Since Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in 1887, the detective has captured the imaginations of fans, writers, and (now) filmmakers around the world. In 2012, Holmes even earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most portrayed human literary character in film and TV.
As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes has been depicted on screen 254 times — and counting. Clearly, the mystery genre resonates, and Holmes provided a great template from which to draw inspiration. But, among all of those versions, which portrayals stand out? Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows to date.
In BBC’s modern-day-set Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman take on the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively. Watson, a veteran army doctor who recently returned from Afghanistan, gets a particularly 21st-century upgrade; the sidekick’s blog chronicles his adventures with the eccentric and brilliant Holmes.
The show’s writing artfully blends new storylines with nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic threads. Best of all, it truly presents some mesmerizing mysteries with mind-blowing twists.
While it’s admittedly pretty Americanized, Elementary is an irresistible take on the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The show plays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s references to Holmes dabbling in drugs by casting his 21st-century incarnation as a person in recovery.
While serving as a police consultant in New York, Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller) finds himself saddled with a sober companion, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). The two ultimately develop a classic Holmes-Watson crime-solving relationship in this fun twist on the police procedural.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Although over 75 different actors have portrayed Holmes on screen, Peter Cushing remains a popular favorite. It’s easy to see why when you check out this classic film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Cushing brings just the right balance of charm and arrogance to Sherlock as he and Watson (André Morell) set out to investigate a mysterious family curse.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, the duo is summoned to look into the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, a man who may have been literally scared to death by the appearance of an ancient ghost-hound. In the wake of this death, Holmes must get to the bottom of the mystery before Baskerville’s heir falls prey to the same fate.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Robert Downey Jr. brings a delightfully sarcastic edge to Holmes in this action-packed, Victorian-gothic mystery. With the help of his friend Watson (Jude Law), Holmes journeys into the underworld of 19th-century London occultism in order to thwart a villain who seemingly rose from the dead.
Between the gorgeous cinematography and the cast’s charisma, Sherlock Holmes is certainly a ton of Hollywood fun — even if it’s not the most faithful Holmes adaptation.
Murder By Decree (1979)
Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) takes on Jack the Ripper in this 1979 classic. Here, Holmes employs the help of a psychic named Robert Lees (Donald Sutherland) in his pursuit of the serial killer.
As Holmes and Watson (James Mason) descend into the shadowy London underworld, they discover the killings may have their roots in a cover-up that goes higher up the political chain than anyone had imagined. Led by a formidable cast, this one is definitely a must-see.
Miss Sherlock (2018)
Several modern-day Sherlock Holmes incarnations have added the twist of Watson or even Moriarty being a woman. But Miss Sherlock, a series developed by HBO Asia, raises the representation bar by creating a women-led adaptation.
In the series, Sara “Sherlock” Shelly Futaba (Yūko Takeuchi) is an eccentric Tokyo police consultant. With the help of Dr. Wato (“Wato-san”) Tachibana (Shihori Kanjiya) — a surgeon who’s also a woman — Miss Sherlock brings all of the fun of classic Holmes, but tells it from a fresh perspective.
Enola Holmes (2020)
Netflix’s Enola Holmes chronicles the story of Sherlock’s teenaged sister, the titular Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). When her beloved mother goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Enola turns to Sherlock (Henry Cavill) for help.
In the end, however, she ends up discovering the power of her own deductive abilities. We won’t spoil the specifics, but, for kids, it’s nice to see this kind of onscreen representation.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Fair warning: this one isn’t the usual action-packed Holmes thriller, but more of a look at the man behind the legend. Ian McKellen plays a retired Sherlock Holmes who finds himself navigating his own fading memory.
After befriending his housekeeper’s young son, Holmes struggles to piece together the details of the unsolved case that ultimately led to his retirement. As always, McKellen gives an incredible performance.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
Among the most traditionally underrated Holmes films to date, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes offers yet another look at Sherlock as a man versus the myth portrayed in Strand Magazine. In the somewhat-satirical tale, the famous detective (Robert Stephens) and Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) follow a case to Scotland, where all manner of mayhem ensues.
As the mystery unravels, the duo encounter everything from secret societies to the Loch Ness monster. And, eventually, Sherlock finds himself in a tricky situation that may put the safety of all of Britain on the line.
Sherlock Holmes (1984–1994)
The Granada series is largely considered by Holmes enthusiasts to be among the best Sherlock Holmes screen adaptations of all time. Sherlock is played by Jeremy Brett, whose meticulous research and eye for detail shine throughout the entire series. Brett’s Holmes is a fascinating contradiction — both brooding and charismatic — and that keeps the lead character as intriguing as the mysteries he unravels.
Everything from the scripts to the costume and set design share the same loyalty to the original tales. The cinematography sometimes even replicates the original illustrations by Sidney Paget with remarkable detail.
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
While often underrated in terms of Disney animated classics, The Great Mouse Detective is one of those movies that’s hard to outgrow. The tale follows the adventures of Basil, a mouse who lives beneath the floorboards of the famous 221B Baker Street.
A perfect miniature version of the detective who lives above his digs, Basil finds himself delving into the mystery of a missing toymaker. The trail ultimately leads him straight to the lair of his arch-nemesis, the dastardly Professor Rattington. For a children’s film, the movie stays delightfully true to its source material, complete with foggy London streets and smoke-filled pubs.