Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and zirconium carbide (ZrC) composite films were directly grown on Zr–Fe coated glass by chemical vapour deposition. The Zr–Fe film not only acts as a catalyst to facilitate the nanotube growth, but also offers a template to form the ZrC phase. The Zr content in the Zr–Fe bimetallic catalyst can influence the carbon production rate so as to grow long CNTs, yielding a high aspect ratio. In comparison with CNTs grown on a pure Fe catalyst, the composite film promotes the growth of sparse and long nanotubes. Field emission measurements revealed that the composite film exhibits a relatively low turn-on field of 3.2 V µm−1.