Many Sherlock Holmes actors have played this character since his adventures were first published in 1887. This playlist consists of full-length films by 29 actors freely available from 1900 onwards.
I am amazed at the number of films that have survived through the years since talking pictures were first made around the turn of the last century. It is not surprising to find that many are about Sherlock Holmes.
This is not a comprehensive list of all actors who had played Sherlock Holmes. There is already a Wikipedia entry for that. It is a playlist so there must be a full-length or complete episode available for free viewing before the actor is added.
1. Max Goldberg – 1900
Max Goldberg portrayed a baffled detective in a very short film titled Sherlock Holmes Baffled. Made by Arthur Marvin in New York City, it was originally made for the Mutoscope for people to crank and watch. The story has nothing to do with the Sherlock Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fame.
Arthur Marvin merely made use of the name to attract more viewers. Remembering that this is 1900, the “special effect” of the disappearing thief would have been special indeed.
2. Georges Treville – 1912
Georges Treville appeared as Sherlock Holmes in a number of short features in 1912 produced with adaptation and supervision by Conan Doyle himself. There are eight films but only two are currently on Youtube: The Copper Beeches and The Musgrave Ritual. Both are embedded here.
3. William Gillette – 1916
William Gillette played Sherlock Holmes on stage from 1899-1929. He did over 1300 performances over 30 years. This 1916 silent film starring him is a reproduction of the stage play and is surprisingly well preserved.
This version contains audio that was added years later. The quality and synchronization are wanting but it IS more than 100 years old. A shout-out to the people who rescue the silents.
4. Eille Norwood – 1921 to 1923
Eille Norwood is an English stage actor, director and playwright. He portrayed Holmes in 47 silent movies from 1921 to 1923. I can only find 4 of the 47 films and they are listed here: The Dying Detective, The Devil’s Foot, The Man with the Twisted Lip, and The Sign of Four.
5. John Barrymore – 1922
John Barrymore was an American actor on stage, screen and radio. He came from a theatrical family.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in this 1922 movie Sherlock Holmes with an interesting premise that Holmes has a love interest.
6. Clive Brook – 1929
Clive Brook was an English actor who moved to the United States in 1924 and became a major silent film star for Paramount Pictures.
He played Sherlock Holmes three times: The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, and Paramount on Parade.
7. Raymond Massey – 1931
Raymond Massey was a Canadian actor. He only portrayed Sherlock Holmes once in The Speckled Band in 1931.
8. Reginald Owen – 1933
John Reginald Owen was a British actor known for his many roles in British and American films and TV programmes.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1933 A Study in Scarlet. The story of this film has nothing to do with the novel of the same name though.
9. Arthur Wontner – 1931 to 1937
Arthur Wontner acted as Sherlock Holmes in 5 films. They were The Sleeping Cardinal, The Missing Rembrandt, The Sign of Four, Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, and Silver Blaze.
10. Basil Rathbone – 1939 to 1946
Basil Rathbone was an English actor active in both the United Kingdom and the United States. He acted mostly in costume dramas, swashbucklers and horror films.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 14 films starting from 1939 in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
11. Alan Napier – 1949
Alan Napier was a British actor best known for portraying Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler in the 1960s live-action Batman television series.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in this 30-minute television adaptation by NBC Television. Aired on TV on 25 March 1949.
12. John Longden – 1951
John Longden was a West Indian-born English film actor. He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1951 British film called The Man Who Disappeared. It was based on “The Man with the Twisted Lip”.
13. Ronald Howard – 1954
Ronald Howard was an English actor and writer. He appeared as Sherlock Holmes in a weekly television series of the same name in 1954. There were 39 episodes.
14. Christopher Lee – 1962 and 1991
Christopher Lee was an English actor, singer and author, best known for his roles as Count Dracula and Saruman in Lord of the Rings. He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in three films: Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, and Incident at Victoria Falls.
15. John Neville – 1965
John Neville was an English theatre and film actor. I remembered him most in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in one film, A Study in Terror. An original story where Sherlock Holmes meet Jack the Ripper. Anyone who has been a fan of Sherlock Holmes is bound to ask this question. If they were contemporaries, would Holmes be able to catch the Ripper?
16. Peter Cushing – 1968
Peter Cushing was an English actor best known for his roles in the Hammer Productions horror films of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I remembered him as Doctor Van Helsing in the Dracula films.
He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 16 episodes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in 1968.
17. George C Scott – 1971
George C Scott was an American actor, director, and producer. I remembered him as General George S. Patton in the film Patton in 1970.
In this film, They Might be Giants, he portrayed Justin Playfair, a judge who grieved the loss of his wife by retreating into fantasy and became Sherlock Holmes. This film featured a female Watson, played by Joanne Woodward. She was a psychiatrist who pretended to be John Watson so that she could observe Justin.
I always thought Lucy Liu is the first female Watson.
18. John Cleese – 1973
John Cleese is an English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer. He co-founded Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He portrayed a comedic Sherlock Holmes in Comedy Playhouse Series 13 “Elementary, Dear Watson.”
19. Larry Hagman – 1974
Larry Hagman was an American film and television actor, director and producer, best known for playing ruthless oil baron J. R. Ewing in the 1978–1991 primetime television soap opera Dallas.
He played Sherman Holmes in The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective. Sherman acquired formidable powers of observation and deduction after suffering a head injury. He becomes convinced he is Sherlock Holmes.
20. Roger Moore – 1976
Roger Moore is best known for his portrayal of James Bond in 7 feature films. In this 1976 film Sherlock Holmes in New York, Moore played Sherlock Holmes in New York to find the kidnapped son of Irene Adler.
21. Christopher Plummer – 1977
Christopher Plummer, a Canadian actor, is best known as General Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He played Sherlock Holmes twice. Once in 1977 in Silver Blaze, the other in the 1979 Murder by Decree.
The clip above is for Silver Blaze.
22. Geoffrey Whitehead – 1979
Geoffrey Whitehead played Sherlock Holmes in the 1979 television series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.
23. Frank Langella – 1980
Frank Langella is an American stage and film actor. He played Sherlock Holmes in a Broadway play Sherlock’s Last case in 1987.
24. Jeremy Brett – 1984-1994
Jeremy Brett was an English actor most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for British television. He is the best of them all for me. 🙂
Watch the complete playlist at The Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (affiliate link) playlist.
25. Hugh Fraser – 1987
Hugh Fraser is best known for his portrayal of Captain Hastings in the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot opposite David Suchet.
He played Sherlock Holmes in the 1987 television drama Murder on the Bluebell Line. An original story where Sherlock Holmes investigates the mystery of the Piltdown Man, once thought to be the missing link in the evolution of man.
26. Michael Caine – 1988
Michael Caine is an English actor known for his distinctive Cockney accent. He was very active and appeared in so many films. He portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1988 British comedy Without a Clue together with Ben Kingsley.
In this version, the brainy detective is actually John Watson, played by Ben Kingsley. Michael’s Sherlock was an actor he hired to play the part of the brilliant detective so that Watson can maintain his reputation as a doctor.
27. Charlton Heston – 1991
Charlton Heston was an American actor best known as Moses in the film The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur.
He played Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood. It started as a play adapted from the Sign of Four and was later dramatized for television.
28. James D’arcy – 2002
James D’arcy stars as Sherlock Holmes in the Sherlock: Case of Evil in 2002. It is only loosely based on the original material.
29. Rupert Everett – 2004
Rupert Everett is an English actor. He played Sherlock Holmes in the 2004 British television film Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking. Sherlock and Watson solve the serial murders of women using silk stockings.