In 1815 France, 19-year-old Edmond Dantes is returning to the port city of Marseilles on the Pharaon. During the voyage, Captain Leclere dies of a fever, leaving Edmond in charge. Edmond is a skilled sailor and an honest man who commands the respect of his crew and the favor of the ship’s owner, M. Morrel.
Upon his return, Edmond tells Morrel of the captain’s death and how his dying wish was for Edmond to deliver a letter to the island of Elba, where Napoleon has been exiled. Feeling it is his duty, Edmond carries out the captain’s wish and then agrees to also deliver a letter from Elba to a man in Paris.
Morrel agrees that Edmond’s actions were right and says that, with the blessing of his business partner, he plans to make Edmond captain of the Pharaon. M. Danglars, the ship’s dishonest purser, sees his chance of being captain lessening and becomes jealous of Edmond.
Edmond visits his elderly father and then Mercedes, his betrothed, where he meets Mercedes’ cousin Fernand Mondego, whom Mercedes loves as a brother. Fernand, though, is in love with Mercedes and is devastated that she only has eyes for Edmond.
Fernand meets with Danglars and Caderousse, who is Edmond’s neighbor and is also jealous of him. While drinking, the trio create a letter that reveals that the trip to Elba as an act of treason.
On the day of Edmond’s wedding, the gendarme arrest Edmond without giving anyone a reason. He is brought before M. Villefort, a prosecutor in Marseilles. Upon questioning him, Villefort discovers that Edmond is carrying a treacherous letter, but that he has no knowledge of what the letter contains.
Villefort is about to release Edmond until he discovers that the letter was intended for Noirtier, Villefort’s Bonapartist father. To save himself from being connected to his criminal father, Villefort burns the letter and has Edmond imprisoned.
Not knowing why he’s been imprisoned, Edmond falls into despair. As time passes, he becomes depressed and begins starving himself in an attempt to die. He is determined to die until he hears what sounds like someone digging in the walls. Buoyed by the hope of a fellow prisoner to speak with and potential escape, Edmond begins to dig on his own wall.
Eventually he meets Abbe Faria. Realizing his calculations were off, Faria decides to stop digging until he can come up with a new plan. In the meantime, he teaches Edmond all he knows, which includes many languages, history and science among various other subjects.
When Edmond recounts the story of his imprisonment, Faria helps him figure out that Fernand, Caderousse and Danglars tipped off the judge. Then Villefort imprisoned him to protect his own reputation. With this knowledge, Edmond vows to get revenge.
As the years go by, the two come up with another escape plan. They are days away from enacting their escape when Faria, who has been ill, has an epileptic fit, which leaves half his body paralyzed. Edmond refuses to leave Faria behind and vows to stay with him. On his deathbed, Faria tells Edmond about a fortune hidden on the island of Monte Cristo and how to find it.
When Faria’s body is discovered, the jailers sew him into a burial sack and leave him in the cell until he can be laid to rest. Edmond takes Faria’s place. When the jailers come, it is Edmond who is cast into the sea, and he escapes.
Edmond is picked up by a group of smugglers and joins their ranks. After a time, he is able to reach the island of Monte Cristo without suspicion. There, he finds Faria’s treasure. He uses his limitless wealth to travel and set the foundation for his plan of revenge.
During this time he travels under many aliases and learns all the details of the events that led to his imprisonment and what happened to Mercedes and his father. Mercedes has disappeared, and his father has died, but Edmond learns that Morrel was a true friend to Edmond and tried to care for his father before he died. Edmond rewards this friendship by secretly helping the nearly bankrupt Morrel pay off his debts and regain his footing as a merchant.
Fernand has married Mercedes, and they have a son, Albert. Edmond reappears in Rome as the Count of Monte Cristo, where he befriends Albert. This friendship secures the Count an introduction to Paris society. In Paris, he meets Danglars, who is a prominent banker, Fernand who made his name in the military and Villefort who became a powerful prosecutor.
The Count uses Danglars’ adulterous wife and her lover to bankrupt Danglars. When Danglars tries to escape and rebuild his fortune, Edmond has a group of bandits capture him and bleed him of his remaining money. Only then does he reveal who he is to Danglars.
Mercedes recognizes the Count as Edmond, and he exposes the terrible acts Fernand committed to gain power. One such act was Fernand’s betrayal of Ali Pacha, a Turkish ruler. Fernand sold Ali’s wife and daughter, Haydee, into slavery to obtain the title of Count. Being faced with the truth, Mercedes and Albert abandon Fernand. When Fernand confronts Monte Cristo, Edmond reveals who he is. Feeling that he’s lost everything, Fernand kills himself.
The revenge on Villefort takes more time and planning. The Count gives Villefort’s wife a potion that, in high doses, is lethal. She uses this substance to murder her enemies, including Villefort’s daughter from his first marriage, Valentine. When Villefort discovers his wife is a murderer, he commands her to kill herself with the same poison rather than turn her in and make her sin public, which would shame him. He leaves for court, expecting his wife to be dead when he returns.
In court, Villefort is prosecuting a man who turns out to be his love child with Danglars’ wife. This truth is revealed to everyone, and Villefort leaves in shame, having realized he is no more innocent than his wife. He arrives home to find that his wife followed his orders and killed not only herself, but also their young son. With his whole family dead and his reputation destroyed, Villefort goes insane.
While planning his revenge, the Count discovers that there were many innocent people who were hurt. One such person was Valentine Villefort. After discovering Madame Villefort planned to kill Valentine, Edmond saves the young woman and helps her fake her death. Maxamillion, Morrel’s son, loves Valentine. Learning she died, he wishes to commit suicide and join her. Edmond convinces Maxamillion to wait a month before he kills himself; to be sure that’s what he wants. Maxamillion agrees.
At the end of the month, Edmond offers his young friend a vile of what is assumed to be poison, but is really a sleeping potion. Maxamillion takes it, expecting to die. When he falls asleep, Valentine is brought to him. Edmond tells her to never to leave Maxamillion, as he has proved his love by being willing to die for her.
He leaves a letter for the young couple before leaving with Haydee, whom he purchased out of slavery and fell in love with. When Maxamillion wakes, he discovers that the Count has left him all his property in Paris. The letter advises Maxamillion to wait and hope.