Shortly after the imprisonment of Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba, 19 year old merchant sailor Edmond Dantes takes over his ship when the captain takes ill and dies. The ships owner Morrel is impressed enough to declare hell be the captain of the next voyage, arousing the bitter jealousy of the ships purser Danglars who was also angling for the job. Dantes also explains how the captain charged him to deliver a mysterious package to Elba, and in return he received a letter he now must deliver.
Returning home to his father, Dantes discovers the small time crook Gaspard Caderousse has taken most of their money for a previous favor. He also meets his fiancée Mercedes, whose cousin Fernand Mondego has been in love with her since childhood and also harbors a grudge against Dantes. Danglars, Fernand, and Caderousse all meet and realize the trip to Elba was part of a plot to free Napoleon, and cook up a plan to frame Dantes as its mastermind rather than an unknowing pawn.
Dantes is arrested and brought before the magistrate Gerard De Villefort, who is initially sympathetic toward him as the charges are clearly false, and is about to let him go. However, Dantes then reveals the name of the person he was to deliver the letter to: Noirtier, Villeforts own father whose Bonapartist sympathies hes been desperately trying to hide as it would destroy his career. He promptly destroys the evidence and sentences Dantes to life in the notorious prison Chateau dIf.
As the years pass, Napoleon does indeed escape only to be defeated again at Waterloo, which Dantes remains ignorant of. Hes finally driven to starve himself when fellow prisoner Abbe Faria breaks into his cell, in the middle of digging a tunnel to the outside. They rejoice in their companionship and continue the escape plan together, and in the meantime Faria teaches Dantes in numerous subjects, helps him figure out the full story of why he was imprisoned, and also tells the story of an ancient treasure belonging to his former employers who are now all dead, waiting on the tiny island Monte Cristo. After several more years, Faria dies of the constant exertion, and Dantes seizes the opportunity to replace him in the burial shroud, where he narrowly survives being thrown in the sea.
Dantes is picked up by a smuggling ship, and learns fourteen years have passed since his arrest. He spends a few months on the ship and befriends crew member Jacopo before they head for a trade at Monte Cristo, where he finds the treasure. After buying a yacht to hold his new riches, he enters an inn owned by Caderrouse in disguise, where he learns what has happened to everyone involved in the plot against him: Danglars is a wealthy banker, Villefort is a highly respected prosecutor, and Fernand is a Count with Mercedes as his wife.
Caderrouse also shares that Morrel repeatedly tried to secure his freedom over the years, at great risk to himself, and has fallen on hard times after losing several ships at sea. In another disguise, Dantes covertly arranges to pay these efforts back, using the very money which had once been borrowed from Caderrouse, and along with Jacopo building a duplicate of his old ship so Morrel can continue to build on that money. Watching the celebration from afar, Dantes swears to himself that this one act is all the kindness left in him, and from now on hell be entirely devoted to revenge.
Still more years pass in which Dantes uses the treasure to completely transform himself into the debonair, erudite Count of Monte Cristo who will be able to infiltrate French high society and get close to his targets. When Fernand and Mercedes son Albert and his friend Franz dEpinay vacation in Rome, he buys up all the carriages in town just to make a show of giving them one, and then conspires with the gangster Luigi Vampa to kidnap Albert, only to appear and scold Vampa for harming his friend, leaving the young man indebted to him.
Three months later, Dantes arrives in Paris and Albert introduces him to all his friends, who are quickly enchanted by the enigmatic Count, plus his fiancée Eugenie, the daughter of Danglars. Upon meeting Alberts parents, Fernand is completely fooled but Mercedes nearly faints, implying that she recognizes him.
Dantes shows his new house to his servant Bertuccio, who has his own grudge against Villefort for ignoring the murder of his brother. The house belonged to Villeforts late first wife, and Bertuccio had earlier attempted to kill him there, but instead discovered him trying to bury a newborn baby who he took to be raised by his brothers widow, who named him Benedetto. Afterwards, he was arrested for Caderrouses murder of his wife, but a disguised Dantes ensured Caderrouse was sentenced to life instead, resulting in their current partnership.
Dantes next cozies up to Danglars by opening an account with him, plus having Bertuccio buy the horses his wife just bought herself, driving a wedge between them over Danglars selling the horses behind her back. After giving the horses back, he contrives to have them run wild and apparently nearly kill Villeforts wife Heloise and son Edouard before being stopped by another servant, Ali, getting all his targets obligated to him.
Dantes checks in on Morrels children Maximillian and Julie, who are still doing well off the money he gave them, though hes spooked when Julie vaguely recognizes him and even says Morrel was absolutely sure Dantes was their benefactor. He then has dinner with the Villeforts, where Heloise asks for a medicine for Edouard. He gives it with a warning that too much will be poisonous.
Albert confides in Dantes that he has doubts about marrying Eugenie, especially since his prospective mother-in-law Madame Danglars is prone to unwise investments, and suggests he and his friend Lucien Debray teach her a lesson by spreading a false rumor that a certain stock is about to soar, causing her to lose so much shell never do it again. Debray is oddly reluctant to agree.
Maximillian meets with his secret lover, Villeforts daughter Valentine (from his first wife, now dead) who is engaged to Franz. Her grandfather Noirtier, now quadriplegic and mute after a stroke, is still causing problems for his son as he strongly opposes the marriage and threatens to cut the whole family out of his will if the marriage goes through.
Dantes arranges for Benedetto to enter high society in the guise of the son of a Major Cavalcanti, even hiring another imposter to pose as Cavalcanti himself. He then invites all his new friends to a dinner party, with Villefort naturally reluctant to return to the house. Bertuccio also reveals that Madame Danglars is the person Villefort was having an affair with which produced Benedetto. Dantes twists the knife by vaguely alluding to the story of Benedettos birth, and even presents the box which he claims contained the remains of a baby, to the horror of them both. A complication arrives as Caderrouse accosts Benedetto on the way out, having escaped from prison where they had become acquainted.
Madame Danglars doesnt get any time to rest from the ordeal, as Danglars confronts her about having an affair with Debray, whos actually been giving her all the bad investment advice. He knows about all her previous lovers including Villefort, but stayed quiet until now since his money is all he cares about, and now he expects Debray to pay it all back. The next day, Danglars discusses the issue with Dantes, who seizes the chance to probe for information on his daughters prospective father-in-law Fernand and gets him to briefly open up about the mysterious Ali Pascha affair that earned Fernand all his money and status. Dantes urges him to learn the full truth, and also drops hints that Cavalcanti, ie Benedetto, might make a better match for Eugenie, his half-sister unknown to anyone else.
Villefort insists to Madame Danglars that the story about the dead baby cant be true, as after recovering from Bertuccios murder attempt he searched the whole grounds and didnt find the box. They both accuse each other of revealing the secret somehow, and Villefort is determined to find out why the Count would lie about it. Before he can get started, his former mother-in-law and Valentines grandmother arrives ranting about a premonition of her own death. After questioning if Franz is really happy marrying the granddaughter of the Bonapartist Noirtier and urging him to have the wedding as soon as possible, she takes a drink and dies just an hour later. The doctor determines that the drink was poisoned, using an overdose of medicine Noirtier had been taking.
Two days later, the marriage contracts are about to be signed when Noirtier summons Franz and directs him to read a sealed pack of papers. They reveal the full story behind the death of Franzs father: the Bonapartist group Noirtier belonged to mistakenly believed him to share their views, and revealed the plan to free Napoleon. When he denounced them, Noirtier himself killed the man in a duel. Franz declares he cant possibly marry the granddaughter of his fathers killer, to Valentines joy. Noirtier also amends his will to leave everything to Valentine. But the mood is spoiled when Noirtiers servant takes a drink and quickly dies, and the doctor determines it was the same poison, suspecting that Noirtier was the real target both times but was saved by having built up a tolerance.
Danglars has discovered the full story of the Ali Pascha affair and promptly breaks off Eugenies engagement to Albert, though he only says Fernand should be grateful he doesnt explain why. But Danglars is soon presented with a new problem as Dantes takes inspiration from Alberts idea, and bribes a telegraph operator to transmit a false message about an upcoming stock shift. Danglars takes the bait and is soon racking up debt.
Caderrouse grows dissatisfied with Benedettos payments, and gets the idea to rob the Counts house. Benedetto sends an anonymous warning, so Dantes is prepared and confronts Caderrouse with the same disguise as before. He coerces Caderrouse into writing a statement about Benedettos ill deeds to save his own soul, but soon Caderrouse gives in to his greed and tries to kill Dantes, who was prepared for it and wearing a metal plate over his chest. Caderrouse runs but is stabbed outside by Benedetto. Dantes gets him to write one more line naming Benedetto as his killer, treating him to a bitter speech about how hes had so many chances to have a good life and wasted them all, and reveals his true identity in the dying mans final moments.
Dantes takes Albert away to his new estate on Normandy, just after arranging for the Ali Pascha affair to be revealed to the public by Alberts own friend, the journalist Beauchamp. A valet arrives with the news and he rushes back home, while Fernand is caught off guard by the article right at his next Chamber of Deputies meeting. He tries to dispute the anonymous article as lies, but Dantes has also arranged for a witness, his servant Haydee who is actually Paschas daughter. She testifies that Fernand murdered her father and then sold her and her mother into slavery, resulting in him running from the room and the rest of the council quickly declaring him guilty.
Albert confronts Beauchamp, who names Danglars as the source of the story. Danglars in turn pawns off the blame on the Count, and Albert confronts him at the opera against Mercedes protests. Dantes eagerly agrees to a duel, but the next day is visited by Mercedes, who reveals she did indeed recognize him the moment of his return, and begs him not to kill her son who is an innocent in the whole affair. Dantes is moved enough by their previous love to allow Albert to kill him, but when the duel is set to begin Albert reveals that his mother told him everything, and he accepts the rightness of Dantes hatred for his father.
Albert and Mercedes prepare to leave Fernand and make a new life, for which Dantes offers a sizable money cache hed hidden away for their marriage. Fernand himself confronts Dantes and makes his own duel challenge, only for Dantes to appear to him dressed in his old sailing clothes. Fernand instantly recognizes him and flees in terror, and upon returning home to find his wife and son have left, commits suicide.
Madame Danglars arrives at the Villeforts to announce Eugenies new engagement to Benedetto, though Eugenie herself is still none too happy about it. At the same time, Valentine collapses, and Maximillian goes to Dantes for help. She survives the initial attack, and Noirtier reveals hes been helping her build the same poison immunity he had.
The Danglars hold a party for the signing of Eugenies wedding contract, which is interrupted by the police much like Dantes own engagement party, and Benedetto is arrested due to Caderrouses letter. Upstairs, Eugenie reveals a long-prepared escape plan to the person she truly loves, her piano tutor Louise dArmilly. Louise eagerly agrees, and the two women run off into the night together. Benedetto makes his own escape, but coincidentally ends up at the same inn his one-time betrothed is hiding out in, catching her and Louise in bed together. This is such a distraction that the police are able to catch up and arrest him, while Eugenie and Louise successfully get away to their freedom for good.
Dantes approaches the recovering Valentine late at night and reveals the supposed medicine shes been given is a final dose of the poison, suggesting she pretend to sleep to discover the poisoners identity that very night. It turns out to be Heloise, who has been scheming to make sure her own son Edouard is Noirtiers sole inheritor. Dantes gives Valentine a pill that will put her into a temporary coma so everyone will think shes dead, while also leaving enough of the poison to provide solid evidence. Upon her apparent death being discovered, Maximilien is about to kill himself when Dantes reveals his identity, and begs him to wait just a month when all his problems will be solved.
Dantes uses his account with Danglars to take out a loan that stresses his now depleted accounts to the breaking point, and soon after another man takes out a loan for hospital charity which Danglars will have no way to pay. In desperation he goes on the run with all his clients money currently in his possession. Madame Danglars meets back with Debray, who misunderstands the situation and assumes she still has sizable funds of her own, to which she leaves in disgrace. At the same inn, Albert and Mercedes begin their new life, taking on Mercedes maiden name while Albert plans to enter the military, Dantes watching it all and regretting the collateral damage his revenge has begun to show.
Villefort has figured out his wife was the poisoner and confronts her, offering a last chance to take the poison herself and spare them all the scandal. In court, Benedettos trial starts in which he freely admits to murdering Caderrouse. He goes on to reveal the story of his birth, including naming Villefort as his father. Madame Danglars, hidden in the audience, faints and is revealed as his mother. Villefort is driven to a nervous breakdown in which he confesses to it all and runs back home. There he discovers that Heloise has killed not only herself but Edouard, and when Dantes reveals himself as to his other targets, Villefort points to the bodies and asks if they were part of his plan. With that, his remaining sanity shatters and hes reduced to digging up his garden thinking hes back at Benedettos birth. Dantes is even more horrified at the unintended consequences of his actions and decides to leave town.
Dantes returns back to his fathers old house, where Mercedes is now living after Albert left for the military. He approves of the choice, and hopes that one day Mercedes will allow him to share his full wealth with her. She says she will if Albert approves, and they part with a distant hope of one day seeing each other again.
The Chateau dIf has been shut down and made into a tourist attraction, and Dantes discovers his escape has made him a legend in the place. He visits Farias old cell and finds a book he wrote, which includes a passage which convinces him his revenge is still under divine providence and still has one target to go. Thus, he gets back in touch with Luigi Vampa and has Danglars kidnapped, then spend two weeks being gouged of all his stolen money as the only way hell be allowed food. When he finally cries out that he truly repents all his misdeeds, Dantes reveals himself and says recent events have led him to be more forgiving. He lets Danglars go, but with only the small amount of money he ever earned for himself.
Maximiliens promised month comes to an end, and he meets Dantes on Monte Cristo to do the deed. Dantes presents him with a final lavish party for the two of them, and then gives him a powder he claims is poison. Maximilien takes it, but it only briefly knocks him out, after which Valentine appears and all is explained. Now that Maximilien has tasted the same kind of despair Dantes went through, he is truly worthy of an equal amount of happiness. Back on shore Dantes meets with Haydee, who declares that she loves him, and he accepts as a divine reward now that his work is done. He leaves Maximilien and Valentine with a final message that all they need to ensure their happiness is to wait and hope, and they watch after his departing ship in the hope they may one day meet again.