The study of interactions between hepatitis C virus (HCV) with its mammalian host, along with the development of more effective therapeutics and vaccines has been delayed by the lack of a suitable small animal model. HCV readily infects only humans and chimpanzees, which poses logistic, economic and ethical challenges with analyzing HCV infection in vivo. Progress has been made in understanding the determinants that dictate HCV's narrow host range providing a blueprint for constructing a mouse model with inheritable susceptibility to HCV infection. Indeed, genetically humanized mice were generated that support viral uptake, replication and production of infectious virions--albeit at low levels. These efforts are complemented with attempts to select for viral variants that are inherently more capable of replicating in non-human species. In parallel, engraftment of relevant human tissues into improved xenorecipients is being continuously refined. Incorporating advances in stem-cell-biology and tissue engineering may allow the generation of patient-specific humanized mice. Construction of such mouse "avatars" may allow analyzing functionally patient-specific differences with respect to susceptibility to infection, disease progression and responses to treatment. In this review, we discuss the three, before mentioned approaches to overcome current species barriers and generate a small animal model for HCV infection, i.e. genetic modification of mice to increase their susceptibility to the virus; genetic modification of HCV, to increase its pathogenicity for mice; and the introduction of human liver and immune cells into immunodeficient mice, to create "humanized" mice. Although in the foreseeable future there will not be a single model that perfectly mimics the natural course of HCV in humans there is reason for optimism. The spectrum of murine animal models for hepatitis C provides a broad arsenal for analyzing the disease. These models may play an important role by prioritizing vaccine candidates and possibly refining combination anti-viral drug therapies. This article forms part of a symposium in Anti-viral Research on "Hepatitis C: next steps toward global eradication."