Since its 1843 publication, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol—in which Ebenezer Scrooge, a cruel miser, is shown the error of his ways by four ghosts—has proven to have one of the most adaptable narrative frameworks in literary history. Besides inspiring movies like Scrooged and The Muppet Christmas Carol, the book has served as the basis for countless stage productions and episodes of The Jetsons, Martin, Doctor Who, and Northern Exposure (which substituted Yom Kippur for Christmas). The tale was even mimed by Marcel Marceau in 1973.
But only in the last 20 years have we started to see female versions of Ebenezer Scrooge. Even now, these characters are rare, and seemingly the exclusive province of TV movies.
As we see it, the story of Scrooge—who squandered his shot at happiness by prioritizing money over his fiancée, Belle—has a surprising amount of DNA in common with the most irresistibly clichéd rom-com premise: a dried-up career woman learns a much-needed lesson about love. Charles Dickens didn't know it, but he was actually writing the perfect blueprint for a campy, female-driven TV movie.
Please enjoy this preliminary canon of the lady-Scrooge subgenre, the guilty pleasure that comes but once a year.
Starring: Susan Lucci as Elizabeth "Ebbie" Scrooge
Ebbie is the cold-hearted owner of Dobson's department store in what's perhaps the first-ever mainstream example of a gender-swapped take on the Dickens novella. In true Scroogian fashion, she works straight through Christmas and scoffs at those seeking charity, even to benefit children. This lady loves business, you see. Can't get enough of it!
Molly Parker (who you'll recognize as Rep. Jackie Sharp from House of Cards) plays both Ebbie's Christmas-loving niece and—in the Ghost of Christmas Past sequences—that character's late mother, Ebbie's sister. Not only is she Ebbie's sister, but Ebbie's older sister, which makes a flashback scene in which soap opera grand dame Lucci is visibly 25 years Parker's senior both confusing and delightful in how few fucks anyone involved apparently has to give.
Choice line: "Do you remember, Eb? You and me? We used to be such go-getters. Always hungry. Never off the job. Do you remember what we used to say? We said, 'There'll be plenty of time to rest when we're dead.' Well, there's not!" –Jake Marley
Starring: Cicely Tyson as Ebenita Scrooge
Cicely Tyson is, frankly, too good for this movie as Ebenita Scrooge, a loan shark and landlord who thinks nothing of kicking her tenants out on Christmas Eve. Her outlook on life changed following the untimely death of her father, who perished trying to save his grocery store from an act of arson that was likely a hate crime.
Interestingly, it's specifically stated that the Tiny Tim character—whose terrible ailment is usually kept vague—in Ms. Scrooge suffers from a "congenital tumor." Also of note is Katherine Helmond (Mona from Who's the Boss), who interprets Maude Marley as a camp goddess, sparkling in gold chains adorned with a gold-plated cell phone.
Choice line: "'Money knows no day on which it is not welcome.' African proverb." –Ebenita
Starring: Vanessa Williams as Ebony Scrooge
The titular diva is a pop megastar who was once part of a trio. One of the other two members, killed in a car crash, becomes her Jacob Marley (ahem, Marli Jacob, played by none other than TLC's Chilli).
Ebony is cynically hawking a Christmas album and verbally eviscerating everyone unlucky enough to meet her when the spirits pay her a visit, among them a baby-faced Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past. In a clever twist, Ebony's Christmas Future vision takes the form of a Behind the Music episode (this TV movie aired on VH1, after all) recorded after her death, in which talking heads like Brian McKnight and Nile Rodgers reflect on her controversial legacy.
If you were actually going to watch one of these movies in full, let it be A Diva's Christmas Carol: there's a lot of sharp, shady, and altogether over-the-top dialogue that's aged pretty well.
Choice exchange: "I hope you know you're not getting a tip."
"It's okay. I'm a spirit. Our currency is magic and creepiness." –Ebony and the Ghost of Christmas Past
This movie is crazy. Carol Huffman is a successful daytime talk show host who is almost cartoonishly unpleasant, ordering soap as a passive-aggressive holiday gift for her staff and threatening to fire them with little or no provocation. Her vicious personality is thanks to the influence of her (now deceased) domineering showbiz mom of an aunt.
Huffman's spirits are Gary Coleman (Christmas Past) as a former child star, William Shatner (Christmas Present) as Carol's Dr. Phil-esque rival, Dr. Bob, and James Cromwell (Christmas Future) as a chauffeur with an ominous stretch limo. Carol's vision of Christmas Future includes a holiday episode of her show on which, for some reason, she's recruited guests to tell their families that they hate them.
Carol is her own Tiny Tim, exclaiming "God bless us, everyone!" herself at the movie's end. She also reunites with her hunky ex-boyfriend (Jason Brooks), who has the widest mouth I've ever seen on a person.
Choice line: "Remember who pays your salary, Miss Timmons: me, or that 10-year-old daughter of yours?" –Carol
Starring: Morwenna Banks (voice) as Eden Starling
You didn't really think that Barbara Millicent Roberts herself would go full Scrooge, did you? This is a story-within-a-story, as told by Barbie to her little sister Kelly, about Eden Starling, a Victorian-era opera singer.
Eden forces her friends and employees to work on Christmas because, as she puts it, "In a selfish world, the selfish succeed." The best part of this otherwise difficult-for-grownups-to-watch movie is without a doubt Eden's fluffy, expressive cat, Chuzzlewit, whose name is presumably a nod to the Dickens novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.
Choice line: "I hate Christmas! Singing those insipid little carols… I am a classically trained songstress!" –Eden
Starring: Christina Milian as Sloane Spencer
Originally titled Ex-Mas Carol, this adaptation follows a superstar publicist whose hard-partying celebrity client Caitlin Quinn (Ashley Benson) dies after choking on a martini olive.
For her part, Sloane—who works overtime on Christmas to handle damage control and plan Caitlin's memorial slash movie premiere—has been opportunistically hooking up with her boss and generally not living her best life. Sloane revisits her past misdeeds with the help of ghosts in the form of various ex-lovers, in what ultimately amounts to a pretty transparent Ghosts of Girlfriends Past knockoff.
Choice line: "Heaven has an open bar. And Heath Ledger, and James Dean…" –Caitlin
Starring: Emmanuelle Vaugier as Carol Huffman
Carol (nope, different Carol) is a ruthless book publisher who's schooled in morality by her late boss, Eve (Carrie Fisher). Eve performs the roles of not only Marley but also of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, because if you land Queen Carrie Fisher, you might as well use the hell out of her.
This Chicago-set adaptation is otherwise fairly uninteresting, although Queer Eye alum Carson Kressley does play Carol's scheming underling Fred, who calls her "Stalin in stilettos."
Choice exchange: "Did you just say Chuck? As in Dickens?"
"You know what, nice guy, obviously a fantastic writer, but he had a tendency to exaggerate things. Like three ghosts instead of one, or a turkey instead of a slab of mutton." –Carol and Eve
Starring: Kelly Clarkson as a fictionalized version of herself
This NBC special is probably the loosest Christmas Carol pastiche of all, and marks the second appearance by William Shatner (this time as a network exec) on this list. It's a testament to just how dang likable Kelly Clarkson is that she can get away with playing a villainous version of Kelly Clarkson without anyone batting an eye.
The fictional Clarkson is hosting a fictional NBC special of her own (~meta~), and when she can't wrangle enough celebrity friends to star in it, she blackmails the likes of Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood into participating. No ghosts make themselves known to Kelly, but eventually, she ends up at a homeless shelter, learns the true meaning of Christmas, and snubs George Clooney in favor of inviting the kids from the shelter to join her on television instead.
Needless to say, everybody does a lot of singing.
Choice line: "You get to be the hero, and I'm wearing this damn elf costume… I am Blake Shelton, and I am way too cool for this!" –Blake Shelton
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.