IBC Television president Frank Cross is pushing his company to broadcast an extravagant live production of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, making the staff work throughout the holiday. Frank fires executive Eliot Loudermilk for disagreeing with him, and sends cheap IBC-monogrammed towels to all on his Christmas list, including his personal assistant Grace, and his brother James. Frank’s boss Preston Rhinelander, seeing the stress Frank is under with the production, brings in Brice Cummings to provide assistance, though Brice secretly wants Frank’s job.
The night before the show, Frank is visited by the ghost of his mentor Lew Hayward, who died from a heart attack as an unloved miser. Lew warns him three more ghosts will appear to him over the next day to help Frank avoid the same fate. Before it vanishes, the ghost dials up Claire Phillips, Frank’s lost love from years ago. Claire comes to the network to talk to Frank, but Frank does not make time for her, and she returns to the homeless shelter where she works.
As rehearsals start, Frank is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, appearing as a taxi driver. He takes Frank to see his past: how he found solace in television after his mother left his father, and how he had fallen in love with Claire but lost her favor when he prioritized his television career over her. When back in the present, Frank goes to see Claire, hoping to make amends. However, his attitude quickly sours and he shows his contempt for a homeless man named Herman and the shelter workers. He returns to the studio.
The Ghost of Christmas Present arrives as a clumsy yet volatile fairy. She takes him to Grace’s apartment, showing his assistant’s struggles to support her large family, including her youngest son Calvin who has remained mute since seeing his father murdered. The Ghost then shows him James, who still respects Frank as his brother despite declining invitations to his Christmas celebrations and cheap gifts. The Ghost leaves him in a utility space under a sidewalk with Herman, now frozen to death. Frank desperately tries to escape, breaking through a boarded up door to end back up on the set of the production. Preston directs Brice to take over rehearsals to give Frank some time off.
Retiring to his office, Frank finds Eliot waiting for him with a shotgun, ready to kill Frank for the loss of his job and family. Frank escapes into the elevator where the Grim Reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Future awaits. The Ghost takes him to the future, where Calvin has become catatonic and been institutionalized, and Claire has heeded Frank’s words and shunned the homeless to become just like Frank. Finally, the Ghost shows Frank’s cremation ceremony, with only James and his wife in attendance. Frank, having come to a revelation about his life, is shocked when he finds himself in the coffin as is it about to be incinerated, and breaks his way out, ending up back out of the elevator facing Eliot. Frank’s completely changed demeanor surprises Eliot, particularly when Frank offers him a high-level executive position.
With Eliot’s help, Frank returns to the production set, secures Brice in the control room, and breaks the show’s live broadcast to speak of his new appreciation for life. He apologizes on air to Grace, James, and the cast and crew, and makes a passionate plea to Claire to come back to him. Claire sees this at the shelter, and makes for the network with the help of the Ghost of Christmas Past. As Frank and Claire reunite, Calvin comes up to Frank and speaks for the first time, reminding him to say the closing words of the Carol, “God bless us, everyone”, much to Grace’s elation. Frank leads the crew in singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”, and sees Lew, the three Ghosts, and the ghost of Herman smile and wave back to him.
Scrooged is a 1988 American Christmas comedy film directed by Richard Donner and written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue. Based on the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Scrooged is a modern retelling that follows Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a cynical and selfish television executive, who is visited by a succession of ghosts on Christmas Eve intent on helping him regain his Christmas spirit. The film also stars Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, and Alfre Woodard.
Scrooged was filmed on a $32 million budget over three months in Hollywood. Murray returned to acting for the film after taking a 4-year hiatus following the release of Ghostbusters, the success of which he found overwhelming. Murray worked directly with Glazer and O’Donoghue on reworking the script before agreeing to join the project. The production was tumultuous, as both Murray and Donner had different visions for what the film should be. Murray himself described his time on the film as one of “misery”, while Donner called Murray “superbly creative but occasionally difficult”. Alongside Murray’s three brothers, Brian, John, and Joel, Scrooged features numerous celebrity cameos.
The film’s marketing capitalized on Murray’s Ghostbusters role, referencing his encounters with ghosts in both films. Scrooged was released on November 23, and earned $60.3 million during its theatrical run in the United States, making it the 13th-highest-grossing film of 1988 and a moderate box-office hit. The film received a positive response from test audiences, but was met by a mixed response on its release, by critics who alternately found the film too mean spirited, or too sentimental. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, but lost to Beetlejuice.
In the years since its release, Scrooged has become a regular feature on television at Christmas, with some critics citing it as an alternative to more traditional Christmas films, and others arguing that Scrooged was ahead of its time, allowing it to remain relevant in the modern day. It has appeared on various lists of the best Christmas films ever made.