Top 10 Screen Versions of Sherlock Holmes

5. Michael Caine

Now this is an unusual interpretation – Watson as the genius and Holmes as his mere frontman. The film was 1988 comedy “Without a Clue” and Ben Kingsley played Dr Watson, delivering pithy lines like “Try not to shoot yourself – at least, not until I give the signal. “In this universe, “Sherlock” is a fictional character, devised by Watson, and played by a drunken actor called Reginald Kincaid…who eventually starts believing that he is the real Holmes and tries to face off against Moriarty. It’s an unorthodox and irreverent take on the legend and even the credits have a knowing tone –  “With apologies to the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson”. Caine’s Holmes is a buffoon, a drunkard and a fake…and because of that, he’s a lot of fun too.

4. Vasily Livanov

The only Russian in our list, Vasily Livanov played Sherlock in a number of TV shows films in his native country, including the 1981 adaptation “Приключения Шерлока Холмса и доктора Ватсона: Собака Баскервилей” or, as we know it “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Hound of the Baskerville”. In total, there were five films made between 1979 and 1986, split into 11 episodes. Livanov made an excellent “Шерлока Холмса” and the daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle thought her father would approve of his interpretation. He has been honored in the UK, with an MBE for services to acting in 2006 but also in Moscow, with a statue outside the British Embassy there depicting Livanov’s Holmes, along with his “доктора Ватсона”, Vitaly Solomin. A Russian Holmes may not be the most obvious choice, but he seems to have marked his place in Sherlock history!


3. Peter Cushing

Here’s the second of our two Hammer Horror stars to take on the great detective role – Baron Frankenstein himself, Peter Cushing. He played Holmes in three separate productions – firstly in Hammer’s 1958 film “Hound of the Baskervilles”, the first Holmes adaptation to be filmed in color and widely praised (Time Out says it’s Cushing’s very best performance). Next was the  1968 series of the BBC’s “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes” for which Cushing took over the role from Douglas Wilmer, but it was apparently a shambolic and chaotic production, with scripts delivered late and badly written. Cushing himself said that “it wasn’t Peter Cushing doing his best as Sherlock Holmes – it was Peter Cushing looking relieved that he had remembered what to say and said it.” Cushing’s last outing as Sherlock Holmes came in the 1984 Channel 4 series “The Masks of Death” in which he played a retired Holmes persuaded to solve one last case. Definitely our most varied Sherlock!


2. Benedict Cumberbatch

Now for the best of the recent Sherlocks. Cumberbatch stars in “Sherlock”, a BBC drama that shows three episodes every few years, much to fans’ frustrations as they often leave questions unanswered. The show is set in modern London, with all the technology that’s available now (Watson’s journal is a blog, Moriarty communicates via text.) The episodes are only loosely based on the original stories and sometimes not at all, but the heart of the show remains Sherlock’s almost autistic powers of memory and deduction. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is socially inept and describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath”, yet still manages to inspire love in those around him, including his Dr Watson (Martin Freeman) and mortician Molly (Louise Brealey), who’s long harbored a crush on the dapper detective. A sometimes infuriating version, and mind-stretchingly fast paced but a massive success for the BBC and Cumberbatch is perfect in it.


1. Basil Rathbone

But in many people’s minds, the definitive Sherlock will always be Basil Rathbone- a South-African-born British actor, who starred in 14 Sherlock films between 1939 and 1946, starting once again with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Nigel Bruce played his Dr Watson, and the films were a mix of Victorian-era and contemporary World War 2 storylines. Rathbone found himself typecast by his success and later was reduced to appearing as Sherlock in TV commercials. He also played Sherlock on the stage, but Nigel Bruce was too ill to play alongside him and the play only lasted three performances. He died suddenly in 1967, but his voice was posthumously used in the 1986 Disney film “The Great Mouse Detective”, in which the main character was named Basil as a tribute to the greatest Sherlock of all time.

One thought on “Top 10 Screen Versions of Sherlock Holmes

  1. Nice list! I think Benedict Cumberbatch will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes in my eyes. Sort of like how Chris Eccleston will always be my Doctor. I like what came before them, but they introduced me to their worlds.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *