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Best Classic Sherlock Holmes Movies

author
Elaine Sutton
• Sunday, 13 December, 2020
• 9 min read

When a bored Holmes eagerly takes the case of Gabrielle Valley after an attempt on her life, the search for her missing husband leads to Loch Ness and the legendary monster. Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of deaths at a castle with each foretold by the delivery of orange pips to the victims.

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Contents

In a Manhattan psychiatric hospital a man, convinced he is Sherlock Holmes, is treated by a female doctor who happens to be named Watson. Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of so-called “pajama suicides”.

He knows the female villain behind them is as cunning as Moriarty and as venomous as a spider. Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engages in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England.

Sherlock Holmes investigates the murders committed by Jack the Ripper and discovers a conspiracy to protect the killer. The master sleuth hunts his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, who is planning the crime of the century.

To treat his friend's cocaine induced delusions, Watson lures Sherlock Holmes to Sigmund Freud. A mysterious blonde woman kills one of a psychiatrist's patients, and then goes after the high-class call-girl who witnessed the murder.

Actress Sarah Bernhardt performs at the city's Municipal Theater, captivating the local audience enthralled by French culture. Having been portrayed on screen in excess of two hundred and fifty times, producing any list of film titles featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (who first appeared in print in 1887) is no easy task.

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Billy Wilder’s (who directed and co-wrote) film outing starring Robert Stephenson as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson is something of a cult favorite. The plot comprises two separate stories the main one of which involves the apparent sighting of the Loch Ness monster and the covert building of a submarine.

Whilst the plot(s) sound interesting, and the performances are certainly fitting, the finished article is understandably a little disjointed and veers too far into parody. An interesting addition to the list as the lead character, a widowed millionaire, (played by George C. Scott) actually only believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes.

Based on the play by James Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay), the story focuses more on the relationship/interaction between the two leads as ‘ Holmes follows a series of impossible clues. The psychological spin and Holmes search for a ‘Moriarty of the mind’ makes the film in some ways comparable to elements of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

Whilst a more recent Netflix screening apparently features this scene but still runs short (91mins) compared to 96min televised versions from the1980s. Famous mouse detective Basil is assisted by Dr Dawson to foil a plot by arch villain Rattan to take over England using a mechanical queen.

Basil in the film is voiced by Barrie Ingham with Vincent Price well suited to supplying the tones for arch villain Rattan. It followed on from the financial disaster that had been the previous year’s The Black Cauldron, Basil the Great Mouse Detective was a thankful success at the box office, despite the failure of its predecessor leading to the slashing of its own budget during production.

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However, regardless of the engaging plot, the treats for both Holmes and film fans, fine voice performances and a score from Henry Mancini, this final traditional cell animation from Disney does betray itself with evidence of financial caution and corner cutting. Although the thrilling final ‘Big Ben’ clock tower action sequence (possibly drawing from 1979’the Thirty Nine Steps) does feature Disney’s first use of CGI animation (The Black Cauldron was however the first to be released) as part of its impressive moving clock cog scenes, this does leave one to speculate if more CGI had been planned in with the original budget.

The teaser trailers for director Guy Ritchie’s first Holmes film which featured Sherlock stripped to the waist bare-knuckle boxing, and then describing via narration and slow-motion replay the effects his blows were having on his opponent, sent purists into fits of disdain. However, the finished film starring Robert Downey Jr with Jude Law as Watson is a commendable production and enjoyable Victorian adventure.

Rachel McAdams also features as a love interest and former adversary for Holmes, named and developed from Irene Adler the woman who outwits him in Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. The film was followed by a sequel ‘ Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows’ in 2011, this arguably lacked the same balance of action and plot and weighed too heavily on stunts and spectacle.

Although, in a story with some enjoyably gruesome hallucinations, the opening one of which attracted a series of complaints when the BBC screened it on UK TV one evening in the run up to Christmas, just how young its intended audience were at the time is questionable. Visuals aside, there is some genuine character and depth to the script, the young Holmes of this story possesses all the powers of deduction fans are familiar with but here he is frequently emotional and impulsive with the outcome of a romantic subplot going someway to explain the cool nature of the older Sherlock.

Nearly 100 years after 1922’s Sherlock Holmes, the watershed movie that proved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character a Hollywood leading man, the detective remains on the case! He’s been adapted to movies and TV countless times, and we’ve organized all of his works which got a Tomato meter score in chronological order.

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That includes films from Basil Rathbone’s defining decades-long run accessorized with the deerstalker hat, Robert Downey Jr.’s blockbuster take, and Sherlock‘s modern spin with Benedict Cumberbatch. Critics Consensus: Guy Ritchie's directorial style might not be quite the best fit for an update on the legendary detective, but Sherlock Holmes benefits from the elementary appeal of a strong performance by Robert Downey, Jr.

Critics Consensus: Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows is a good yarn thanks to its well-matched leading men but overall stumbles duplicating the well-oiled thrills of the original. Critics Consensus: Mr. Holmes focuses on the man behind the mysteries, and while it may lack Baker Street thrills, it more than compensates with tenderly wrought, well-acted drama.

Critics Consensus: Nola Holmes brings a breath of fresh air to Baker Street -- and leaves plenty of room for Millie Bobby Brown to put her effervescent stamp on a franchise in waiting. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigate the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate.

The master sleuth hunts his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, who is planning the crime of the century. Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of deaths at a castle with each foretold by the delivery of orange pips to the victims.

When a valuable pearl with a sinister reputation is stolen, Sherlock Holmes must investigate its link to a series of brutal murders. When a gentlewoman is found dead with her throat torn out, the villagers blame a supernatural monster.

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Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson must protect a Swiss inventor of an advanced bomb sight from falling into German hands. Sherlock Holmes investigates when young women around London turn up murdered, each with a finger severed.

Scotland Yard suspects a madman, but Holmes believes the killings to be part of a diabolical plot. When the fabled Star of Rhodesia diamond is stolen on a London to Edinburgh train and the son of its owner is murdered, Sherlock Holmes must discover which of his suspicious fellow passengers is responsible.

During WWII several murders occur at a convalescent home where Dr. Watson has volunteered his services. He summons Holmes for help and the master detective proceeds to solve the crime from ... See full summary ».

Holmes is recruited to escort the heir to a European throne safely back to his homeland after his father's assassination. Sherlock Holmes sets out to discover why a trio of murderous villains, including a dangerously attractive female, are desperate to obtain three unassuming and inexpensive little music boxes.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel to Washington D.C. in order to prevent a secret document from falling into enemy hands. When a Nazi saboteur jeeringly predicts to the nation new depredations via the radio 'Voice of Terror', the Homeland Security Inner Council summons Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) to help ... See full summary ».

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This Billy Wilder film stars Robert Stephens as a more complex Holmes beyond the suave observer depicted in Watson’s (Colin Blakely) tales. Multiple Shylockian admitted to having a soft spot for this “hilarious” reimagining that flips the personalities of its dynamic detective duo, featuring Ben Kingsley’s Watson as the brain and Michael Caine’s Holmes as the bumbling student.

For one of the most recent big-screen adaptations, Linger paid particular kudos to Jude Law, who plays “one of the very best Watson sever” opposite Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes. Shylockian and film historians agree BBC nailed this serialized, updated take on Conan Doyle’s mysteries, featuring Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as a Holmes with “a kind of arrogance that ... is actually not very sympathetic but that made the role interesting,” according to UCLA Film & Television archive director Jan-Christopher Hora.

Jonny Lee Miller, left, as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in CBS’s “Elementary.” That’s the premise for this buzz CBS series starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as a rare female Watson.

The program’s success, Hora said, proves “great capacity” for change in the Holmes canon as long as “the essence of the characters remains.” From his first appearance in print in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has spent more than a century facing all sorts of villains, solving a myriad of mysteries, and sharing quips and retorts with his trusted companion, Dr. John Watson.

Alongside the legends of other British heroes like Robin Hood and King Arthur, the tales of Sherlock, Watson, the dreaded Moriarty, and their fellow London denizens continue to pop up in endless forms of cinematic and televised storytelling. This canon has been added to as recently as 2020, with the Netflix FIM Nola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown as the sister of the intrepid detective, here brought to life by Henry Cavils.

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While Downey's take on Holmes in the Guy Ritchie -helmed Sherlock Holmes films does have some issues, there's no denying that his usual charm and idiosyncratic style of performance creates a fun, offbeat take on the British detective, especially when paired with an equally game Jude Law as his Watson. In Ritchie's world, Holmes is just another Quincy action hero, turning the detective into a hulking, tough guy boxer type, replacing wit with buffoonery and style with muscles.

Though his Watson here is brought to winning life by Jude Law, Downey's Holmes leans too much into the style of generic blockbuster heroes, rather than the Baker Street detective we've become so accustomed to. All is revealed in this story, where the young Holmes is brought to life by Scottish actor Nicholas Rowe, who was not even 20 when he filmed this role.

Rowe is a fun, youthful Holmes, adrift in an eerily strange adventure involving stained-glass ghosts and Egyptian curses. That changed when celebrated director Billy Wilder (of Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, and Sunset Boulevard fame) came onto the scene with his late-career take on the British sleuth: 1970s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Wilder's take leans heavily on the comedic aspects of the Holmes legacy, creating something closer to a studio comedy than a dramatic mystery. But Stephens is more than able to handle the trademark Wilder wit that's at play, tackling every barbed witticism with the necessary seriousness and comedic timing it needs.

If you've ever wondered what would happen if someone tried to create a piece of lovingly crafted Oscar bait out of the world of Sherlock Holmes, then Mr. Holmes is what you're looking for. Unsurprisingly, McAllen shines in the tragic role of a Holmes desperately grabbing at the last vestiges of his remaining sanity, even if the film he's in less resembles The Hound of the Baskerville than it does Still Alice.

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Transplanting Sherlock Holmes from the streets of 19th century London to 21st century New York, Elementary follows modern-day detective Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) as he brings his deductive expertise to the assistance of the NYPD, primarily in collaboration with Dr. Joan Watson (the incomparable Lucy Liu). But Elementary definitely has some fun contemporizing the Holmes stories (including Natalie Dormer providing a fresh take on the villain Moriarty), and Miller is a wonderfully oddball performer that brings humor, humanity, and a ton of heart to this modern detective show.

His performance creates a detective whose dedication to the mystery at hand, while removing some comedy of the role, results in a uniquely compelling sleuth. Chances are, when you hear the name Sherlock Holmes, ” your mind jumps to either the lovable scamp that is Benedict Cumberbatch (we'll get to him soon, promise) or the recent Robert Downey Jr. punch-fests.

Here, Basil (voiced by Barrie Ingham) provides a wonderfully faithful mouse version of the famed detective, balancing his deduction skills, nimble fighting, and veiled madness into a delightful concoction of a main character. He faces off against one of Disney's all-time greatest villains, Professor Vatican, devilishly voiced by Vincent Price.

Before he received a doctorate in being Strange in the MCU, Cumberbatch rose to prominence with his magnificently crafted contemporary spin on Doyle's detective in Sherlock, the BBC television series that, arguably, brought Sherlock Holmes back into the public sphere. Cumberbatch met the challenge of bringing Sherlock to the 21st century with gusto, and his stylish, witty, one-of-a-kind performance emerged as nothing short of iconic.

If Basil Rathbone represents the definitive classic Holmes in the world of cinema, then his television equivalent must be Jeremy Brett, starring in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 1984 to 1994, and even bringing his talents to the London stage for a theatrical take on his more-than-elementary interpretation. It's a wonderfully faithful adaptation, and what it may lack in any sort of reinvention or overt stylistic interpretations, it more than makes up in Brett's fantastically authentic performance, bringing to life what could be called the “definitive” take on Doyle's character.

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HI's droll, dry, witty-beyond-comprehension read on Holmes feels as fresh as ever these days, and made even more impressive that he was able to carry this performance over the course of a decade.

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