The many faces of Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime-solving hero has donned many hats, quite literally. He’s been seen sporting as an action hero, a teen, a cokehead, even as an animated cartoon canine. Now, the most arguably literary character of all time faces his own mortality in Mr. Holmesstarring Ian McKellen. As a preview to the movie, here is a list of the many faces that played the famous sleuth.

Basil Rathbone


The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1939

Although John Barrymore first played the great detective in a 1922 silent movie, Rathbone transformed Sherlock Holmes from a literary to cinematic icon. Rathbone starred in 14 Sherlock pictures from 1939 to ’46.

Peter Cushing


The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1959

Prior to bossing around Darth Vader in Star Wars, Cushing teamed up with Christopher Lee (who was a former Holmes, himself, but this time stars as Dr. Watson) in this gothic-styled Hammer House production.

Robert Stephens


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970

Billy Wilder envisioned Baker Street in a lush, color-saturated Panavision. Wilder’s version suffered from studio recuts and was a flop upon its release. However, it has been gaining in popularity ever since.

Nicol Williamson


The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, 1976

With a title like that, you might be wondering what it means. Well, the title refers to the amount of cocaine in hophead Holmes’ morning cocktail. His addiction leads Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) to get his partner counseling from Sigmund Freud (played by Alan Arkin).

Jeremy Brett

Jeremy Brett -SH -1984

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1984

Starring in 41 episodes of the beloved British TV show, Brett said playing Holmes was “the dark side of the moon for me… [h]arder than Hamlet or Macbeth.”

Sherlock Hound

Sherlock Hound - 1984

Sherlock Hound, 1984

Another hit for the Japanese animation master, Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro). Miyazaki directed this canine version for television complete with real adaptations of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

Nicholas Rowe

Nicholas  Rowe - SH- 1985, Young Sherlock

The Young Sherlock Holmes, 1985

Chris Columbus wrote the script for this witty, knowing teen version of the mythical Sherlock Holmes. Alan Cox plays Watson alongside Rowe’s Holmes.

Michael Caine


Without a Clue, 1988

Was Holmes a figure of the imagination? The premise to Without a Clue is just that; Ben Kingsley (as Dr. Watson) hires a lousy actor (Caine) to play the famed sleuth. All in all, Holmes is just a creation of his sidekick’s mind.

Robert Downey Jr.


Sherlock Holmes, 2009

Downey plays Holmes here, and again in a 2011 sequel, as a martial-arts specialists who solves cases not only with his mind, but with his fists as well.

Benedict Cumberbatch


Sherlock, 2010

Over a century after the publication of the Sherlock Holmes books, Holmes raises to superstar status due to Cumberbatch Emmy-winning turn on the BBC’s limited series.

Jonny Lee Miller

Elementary, 2012

In this CBS series set in New York City, this adaptation opts to acknowledge Holmes’ drug history. The series begins with a sober Holmes meeting Watson (Lucy Liu), his recovery sponsor.

Ian McKellen

holmes ian mckellen

Mr. Holmes, 2015

Bill Condon’s movie is based on the novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind. Here we find the world’s greatest detective (although retired) at 93 years of age and losing his memory.

Mr. Holmes is set to release July 17, 2015.

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