How did I choose which actors for my list? Elementary, my dear readers. I am a Sherlockian. I have read EVERY Sherlock Holmes short story and novel, even the ones written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s son Adrian. These are the top 10 actors of the films that I have seen based on how close they got to the stories. I believe I did the fans justice with this list as I have seen many. At the bottom, I will have a “dishonorable mentions” section.
10. John Neville
John Neville played Holmes in A Study In Terror, a Jack the Ripper Holmes story. This one, fortunately, is not about the so-called “royal scandal” but instead focuses on other theories about the identity of the infamous serial killer.
09. Matt Frewer
Matt Frewer played the great detective in a series of four films from the Hallmark Channel. He explores a more natural Holmes who is intelligent and socially ignorant, but not hardhearted or cold. He has a brilliant mind and a keen sense of deduction.
08. Robert Stephens
This stage and film actor played Holmes in the unconventional and mistitled film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The story had the detective being involved in a political spy operation and butting heads with his older brother Mycroft Holmes. While the film was decent, but not spectacular, his portrayal of Holmes was spot on.
07. Christopher Lee
The veteran actor is known for portraying an older Holmes in two TV movies including Sherlock Holmes and The Leading Lady, but also in Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace which took inspiration from The Valley of Fear. While his Holmes was more meticulous and suspicious, he looked the part especially with his sharp nose.
06. Christopher Plummer
While he portrayed Holmes in a version of the widely disproved and overused “royal scandal” Jack the Ripper theory, Plummer portrays an intelligent, forward, and not so cold Sherlock. He shines as the detective and his acting skills steal the show. I will admit, the film is great, even if its theory is faulty.
05. Michael Pennington
He played a more lighthearted, yet very intelligent, smart, out-of-place Sherlock Holmes. After being infected with the Bubonic plague by a vengeful brother of Moriarty, Holmes puts himself in hibernation and wakes up thanks to Dr. Watson’s great granddaughter in the 1980s. He solves a case very similar to The Sign of Four in the TV Film Sherlock Holmes Returns.
04. Robert Downey, Jr.
In Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the popular Avengers actor portrays a loyal, eccentric, and calculating version of the great detective. While his fashion was less-than-traditional, Downey, Jr. as an actor is almost unrivaled when it comes to playing the great detective.
03. Basil Rathbone
Little known by today’s audiences, he was the first actor to put Holmes in the modern era, the 1930s and 40s to be exact when the films were made. At the time, no one else compared to him. He was a master as Holmes and focused more on the amazing intellect that Holmes had. His series produced great films such as The Voice of Terror, Dressed to Kill, Terror by Night, etc. His intelligence was put up against Dr. John Watson, who in these films was a bumbling fool (the series one flaw). He also voiced Basil of Baker Street in the Disney film The Great Mouse Detective.
02. Benedict Cumberbatch
While Robert Downey, Jr. focused on Sherlock Holmes’ eccentricities, Benedict’s portrayal focuses on the cold, calculating, and unfeeling side of the great detective. He is truly brilliant as Holmes and his comradery with Watson is unchallenged. I am excited to see more of the TV films.
AND NOW, THE WINNER…
As far as mastering Sherlock Holmes in the novels, there is no comparison. He balances the cold, calculating, eccentric, but also the loyal and intelligent side of Sherlock Holmes. Though his both actors to portray Dr. Watson were a bit older than told in the stories, their friendship is an excellent tale in the show. This series version, known in America as The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, was the best and so far, in my opinion, none have come close.
- Rupert Everett- from a PBS special called The Silk Stocking, though a brilliant actor, he chose to portray Holmes as a cruel and mean detective whose one redeeming quality is his passion for justice.
- Ron Howard- No, not the famous director and former child star! This was an actor from the black and white days who made an overly jolly and highly eccentric caricature of the great detective.
- Richard Roxburgh- While an excellent actor, he went the same way of Rupert Everett, showing a cruel and unfeeling drug addicted Holmes in a dark adaption of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I hate when adaptions exaggerate his seven per cent solution.