C. Scott stars as Scrooge in one of the all-time best versions of the story, and the ghost is really solid — tattered, shadowy, silent, and imposing. Nothing particularly innovative about this rendition, but expertly executed.

10. Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)

A skeleton’s visage melts into the Crachit family before a fully illuminated Scrooge Image: Pathé

In general, this animated version of the story is pretty low-quality, even though the celebrity voice cast includes Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage. But the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is handled pretty marvelously. Its depiction eschews realism: It’s drawn with sloppy brushstrokes outlining a cadaverous figure. It’s one of the few animated versions that really takes advantage of the medium, even if it’s just for a short time.

9. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

A cloaked figure holds his hands at the graveyard gates as Scrooge approaches in The Muppet Christmas Carol Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Michael Caine in a world full of Muppets is disconcerting enough, but this one takes a turn for the eerie when Scrooge runs into the third spirit — a huge figure clad in black robes, with an infinite, featureless void where its face should be. Not a lot of time on screen, but a really strong design.

8. Scrooge (1970)

A full-on skeleton Yet to Come ghost pokes Scrooge Image: 20th Century Studios

For the first part of the ghost’s appearance in this musical (with Albert Finney as Scrooge), he’s the usual black-cloaked figure. But when Scrooge realizes he’s looking at his own grave, the Ghost reveals a skeletal face and hands that are simultaneously corny and disconcerting.

7. A Christmas Carol (2019)

Jason Flemyng playing a ghost of christmas yet to come with his mouth sewen shut and a top hat Image: FX/BBC

Guy Pearce starred as Scrooge in this series, one of the darkest adaptations of Dickens ever. There’s even a sexual-abuse subplot to Scrooge’s childhood, along with several other adult themes. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is well played by British actor Jason Flemyng, who appears as a pallid man in a black suit and top hat with his mouth crudely sewn shut.

6. A Christmas Carol (2020)

A shadow monster grabs Scrooge Image: Frith Street Films

This ambitious dance film features celebrity voices and professional dancers. It’s one of the more visually compelling takes on the story, with some dynamic sets and beautiful motion. Both Bob Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come are played by dancer Brekke Fagerlund Karl, who is magnificently threatening with his spare movements.

5. A Christmas Carol (1971)

graves pop up all around scrooge Image: Channel 4

Legendary animator Richard Williams won an Oscar for this brilliant adaptation, which is just tremendous from start to finish. The ghost is a hooded figure, as per normal, but the incredible fluidity of the drawings here gives it an uncanny hyperrealism. Coupled with some unsettling camera movement, the design gives us a very high placer.

4. A Christmas Carol (1999)

A ghost of christmas yet to come with a brown robe and jawa eyes Image: TNT

The Patrick Stewart-led Christmas Carol was the first Scrooge story to use digital special effects. Our Ghost here is played by British actor Tim Potter, but we don’t really see him. Instead, it’s a baleful black shroud with two unsettling amber eyes buried within. Sometimes the primitive VFX of this period could be really effective, and this is a great example.

3. A Christmas Carol (2009)

a growing dark shadow ghost Image: Walt Disney Pictures

I’m not the biggest fan of Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture animated films, as they always veer a little too far into the uncanny valley for comfort. But you can’t deny that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in his holiday effort is effective. CGI lets the spirit be a creature of pure shadow, changing size at will for some truly impressive effects.

2. Scrooged (1988)

a bunch of dead melty face spirits trapped in the skeletal chest of the ghost in Scrooged Image: Paramount Pictures

Bill Murray meeting the hulking Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in the elevator is one of many great scenes in this classic ’80s dram-com. Then the ghost opens the front of his cloak to reveal tormented souls trapped in his ribcage, and forces Bill Murray to experience his own cremation. A great fusion of the traditional and the contemporary, and it’s definitely scary!

1. A Carol for Another Christmas (1964)

Robert Shaw in a cloak in A Carol for Another Christmas Image: ABC

Leave it to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling to max out the scare factor. This adaptation stars Sterling Hayden as industrialist Daniel Grudge, who is visited by three ghosts attempting to argue him out of his isolationist policies. The third ghost is played by Robert Shaw, who isn’t that scary on his own — until you realize that the “future” he’s showing Grudge is a world ravaged by nuclear armageddon and senseless, murderous violence. Shadowy figures and impending death are typically scary enough to turn a Scrooge around, but the threat of global thermonuclear war? That’s enough to save a whole lifetime of Christmases.

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