Nothing quite codifies the detective genre more than that of ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ If one was to put on an Inverness cape, a deerstalker cap, a magnifying glass, and a pipe, one would instantly recognize a costume of the famous detective. The stories of Arthur Conan Doyle have been adapted for decades in various mediums with no signs of stopping. In fact, Sherlock Holmes is the most adapted literary human character in film and TV. Since today is Arthur Conan Doyle’s 161st birthday, what better way to celebrate it then a list of the best adaptations of the most famous detective in the world.
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To many purists, the idea of Sherlock Holmes running around NYC instead of London is a big turn off, but even with the tropes of a crime-procedural, this stands out in terms of diversity and the fact that John, or Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is not paired romantically with Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) rather serving as his sobriety companion which makes their friendship all the more worthwhile. It still has a lot to offer fans, so it is nothing to sniff at.
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Coming right off the revitalized success of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, his performance as the titular detective in the Guy Ritchie film comes off as more of an action hero with elaborate fights scenes than the quiet, sardonic, intellectual, but his chemistry with Watson (Jude Law) makes for some very entertaining moments. There is a third movie coming out in 2021, so we’ll see how the story and/or character will change from the source material.
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I won’t deny that some parts have aged poorly, but you simply can’t beat Vincent Price as a rat Professor Moriarty. Based on the ‘Great Mouse Detective’ series, this movie captures the spirit and dynamics of 19th century London arguably more than any of the others on this list. Not only that, but this movie paved the way for the upcoming Disney Renaissance. The characters are definitely more cute, one can’t really avoid that with a Disney movie, but any lover of Sherlock Holmes will get a kick out of this movie.
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I’m afraid if I didn’t put this on here, the rabid fanbase would eat me alive. Often touted as the most faithful of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, the writing, direction, editing, and cinematography truly make this series one of the most critically acclaimed. And of course the Emmy Award-winning performances of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) do nothing but be the absolute best that it can be, the chemistry flying off the page. Of course like any iteration of Sherlock, sometimes it can be caught up in its own cleverness, and treat the audience like they’re stupid, but it wouldn’t be Sherlock without it.
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Although not an adaptation of any single Doyle stories, Basil Rathbone’s set the tone for basically every Sherlock Holmes performance. His springy and shrewd demeanor is iconic, and basically the most faithful Sherlock Holmes in movie form. Watson (Nigel Bruce) is more of a bumbling sidekick, which puts him in even more contrast with Holmes. You can’t really have a list of Sherlock without Rathbone or even Bruce, which is a testament to how brilliantly the character and stories are brought to life.