The Top Ten Sherlock Holmes Films
This article is going to ignite strife, controversy, and debate. Just what I like. I didn’t limit this to films on the big screen because that would exclude Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch and then I’d really get some attitude!
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
I know this is going to be an upset; please feel free to start casting stones my way, but come on, Peter Cushing was a fantastic Sherlock Holmes and this was, after all, a full-screen film—it wasn’t made for TV—and André Morell was a great Watson. Who can forget that wonderful tarantula scene with Christopher Lee who made a great Henry Baskerville. So before you get outraged, here are a couple of things you should know, Peter Cushing with those hollowed cheeks and hook nose looked like Holmes, he didn’t just take on these roles for the cash, he was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes stories but oddly he knew that portraying the Great Detective was risky, saying “…Not the pleasantest of characters….It’s a very difficult part to play…he goes up and down like a yo-yo. You’ve got to be awfully careful when you play a part like that that it doesn’t become annoying to the audience.”
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988)
I know, I have a thing for hounds, so we have The Hound of The Baskervilles getting first and second place, but come on, this was a great production worthy of the big screen. As always, solid performances from Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. But for some of his dramatic histrionics, Brett should have been king of all Sherlocks. Fortunately in this film, they did seem to rein him in!
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
We had to toss Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce into the mix! And sadly, this one does not feature one of my favorite Moriartys—Henry Daniel. Instead, we had the charismatic George Zucco portray the deliciously evil villain. Though the novel bears little resemblance to anything Doyle wrote, it more than makes up for any deficiencies with atmosphere, plus screen legend Ida Lupino had a supporting role in the film.
The Reichenbach Fall (2012)
I know, nobody will ever replace Jeremy Brett, and it’s odd to have Sherlock Holmes portrayed as this big heartthrob who lives in modern London and isn’t walking around with a pipe—but hey, let’s embrace the modern. Benedict Cumberbatch has brought Sherlock Holmes into the mainstream—nice not to have a Sherlock Holmes club meeting full of people of all ages—sure beats those times when I was the youngest guy at every meeting, which reminded me of Grandma’s bingo club! In this very loose—very, very loose—adaptation of “The Final Problem,” we have Holmes felled by Moriarty, played by Andrew Scott, and the season ends with us asking if Holmes will be back. Nice that we had a cameo by Holmes screen legend Douglas Wilmer who was acting like a member of the Diogenes Club.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
This one ends up ticking off Holmes fans since it questions his sexuality, but to me this film has everything that you want in a pastiche. It’s serious, bittersweet, yet at times funny and satirical. Robert Stephens made a wonderful Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely was a Watson more in the vein of Nigel Bruce! Great cameos by Clive Revill and Christopher Lee. I know we all love to see Holmes as this great mind immune to vulnerability, but in this film you see some cracks but he never fully breaks as he does in The Seven-Percent Solution.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
I know Robert Downey doesn’t spring to mind when you think of the Great Detective, and if there were any justice in this naughty old world, we’d have Jude Law play the lead and Downey playing Watson. But the films are energetic, fun, and you can tell that Guy Ritchie loves the canon. Also, it boasts a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
You often hear people raving about what a great actor Ian McKellen is and with his excellent performance as a very old Sherlock Holmes, you know why. In this wonderful film with a great supporting role from Laura Linney, Holmes has retired the country to pursue his hobby of beekeeping and is struggling with his memory and trying to find the key to an old case while looking at his old papers. A great film, but if the mystery at the heart of the film was as solid as the acting, production, and psychological depth of the film, it would have been a masterpiece.
Murder by Decree (1979)
What I love about this one is that you have Holmes taking on the Jack the Ripper case and it’s done convincingly. Also, Christopher Plummer and James Mason were a fantastic team. The sets and production made you feel that you were transported by to the Whitechapel district of London; with a supporting cast that included John Gielgud, Frank Finlay, and Donald Sutherland, what’s not to like?
Without a Clue (1988)
Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine have a good strike rate on their own and, combining them together, turn this into a comedy and you have screen nirvana. In this wonderful spoof, Sherlock Holmes is not really intelligent—instead, Watson has all the brains. Love the scene on the train where a lady approaches Holmes asking if he indeed is Sherlock and he replies, “… Would you like my autograph?”
They Might be Giants (1971)
Okay, this isn’t strictly a Holmes film, but you have George C. Scott playing a man who is convinced that he’s Sherlock Holmes in modern-day New York. He sees a therapist played by Joanne Woodward, aptly named Dr. Watson. Not everyone’s cup of tea (after-all very few films made during the 70s hold up—I guess it’s all that polyester!) but still a great performance by Scott.