All 9 Grinch Movies and TV Shows Ranked

I missed The Grinch first time around as still in my 20’s but loved seeing videos of The Grinch at universal on tiktok.

The Grinch is one of Dr. Seuss’ most iconic and long-lasting creations, a perennial Christmas character who’s been the subject of many adaptations. The latest, horror movie parody The Mean One, with the Grinch as a murderous monster who threatens to ruin Christmas for a sleepy mountain town. Previously, Illumination Entertainment’s Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch in 2018 was only the second time the green-skinned meanie has appeared on the big screen, following up on the last live-action adaptation way back in 2000. Then, of course, there’s the original 1966 animated adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which featured Boris Karloff and arrived on the small screen less than 10 years after the first Grinch book itself.

Dr. Seuss’ kids book and/or the often re-aired Christmas TV special are usually someone’s first introduction to The Grinch, but did you know the character hasn’t just been adapted in animation and live-action but also as a video game, a Broadway stage play, and even a TV puppet show? And it isn’t just Christmastime that brings out the worst in the Grinch; he manages to make other days and holidays just as miserable for the Whos down in Whoville along with The Cat in the Hat and other Seussian creations.

So while one or two of these adaptations might be familiar to you, there’s a whole wide world of The Grinch to explore. We’ll break down each of them to see how they stack up when compared to the latest and greatest, ranked worst to first.

9. The Grinch Video Game (2000)

It’s hard to get worse than this 2000 video game tie-in to Ron Howard‘s live-action movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey. Even those of you with hearts two sizes too small have to admit that the movie adaptation was heads above the Konami cash-grab.

In this game, which has not been received kindly by critics nor gamers, players take control of the title character in order to recover lost blueprints for Christmas-ruining contraptions while jumping all over Whoville and the surrounding area. And while I don’t remember “ground-pounding” being a particular part of The Grinch’s arsenal in the movie, this game does include Carrey’s take on “Grinch-breath.” The highlight of this monstrosity? George Lowe (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast to Coast) doing uncredited narration work. If you got this game as a Christmas present, there’s a good chance that whoever gave it to you is a legit Grinch IRL.

8. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical

In the spirit of fairness, I haven’t seen the Broadway musical adaptation of The Grinch, so my ranking might be a bit harsh. I’m simply basing my judgment on the nightmarish trailer. Live-action adaptations of The Grinch are tough enough to pull off with big movie budgets and the benefit of post-production editing, top-notch special effects and make-up work. I’m sure the musical stage versions produced over the years are up to snuff compared with other Broadway plays, and I’m sure it’s a real holiday treat if you can get the whole family together to see the Grinch’s assault on Whoville play out with pageantry, but it’s a hard pass for me. I wouldn’t touch it with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.

7. The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (1996-98)

Where grown men in Grinch get-ups are the stuff of my nightmares, you can kind of get away with a live-action version of The Grinch in puppet form. This is arguably the least known of The Grinch appearances since he’s a recurring character in the Dr. Seuss’ anthology series The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.

The Jim Henson Company production, airing from 1996 to 1998 on Nickelodeon, ran for two seasons and featured The Grinch and his pal Max the Dog in nine episodes. The show took Grinch and Max beyond their Christmastime scheming and generalized their behavior somewhat: The Grinch was just down for ruining people’s fun at any time of year and Max just did his best to avoid his master’s wrath. It’s a fine addition to Grinch canon and a decidedly less terrifying version of the live-action takes on the character, but it’s not exactly a household name.

6. Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977)

Everyone associates one holiday with The Grinch … and it ain’t Halloween. But when the original ’66 Christmas special continued to draw audiences year after year, the powers that be figured they might as well try their luck with some other holidays. First up was Halloween with Halloween Is Grinch Night.

If you didn’t catch this special on or around the actual holiday, or you only caught it as It’s Grinch Night (as it was packaged in later VHS releases in the early 1990s), you’d be forgiven for not knowing it was a Halloween special at all. And while it’s hard to place the timing of this special in the seasonal sense, it’s also unclear whether this is a prequel or a sequel to the Christmas special. Did the Grinch relapse and go back to terrorizing Whos after his Christmastime turnaround? Or did he relish the haunted holiday as the one time a year when he could go about his Grinchy business unchecked? Hard to say, but the fact that it won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming in 1978 suggests that it’s worth a watch either way.

Though this special was written by Dr. Seuss, it lacks the focus and cohesive storytelling of the original Christmas special. A sour-sweet wind sends the creatures around Mt. Crumpit and Whoville into a ruckus, which causes the Grinch to bring his home-cooked horrors into town. (It’s disconcerting to see the familiar snow-covered landscape all barren and lifeless.) However, he’s prevented in doing so by a brave young Who named Euchariah, who’s forced to face the Grinch’s trippy terrors and stand his ground. It’s a bizarre little story with little to tie it to the Halloween holiday, but also a curious case when it comes to the canon of The Grinch and Max. Is it a prequel or a sequel? Check this one out to see for yourself.

5. The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982)

Following up on the critical success of the Halloween special, 1982’s The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat attempted to capitalize on two of Dr. Seuss’ most famous creations with this crossover. Also written by Dr. Seuss, this animated short sees the title characters cross paths … literally. It seems the Cat in the Hat has opted to park his car in the middle of the road on which The Grinch was driving. (I guess the Grinch upgraded from his Max-drawn sleigh and wagon from the previous specials.) This altercation, which includes Cat calling him “Mr. Greenface,” leads to outright road rage on the part of The Grinch, followed by a series of increasingly devious machinations that see The Grinch stealing the ability to produce sound and perceive light from the Cat in the Hat. Diabolical. No worries though, everything’s put right again in the end by a well-placed song that tugs at the heartstrings of even the The Grinch. (Oh, and this special managed to win two Emmy awards.)

Curiously, this special includes another trippy animated sequence that you rarely see in kids’ specials these days. Halloween Is Grinch Night had a similar one, but if memory serves correctly no such psychedelic sequences popped up in the original Christmas special. Also complicating things in this non-holiday short is the lineage of The Grinch himself, specifically his mother. And as we’ve seen in more recent adaptations, The Grinch’s parentage is both questionable in its veracity and a weak point in his existential and emotional armor.

4. The Mean One (2022)

The newest addition to our list is never actually referred to as The Grinch, but we all know who he is anyway. The Mean One tells the story of what happens after a young girl named Cindy befriends a green monster. Two decades after The Mean One (David Howard Thornton) killed her mother, Cindy (Krystle Martin) and her dad return to Newville to find that the town has banished all Christmas decorations and celebrations. When Cindy’s dad decides to decorate anyway, The Mean One returns and embarks on a murderous holiday spree throughout the town.

While the movie may not be the greatest, Thornton’s performance as The Mean One is the one bright spot. He effectively emotes as a psycho that clearly takes joy in killing, even behind the heavy makeup. Thornton seemed to be enjoying himself in the role, which makes his performance the one standout from a not-very-scary horror movie, and puts his version of The Grinch in our fourth spot.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Okay, now we get to the top three adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ original story of The Grinch. Despite the challenges of bringing a two-dimensional, green-skinned, humanoid Grinch and a village of pint-sized, candy-colored Whos to life, Ron Howard‘s live-action adaptation managed to deliver a decent take on the Christmas classic while winning an Oscar for Best Makeup in the process. (That award went to Rick Baker and Gail Rowell-Ryan.)

As an actual feature-length adaptation, however, How the Grinch Stole Christmas illuminated the difficulty in expanding Dr. Seuss’ picture book and original 26-minute special into a 104-minute movie with a three-act structure. Much of the heavy lifting was done by the always energetic and unpredictable Jim Carrey. He’s basically a cartoon in the flesh and was perfectly cast in the role; his performance was only enhanced by the Oscar-winning makeup, not masked by it.

A big part of the artistic license taken with the Grinch’s tale in this story is seen in little Cindy Lou Who’s interest with his past and the tragic tale he’s kept hidden. An outsider in Whoville even as an adopted baby, the Grinch was a victim of bullying that was so severe he chose to live in isolation up on Mt. Crumpit instead of facing one more day in town. And though the Grinch is lured back into town with the promise of being welcomed into the fold, a cruel trick causes him to double down on his traditional Christmas-ruining plans. The rest of the story plays out pretty much the way you know it from there.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas offered up a title character who wasn’t just mean for meanness’ sake and delivered an earnest attempt to further develop the iconic character.

2. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

Believe it or not, Illumination Entertainment’s Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is one of the best adaptations of the story you’ll find. I almost gave it the #1 spot overall, but for some reasons which I’ll explain, it doesn’t quite take the top prize.

Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the first name that comes to mind when I think of “The Grinch”; that honor still belongs to the late Boris Karloff. However, Cumberbatch does deliver a somewhat kinder version of the character, a curmudgeonly loner who is more of a misunderstood grump than he is an evil trickster. Even his beloved pooch pal Max is less of a cowering, whipped cur in this tale and is instead a very talented, generous, and loyal pup. This telling of The Grinch also introduces other animal friends who are downright delightful. And in exploring that softer side of mean Mr. Grinch, this version continues the character’s tragic backstory, this time with a bit of a twist on the story so far. It’s a sweet approach that makes The Grinch a bit more relatable and makes us wish we were all a little more like the unfailingly optimistic and cheerful Whos.

Another area that Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch surpasses all the other adaptations that came before it is in the animation quality. It’s stunning. The Christmas decorations in Whoville are gorgeous and incredibly detailed; there’s so much going on in each scene that you’ll have to watch it again and again to catch all the nuances and little sight gags scattered throughout. This version of the tale also manages to expand Dr. Seuss’ original story into a feature-length version, but at only 86 minutes, it doesn’t overstretch itself. Some of The Grinch’s Christmas planning excursions feel a bit forced, but it’s all in good fun, and the ultimate ending is pure joy.

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

The only thing that kept the new version of The Grinch from topping the original Christmas classic was that it veered a bit too far from the story’s simple premise. The Grinch has long been a one-note character who blossoms into a more well-rounded individual over the course of Dr. Seuss’ telling (and the original 26-minute cartoon), thanks to the spirit of Christmas.

The character doesn’t need a tragic backstory to explain why he hates Christmas, why he’s cruel to those who love him, and why he likes to torment those around him. Audiences don’t need to feel bad for the Grinch in order to feel hopeful and optimistic by his turn at the story’s end. That may be the job of the feature-length films to deliver a deeper character study to fill the runtime, but for my money, it doesn’t get any better than when Thurl Ravenscroft growls “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and lays out all the inky-black character traits of the title terror. That’s all you need to know and all it takes to feel happy for The Grinch once he gets the place of honor at the feasting table and is asked to carve the roast beast by the special’s end.

Whatever version of The Grinch is your favorite, I hope you get to enjoy it with friends and family this (and every) holiday season!

Author Profile

Sarah Meere
Sarah Meere
Executive Editor

Sarah looks after corporate enquiries and relationships for UKFilmPremieres, CelebEvents, ShowbizGossip, Celeb Management brands for the MarkMeets Group. Sarah works for numerous media brands across the UK.

Latest entries

Leave a Reply