It’s over 130 years since British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the character of Sherlock Holmes.
The fictional private detective first appeared in print in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, with the character gaining a wider following the serialised publication of A Scandal in Bohemia in The Strand magazine four years later.
Doyle continued to write new Holmes mysteries until 1927, by which time four novels and 56 short stories had been published.
Over the past century, 221b Baker Street’s “consulting detective” has appeared on screen in numerous TV and film adaptations.
In fact, there have apparently been over 25,000 stage shows, movies, television productions, comics, and stories featuring the Great Detective!
He’s even listed as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history by the Guinness World Records.
We recently asked fans of Sherlock Holmes to vote for their favourite interpretation of the character in our exclusive poll.
Thousands of you voted and, now that we’ve counted up all the responses, we can reveal the results!
There was one clear winner, however, taking just over half of the votes – can you guess whose Sherlock performance is the most popular?
12. Rupert Everett
Rupert Everett starred in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking in December 2004.
The one-off TV movie was a follow-up to the same production company’s adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 2002, which starred Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge) as Holmes.
Everett was praised for his “elegant and decidedly decadent” interpretation (Daily Telegraph) and “a portrayal rich in tortured silences and seasoned with touches of campy authority” (Wall Street Journal).
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
11. Roger Moore
007 star Roger Moore took on the Great Detective role in 1976’s American TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York, which was filmed entirely in California.
He starred alongside The Avengers legend Patrick Macnee, playing Doctor Watson, nine years before the pair appeared together in Moore’s final Bond movie, A View to a Kill.
Reviews of Moore’s performance said he “essentially plays the role as if he were playing James Bond, or television’s Simon Templar,” adding that “Moore’s smug detective does embody certain qualities of the original, but on a whole he is not the perfect actor suited for the part.”
Sherlock Holmes in New York is available on DVD on Amazon.
10. Tom Baker
A year after stepping down as the star of Doctor Who, Tom Baker took on another iconic British character in a BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982.
The four-part serial saw Baker reunite with his former producer on Doctor Who, Barry Letts.
The Independent gave Baker its seal of approval for his “predictably larger-than-life Holmes,” commenting that “it was inspired casting to put the tall, pop-eyed, mad-voiced Baker into the Holmesian cape and hat.”
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982) is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
9. Arthur Wontner
British actor Arthur Wontner played Sherlock Holmes in five movies between 1931 to 1937.
Reviewers at the time found Wontner to be “a perfect Sherlock Holmes” (Picturegoer), while Holmes fans stated that “surely no better Sherlock Holmes than Arthur Wontner is likely to be seen and heard in pictures, in our time.”
Arthur Wontner’s Sherlock Holmes movies are available to watch on Amazon Prime.
8. Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee had a long history with Sherlock Holmes over a thirty year period.
Having previously played Sir Henry Baskerville alongside Peter Cushing in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), the Dracula star played the title character in 1962 movie Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace, then again in two TV movies in the early ’90s; Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) and Incident at Victoria Falls (1992).
He also played Holmes’ brother Mycroft in 1970’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes!
Sadly, Lee’s performances as Holmes weren’t regarded as his best, with reviews describing him as “an actor with great presence in the right role, but he’s wooden and unconvincing in this role which demands more than his standard cold delivery which, after all, made him ideal for roles like Dracula and Sauron.”
Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
7. Ian McKellen
Christopher Lee’s Lord of the Rings co-star Ian McKellen took on the role in Mr. Holmes in 2015.
Based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, this mystery film sees a retired 93-year-old Holmes dealing with his deteriorating memory as he struggles to remember his final case.
Empire magazine praised “another great performance from McKellen,” and the NY Times wrote: “With his craggy visage and papery diction, his Holmes is a study in wry, intellectual charisma.”
Mr. Holmes is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
6. Jonny Lee Miller
Jonathan Lee Miller (Mansfield Park) played Sherlock Holmes in seven seasons of TV’s Elementary.
Running for 154 episodes, this American procedural crime drama series aired from 2012 to 2019.
“It may not appeal to purists, but Elementary provides a fresh new spin on Sherlock Holmes, and Jonny Lee Miller shines in the title role,” wrote Rotten Tomatoes.
Elementary is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
5. Peter Cushing
Star Wars actor Peter Cushing played Holmes a number of times between 1959 and 1984.
Having debuted his interpretation of the character in a movie adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Cushing returned to the part in 1968 to lead the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes television series for 16 episodes, taking over from Douglas Wilmer.
Cushing later reprised the role in 1984’s TV movie The Masks of Death.
The ’60s TV series “firmly established Peter Cushing as one of the best loved and memorable embodiments of Sherlock Holmes in the eyes of both an appreciative viewing public and the majority of critics alike,” according to Television Heaven.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
4. Robert Downey Jr.
The only American actor in this Top 12, Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. made his Holmes debut in director Guy Ritchie’s action-packed 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes.
ScreenRant wrote of Downey Jr.: “He was fascinating to watch with all his personality quirks and you could almost see the gears turning in his head when his deductive powers kicked into high gear.”
Sherlock Holmes (2009) is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
3. Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood movies between 1939 and 1946 (and a radio series!).
Initially set in the Victorian era and later set during contemporary times, sometimes with World War II-related plots, the series of films was hugely popular and Rathbone remains the definitive Holmes actor to many.
The complete Basil Rathbone collection is available on DVD on Amazon.
2. Benedict Cumberbatch
In second place with 23.7% of the votes, it’s the star of the BBC’s mega hit series Sherlock.
A 35-year-old Benedict Cumberbatch burst on to British screens in the summer of 2010 with three feature-length TV movies from acclaimed Doctor Who writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Sherlock returned sporadically with a further ten instalments over the next seven years, but – for now – appears to have come to an end.
Reviews were universally positive, with The Independent describing the show as “a triumph, witty and knowing, without ever undercutting the flair and dazzle of the original. It understands that Holmes isn’t really about plot but about charisma.”
Sherlock is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
1. Jeremy Brett
Topping our poll with 50.32% of the votes, it is of course Jeremy Brett!
The English actor played Sherlock Holmes for ten years in Granada Television’s much-loved TV series.
First airing in 1994 and set in the character’s original time period, the show adapted 42 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories over 36 one-hour episodes and five feature-length specials.
Brett battled with bipolar disorder and manic depression for much of his life, becoming obsessed with his portrayal of Holmes.
He once explained: “Some actors fear if they play Sherlock Holmes for a very long run the character will steal their soul, leave no corner for the original inhabitant. Holmes has become the dark side of the moon for me. He is moody and solitary and underneath I am really sociable and gregarious. It has all got too dangerous.”
Despite his personal mental health struggles, Brett is widely regarded as the best Sherlock Holmes actor of all time, as our poll results attest.
ScreenRant notes his “nuanced, eccentric portrayal,” while New York Times praises “a truly splendid Sherlock”. We couldn’t agree more!
The complete Sherlock Holmes TV series is available to watch on Amazon Prime.