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. 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. 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.
If you bring up Sherlock Holmes to pretty much anyone on the internet, chances are, their mind will jump straight to everyone's favorite lanky, fantastically-named actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. 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. 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.
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.
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. The reason why, to paraphrase the esteemed Sherlock, is mere “elementary.” Arthur Conan Doyle’s brainchild is the basis for all modern detection, from the analysis of fingerprints and ballistics (which eventually became forensic procedure) to the pipe and deerstalker cap that’s since become a symbol for stalking criminals.
Doyle reportedly based the character on real life mentor Joseph Bell, but from his first screen appearance in the 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, the Sherlock role has been open to interpretation. Of the 70 performers who’ve had the pleasure, many, including Christopher Lee, Roger Moore, and Charlton Heston have donned the deerstalker to less than stellar results.
With that in mind, we’ve picked what we believe to be the finest adaptations to date, so that one can binge detect while waiting for BBC’s Sherlock to return this winter. Set in New York City, Miller plays Sherlock as an eccentric who was forced to relocate in the wake of rampant drug use and wanting a fresh start.
Partnered with protege Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), the duo traverse a slew of mysteries both classical and original-- especially with the added twist of Moriarty being a vivacious female (Natalie Dormer). Response to Elementary was initially mixed, especially in comparison to BBC’s Sherlock, but it's proven a sleeper success due to Miller’s psychologically tainted performance.
The British actor brought a bundle of new Sherlock details to the table; namely, the detective’s father issues, his mother’s history with opium, and his field experience with MI6 (between seasons 2 and 3). Played with haunting authority by English actor Rupert Everett, this Holmes is not a man easily amused by life’s finer things.
In fact, given the TV lineage before him, Everett decides to emphasize the character’s lesser qualities: patronizing arrogance, emotional indifference, and of course, fluctuating drug use. Silk Stocking pulls this card instantly in the opener, which shows Holmes lounging in an opium den to pass the time.
It also helps that the actor’s “hawk-like nose”, “sharp and piercing eyes”, and chin of “prominence and squareness” all check out with Conan Doyle’s literary description. Based on the book by Nicholas Meyer, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) takes the drug angle a step further by forcing Holmes (Nicole Williamson) to undergo psychiatric treatment.
Williamson gets to cut loose as the famous detective, bypassing the Stoic norm for a performance that’s riddled with jittery antics and rambling tirades. Their presence, along with Akin and Vanessa Redgrave, helped The Seven-Per-Cent Solution convey it's risky premise and net two Academy Award nominations (including Best Adapted Screenplay).
Unfortunately, Granada Studios was beginning work on their show around the same time, and the resulting legal disagreement was eventually settled out of court for the cost of the Mantra mysteries that did get made: The Hound of the Baskerville and The Sign of Four. These 1983 films had their minor gripes; from the occasional happiness to the vocal dubbing, but the lead presence of Ian Richardson proved a saving grace.
Long before he rose to fame for the original House of Cards (1990), Richardson brought a light, reaction nature to the role of Sherlock. Nevertheless, Wilmer’s performance was widely hailed for its sardonic bite and no-nonsense demeanor-- traits that his series replacement, Peter Cushing, would later absorb.
The idea of depicting the detective’s early years had “80s gimmick” written all over it, but the efforts of screenwriter Chris Columbus and director Barry Levinson ensured the film would be a fun family adventure. Young Sherlock Holmes follows the titular teen (Nicholas Rowe) as he enters the prestigious Brampton Academy and befriends John Watson (Alan Cox).
Levinson has fun scrambling Sherlock lore to fit his new origin story, while the surprise inclusion of Lestrade (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) and, in a twist that will go unspoiled, Moriarty, add lightweight excitement. Guy Henry previously played a juvenile Holmes for Granada’s Young Sherlock, but Rowe still remains the one and only sleuthing youth.
Sherlock’s emotional journey dictates the 2015 dazzler, and the ghost of an unsolved case serves to drive this point home in the final act. With Watson, Mycroft, and everyone else he knew deceased, there’s an innate sadness to these Holmes, and the actor conveys so much through his lined face it can be heartbreaking to witness.
Arriving at the tail end of Billy Wilder’s career, the film takes a slightly satirical look at the detective, playing up the distinction between the “real” Holmes and the one that Watson documents in The Strand magazine. In his lone deerstalker outing, the actor presents a man with ambiguous sexuality and a general melancholy that’s surprising given some of the film’s more comedic moments.
Unable to save the woman before she was killed by Jack the Ripper, it’s a display that lets the audience connect with Holmes in lieu of simply observing him. He and close friend Vitaly Solomon were cast as the leads in the 1979 show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and the overwhelming response led them to reprise their roles in subsequent TV movies.
Famous for his deep, resonant voice and Ernest friendship with Watson, Ivanov is the only Sherlock actor to become an Honorary Member of the British Empire. Instead, driven by the energy of director Guy Ritchie, this version much prefers a brawl and a few set pieces before donning a trench coat and fedora.
In fact, the trio are reuniting for next year’s still untitled Sherlock Holmes 3, proving that action, comedy, and a winning star are more than enough to excuse a few major liberties. Blessed with cavernous bone structure and an elderly grace, Cushing refused to stray from the source material by playing up two core components: arrogance and impulse.
This rigid approach caught the attention of BBC in 1968, who then cast the actor in the third season of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Before Rathbone, guys like John Barrymore and Raymond Massey were playing a generic type-- the genius with a pipe and a brooding attitude.
In BBC’s Sherlock, the detective ditches the deerstalker for a long coat and scarf, while typically slicked hair takes a holiday for a mess of darkened curls. In episodes like “The Blind Banker” (2010) and “The Sign of Three” (2014), the duo creates a chemistry that's at once contemporary and cleverly in line with Conan Doyle’s original work.
He plays pompousness and profound sadness with such ease it's impossible to deny, even when proving a thorn in Watson’s ongoing love life. The show’s fourth season is set for a January release, and given the rabid anticipation, it's safe to say Cumberbatch will stay atop the Sherlock list for a great many more years.
Upon being cast in Granada’s 1984 series, the actor did extensive research and invented an imaginary life the detective could fill between televised cases. The wildly talented Brett was born to play Sherlock, and the parallels he experienced in his own life-- bipolar disorder and depression-- helped inform his sudden shifts from boredom to heightened interest.