Benedict Cumberbatch may currently be the world’s most loved Sherlock Holmes (honourable mention to Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary although he’s not quite in the same league) but of course he’s by far from being the only man to have played the legendary detective. Here we take a look at 7 other actors who took on the role of the Victorian sleuth. Some with greater success than others.
The most prolific big-screen Holmes, Norwood donned the deerstalker in 1920 for a silent film rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and subsequently shot 46 half-hour film adventures over the next three years. He also met Conan Doyle as evidence by our picture above. John Barrymore, more famous for his drinking and bad behaviour than his acting, made a more farcical stab at the role in 1922.
In the 1930s, Arthur Wontner made his name portraying the great detective. He was the first audible Sherlock Holmes, so was free to own the role. He played Holmes as a studious, intellectual man. Many Holmes aficionados prefer Wontner’s rendition to all that came after.
Arguably the best known Holmes outside of Cumberbatch, Rathbone resided at 221b Baker Street between 1939 and 1946, making 15 films and recording 242 radio broadcasts. He was the definitive Holmes of the day, and probably still inhabits the character more than any other actor.
Having shot 16 TV episodes of Sherlock Holmes stories during 1968 and 1969, Cushing is also recognizable as the great sleuth. But was never happy with his performances, citing the arduous shooting schedule as the cause. In 1959 he had starred in the first colour film of The Hound of the Baskervilles and much later he appeared as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1976 TV production of The Great Houdini.
Before he became Holmes, Christopher Lee played Sir Henry Baskerville opposite Peter Cushing in the 1959 film of The Hound of the Baskervilles. In 1962, he took on the lead role in the rather disastrous Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace). He played Holmes’s brother in a 1970 film and reprised the role of Sherlock in two early 1990s TV movies.
A well-regarded modern Holmes, Jeremy Brett portrayed the detective between 1984 and 1994 for Granada TV. Brett’s untimely death in 1995 prevented any further episodes but many devotees rate him as the best modern Holmes.
Brent Spiner (as Data)
Possibly the only actor to play a non-human Holmes, Brent Spiner, who was the android Data, became the great detective on the holodeck in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.