The holiday season is a time for heartwarming traditions and cozy nights spent in front of the TV. Then there is the annual holiday tradition of being wildly and repeatedly frustrated by seeing "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in your program guide, selecting it, and then cursing to the heavens because it's not the version of The Grinch you thought you were getting.
Alongside Ebenezer Scrooge and Santa Claus himself, The Grinch is among the most adapted characters in the Christmas canon. The ill-tempered creature who lives on a mountain overlooking the boisterous and cheerful Whoville was created by Dr. Seuss in his 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. With an assist from the legendary Chuck Jones, the book was adapted into an animated TV special in 1966. The original How the Grinch Stole Christmas TV special existed as a beloved holiday tradition for decades without any kind of confusion or competition for its pop cultural footprint.
That all changed in the year 2000, when director Ron Howard and actor Jim Carrey decided to seize upon this valuable piece of intellectual property and create a live-action version of The Grinch. The film was roundly panned by critics, but it endures as a recurring holiday-season programming option twenty years later, albeit one that's far less popular than its animated ancestor.
The uneasy truce between the 1966 Grinch and the 2000 Grinch lasted for 18 years, until Illumination Entertainment carved off yet another slice of roast beast with its own computer-animated retelling of the story, called The Grinch. This time the Grinch was voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.
And then, in 2020, we had Matthew Morrison of Glee fame applying green face paint and prosthetics to play the Grinch in Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Musical Live!, a televised version of the 2006 Broadway musical Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.
That's a lot of Grinch, and a lot of different show listings to be confused by. You might think the titles for each project would be the easiest and most definitive way to tell them apart, but oh ho ho, would you ever be wrong. For one thing, there is no uniformity in how they are titled. On IMDb, for instance, the 1966 original cartoon is titled "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," and the 2000 Jim Carrey version is titled "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Did you catch the difference? The exclamation point on the 1966 version? If you need to remember how to tell them apart, a handy trick is that you're excited for the 1966 version, and you are not excited for the 2000 version.
The titles get more confusing if you're looking at Amazon or Apple, where the 2000 Grinch is called "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas," while the 1966 original is rented under the title "How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Ultimate Edition." In the latter case, the exclamation point appears on the graphic but not in the listed title. Meanwhile, the Amazon graphic for the 2000 film says "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas," while the Apple graphic just says "The Grinch," which unhelpfully is also what it says on the 2018 remake. At least the 2018 animated movie is listed on Amazon and Apple as "Illumination Presents: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch," which is an ugly and unwieldy title but one less likely to be confused with the other projects.
The TV Guide listings are where things really get maddening, though. The NBC and TBS airings of the 1966 animated special are called "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The Freeform airings of the 2000 feature film with Jim Carrey are listed as… "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Yes, the same exact thing. And if you're not already on the verge of a rage stroke, know that the FX airing of the Jim Carrey version on Saturday December 11th is just called "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," a different title than the Freeform airing of the same exact movie. And that airs back-to-back on FX with "The Grinch," which (in this case) is the 2018 version.
So, if you can't trust the title on the listing, what's your recourse? For one thing, pay attention to the running time. The 1966 original is a 30-minute special, while the 2000 film fits into a 2-hour block on cable. Of course, the 2018 version also conforms to a 2-hour cable block, which is why you should also hit the info button and see if it tells you what year it was made.
Here's a quick cheat sheet:
The 1966 animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
The 2018 computer-animated The Grinch:
The 2020 NBC Musical:
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.