Top 5 Holmes Actors

The other day at my knitting group, someone asked me who my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor is. After about half an hour of trying to answer, I had given her about a dozen different responses. I don’t really think I could get it down to one, but here are my top five, in no particular order. (Note: Jeremy Brett does not show up on this list. While I fully acknowledge his expertise and legacy, he’s not a personal favorite, which is what this is about.)

1) Basil Rathbone


He’s got the look. He’s got the feel. Even when he’s in a totally AU time period, he’s Sherlock Holmes through and through. Basil Rathbone is, without a doubt, my favorite Holmes of the early years.

2) Barrie Ingham


The voice of Basil of Baker Street, Ingham fully embodied the world’s only consulting detective mouse, and he did it with an incredible amount of panache, making The Great Mouse Detective not only a fantastic children’s film, but also a worthy part of the Holmesian film canon.

3) Peter Cushing


I don’t hear the illustrious Peter Cushing mentioned in connection with Holmes as often as with his other work, but he deserves to be. His portrayal is cerebral, complex, and compelling, a treat to watch from a time when Holmes adaptations were in transition from the propaganda films of the Rathbone era to the deconstructionism of the 60s and 70s.

4) Robert Downey Jr


At this past 221b Con, I was much encouraged, at one point, to find myself in a room full of people who all appreciate Mr. Downey’s take on Sherlock Holmes. RDJ Holmes appreciation can sometimes be a lonely island in the Sherlockian world. And yet, in my opinion, the man who reminded us that Holmes is funny, physically adept, and extremely psychologically complex deserves a place in the pantheon of Holmesian greats.

5) Benedict Cumberbatch


It almost goes without saying at this point in time. “That guy from ‘Amazing Grace'” who made me want to check out that new Sherlock Holmes show (though I doubted a modern adaptation could work) has become a household name in Britain and the United States. Other Holmeses will no doubt come and go, but it’s hard to imagine a future in which we look back without seeing the tall, spare figure of Mr. Cumberbatch looming over them all.


How to get my newest book:

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

How to get the previous two books in the series:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

11 thoughts on “Top 5 Holmes Actors

  1. I CANNOT express how EXCITED I am that Basil Rathbone is not only on your list, but is #1. He *is* Sherlock Holmes for me. Basil and Peter Cushing are actually two of the reasons why I was willing to give Ben and a modern adaptation a chance: they look like the Holmes I pictured reading the stories, and Ben kind of fits that too.

    And all my steam punk love for RDJ. He and Jude Law are golden.

    Basically, your list is perfection. I’m glad I’m not alone. ❤

  2. While I’m glad you put together a list, I think it’s laughable that Barrie Ingham would be on it while Jeremy Brett was left off. Not only because Brett was better in the role, but that Ingham played Basil of Baker Street, not Sherlock Holmes.

    • I’m not claiming that it’s an objective list of who was best in the role. It’s my personal preference. Laughable or not, Brett just isn’t a personal favorite, and I reserve the right to my own opinion 😉

  3. Okay, okay. “The Great mouse Detective” but no Jeremy Brett? I like that movie, and his voice, as much as the next guy, but…HAVE YOU NO SHAME?!?!?

    My breakdown is here:

    Shorter answer: My personal favorite is Cumberbatch, Rathbone is the most accurate, and Brett was iconic for his generation. RDJ had the unfortunate luck of playing Holmes at the same time As Cumberbatch. He’s very, very good, but BC is better.

    I divided it into three categories, most accurate, most iconic (for each generation), and personal favorite. It’s worth noting that after the 30’s “Hound” Basil Rathbone has displaced Brett on my list for the top spot on “most accurate”.

    As for the best Watson, it goes likes this:

    1) Martin Freeman

    …What were we talking about again?

  4. Hi. I’m new in Sherlock issues, and am loving your blog!

    I once said to a brasilian blogger who made a post a little bit like yours that, in my point of view, the key of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock success is the huge rising of a kind of “mental/introvert” generation who, thanks for internet and the virtual world, are much more participant and proud of their “weirdness”, unlike the previous generations (like mine for instance) who yearn for heroes much more “sentimental/sensorial”. I’m affraid that Downey Jr. belongs to that “sentimental/sensorial” cathegory, ’cause that is what people usually expect of any american actor, even playing an english character. Even Cumberbatch fells in this “default” doing Stephen Strange’s role. I hardly remember he’s english when i saw the movie (which i loved, despite of my critic)

    Anyway, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock represents the “witty retaliation” of all introverts around the world. And, believe me, there are lots of them around. A generation who hadn’t to adapt their weirdness anymore, cause it’s cool to be like that! And i think that’s great! I heard that Ben tries to scape from that “nerd” label, but i don’t think he should do it. We need him to represent us.

    I wish i could wrote a little bit more about it, cause i give this a lot of thought, but my limitations on english didn’t permite i do it as i wish.

    Thank anyway. 😉

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