The Top 15 Best Benedict Cumberbatch Movies Ranked

Benedict Cumberbatch is easily one of the most popular actors working today. He's also quickly become one of the best. Cumberbatch has appeared in some of the biggest franchises in film history, and he's also an award-winning television and theater actor. Many viewers worldwide were first introduced to Cumberbatch thanks to his reinvention of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective in the acclaimed BBC series "Sherlock." 

Cumberbatch had a huge year in 2021, starring in five films including "Spider-Man: No Way Home," the highest-grossing film of the year,  and the top awards contender "The Power of the Dog." This diversity of projects speaks to Cumberbatch's reach. He's truly mastered multiple genres and appeals to fans and critics alike with his meticulous performances. Regardless of how much screen time Cumberbatch has, it's impossible to forget his roles. He's virtually guaranteed to see similar acclaim in 2022 when he reprises his role as the Sorcerer Supreme in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe sequel "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness." 

Here are the top fifteen greatest Benedict Cumberbatch movies, ranked.

15. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

While it took the trilogy a while to get there, the eventual reveal of the dragon Smaug in 2013's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" was well worth the wait. Smaug is only teased in the first film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Still, the dwarves know the challenging task of retaking their homeland will involve a battle with the fire-breathing beast. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is finally introduced to his main task when he infiltrates Smaug's lair. However, the sleeping serpent is far from what he imagined.

As the voice of Smaug, Benedict Cumberbatch does a brilliant job capturing the dragon's intelligence while tormenting Bilbo. He deceives Bilbo into a conversation by masking his suspicions, toying with the fragile Hobbit as they play mind games. Cumberbatch does a great job utilizing motion-capture technology to craft Smaug's body language, and his bellowing voice rattles the scenery. Smaug's conversation with Bilbo is the highlight of the trilogy.

14. War Horse

Steven Spielberg's charming epic "War Horse" captures the magic of the acclaimed stage play on which it's based through the gripping power of dramatic scenery and massive historical recreations. The film tells the amazing story of a horse named Joey who is raised by a sensitive boy named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) during the lead-up to World War I. Albert becomes heartbroken when Joey is sold to Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and forced to join the war effort.

Nicholls serves under Benedict Cumberbatch's character Major Jamie Stewart, who is initially skeptical of both his companion and his new horse. After challenging Nicholls to a race, he realizes he's underestimated them both and shows them more respect. Although he and Nicholls have their disagreements, they serve valiantly together during a critical battle. The battle sequence is thrilling as they work together but ends on a tragic note when the Germans claim victory and take Joey away.

13. The Current War

There's a fascinating story behind the release of the historical thriller "The Current War." The film initially debuted to mixed reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. However, that print was eventually revealed to be an incomplete version that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was forced to premiere. With the film's release in question, it sat on the shelf for two years. "The Current War" eventually hit theaters as Gomez-Rejon's director's cut, and It's a terrific look at the behind-the-scenes conflicts in the development of 19th century technology.

Benedict Cumberbatch is simply phenomenal as the legendary Thomas Edison, giving insights into how the famed inventor developed his innovations in electricity as safer and more practical alternatives to the gas industry. Edison's rise to prominence is questioned by the gas titan George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) who sees Edison's inventions as fads. Their rivalry turns the story into an exciting battle of wits.

12. Star Trek Into Darkness

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is perhaps the most controversial film in the franchise due to the parallels that it draws to the beloved 1982 classic "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Several scenes are recreated beat for beat with slightly adjusted dialogue. While the storylines are very different overall, "Into Darkness" did introduce a new version of Khan portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Regardless of sentiment about the creative decisions that went into the film, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a strong take on the iconic villain that examines both Khan's empathy and ruthlessness.

Under the codename John Harrison, Khan commits a terrorist act and becomes the subject of a manhunt by the crew of the Enterprise. When he's captured on the Klingon homeworld, Kirk (Chris Pine) questions Khan. In an emotional scene, Cumberbatch reveals that he's a superpowered being who is trying to save his crew. Khan was forced to make weapons for Starfleet General Marcus (Peter Weller).

11. Black Mass

As Johnny Depp turned to makeup-heavy roles in the 2000s, his performances began to slip. However, he returned to form in 2015's "Black Mass" as notorious gangster Whitey Bulger. Director Scott Cooper establishes an old-fashioned mob movie tone and employs an excellent cast to portray the real-life figures. In the film, Bulger begins a partnership with the FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Connolly eventually ropes in Bulger's brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), a leading politician who has recently become the Massachusetts Senate President.

Cumberbatch (who speaks with a surprisingly strong Irish accent in the film) crafts a complex portrayal of a shady politician. He dismisses his brother's criminal activities with willful ignorance and attempts to mask his involvement with anything explicitly illegal. Cumberbatch helps to craft an interesting portrayal of familial relationships and the bonds that siblings feel. The death of the Bulgers' mother packs a surprising emotional punch and shows a softer side to these dangerous men.

10. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

One of Benedict Cumberbatch's greatest abilities is his ability to make oddball characters relatable. It's a particularly effective skill when spotlighting underrepresented figures from history. In "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain," Cumberbatch delivers a dynamic performance as artist Louis Wain. Wain is a journalist for The Illustrated London News under the editor Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones) but struggles to meet financial demands while supporting his five sisters.

Wain begins an unusual artistic pursuit: painting extravagant pictures of cats. The idea of raising a cat as a pet isn't a common practice in 1880s England, but Wain has a fondness for his feline friends  — his art reflects the happiness they bring him. Wain's endeavors cause his community to consider him an outcast, but he's supported by his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy). There's humor in how Wain befriends cats, but the film earnestly shows the beauty of his work.

9. The Courier

Benedict Cumberbatch has rarely been more likable than he is in Dominic Cooke's old-fashioned spy thriller, "The Courier." A mix of author John le Carré's Cold War politics and Alfred Hitchcock's penchant for placing regular people in incredible situations, "The Courier" tells the amazing true story of British businessman Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch). Wynne is a family man who loves his wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley). In an unlikely turn of events, he's courted by CIA officer Helen Talbot (Rachel Brosnahan) to negotiate with Soviet informant Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze).

"The Courier's" early scenes are surprisingly humorous. Wynne has no experience in espionage and is awkward performing the duties of a spy. His infiltration of a volatile international situation is thrilling as he adjusts to his duties and is tasked with the responsibility of preventing nuclear conflict. However, the story takes a dark turn when Wynne is targeted by his own government and imprisoned.

8. Doctor Strange

By 2016, The Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing with audiences already accustomed to the regular team of Avengers. In the MCU's leadup to the massive "Infinity War" and "Endgame" crossover events, new characters needed to be introduced to fill out the team. Backtracking to do another origin story could have seemed simply obligatory and slowed down the story's momentum, but Scott Derrickson's vision of Doctor Strange provided an exciting introduction to magic in the MCU. The 2016 film rested on the brilliance of casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero, surgeon Steven Strange.

"Doctor Strange" is a great execution of a hero's journey in which the central character isn't particularly likable  — Strange is arrogant. When a debilitating car accident robs him of his skill as a surgeon, he desperately seeks a cure. Failed by traditional medicine, he travels to the Far East to seek the guidance of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). He realizes his destiny is greater than just regaining the use of his hands and begins learning the ways of the mystical arts.

Cumberbatch makes the training sequences engaging as he puts Strange's inherent research abilities to good use. He also grows into a more empathetic man. There's a beautiful moment towards the end when he and the Ancient One reflect on the fleeting nature of reality and how it gives life meaning. Cumberbatch also has great chemistry with fellow wizard Wong (Benedict Wong).

7. The Mauritanian

While many films centered around the aftermath of 9/11 are simplistic celebrations of patriotism that don't consider nuanced political context, "The Mauritanian" is a strong historical biopic that appeals to an international perspective. Based on a true story, the film follows a Mauritanian man named Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) who is accused of being one of the orchestrators of the terrorist attack. Slahi is imprisoned without being charged with a crime. Defense lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her assistant Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take his case. As they listen to his story, they realize his innocence.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a brilliant performance as Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a character who at first glance might appear to be the story's antagonist. Stuart lost many friends during 9/11, and he's given the task of investigating Slahi. Stuart is determined to convict Slahi, but after conversations with Hollander and Duncan, he realizes that he wasn't given all the facts. Stuart is a patriot and believes that justice cannot be served unless all the evidence is in. He begins to look deeper into the case and realizes that his supervising officers have hidden critical details from his division. Stuart reassesses his ideals when he finds himself at the center of a conspiracy. Eventually, he joins Hollander in Slahi's defense.

6. Atonement

Ian McEwen's classic novel "Atonement" is a beautiful (yet infuriating) romantic story of a relationship doomed to tragedy. Joe Wright's 2007 adaptation of the novel is just as gorgeously shot and tragically depicted as the material deserved. Set in the British countryside just before the Second World War, the story centers around the wealthy Tallis family. Young housekeeper Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) falls in love with Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), and they begin a passionate affair. Unfortunately, Robbie is soon falsely accused of sexual assault by Cecilia's jealous younger sister Brion (Saoirse Ronan).

It's not revealed until the film's conclusion that Brion's misinterpretation of the crime was caused by the conniving Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch), a wealthy friend of the Tallis family. Marshall assaulted Cecilia's cousin, Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) years before. Hiding his crime, he lets Robbie take the fall for his latest attack. Cumberbatch makes a compelling villain.

5. 1917

Sam Mendes's World War I epic "1917" captures the gripping nature of combat and realistically depicts the war through the eyes of soldiers of different ranks. The film is centered around two young infantrymen, Lance Corporals William Schofield (George McKay) and Thomas Blake (George MacKay). In the film, Schofield and Blake are assigned a critical mission to go behind enemy lines by their superior officer, General Erinmore (Colin Firth). They soon discover that a  secret German invasion could potentially devastate half of the British Army and cripple the war effort. In order to prevent the loss of life, the pair must deliver the message to Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Reaching Mackenzie is the goal of their mission, and Cumberbatch's appearance during the film's most exciting sequence immediately establishes the gravity of the situation. Mackenzie is a long-time commanding officer who wants to see a quick resolution to the conflict, and Cumberbatch perfectly embodies the spirit of the character. Still, he is skeptical of Schofield's insistence that he must halt his assault. However, when he realizes what the Germans are planning, he immediately begins to fix the situation and change his frontline strategy.

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Acclaimed spy novelist John le Carré was renowned for crafting complex narratives of intrigue and suspense that integrated realistic depictions of espionage, politics, and war. Le Carré 's 1974 novel "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" was his masterpiece. The highly complex material made any potential adaptation a challenge, but director Tomas Alfredson honored the source material with his masterful 2011 film.

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" features a massive ensemble of beloved British actors. Still, Benedict Cumberbatch manages to stand out as a highlight. He co-stars as Peter Guillam, a low-ranking British intelligence officer who becomes a close ally of main character George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Smiley is brought out of retirement by a spymaster known only as "Control" (John Hurt). Tasked with finding a mole that has been feeding classified secrets to the Soviet Union, Control gives Smiley four codenames of top agents to investigate: "Tinker" Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), "Tailor" Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), "Soldier" Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), and "Spy" Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Knowing few people he can trust, Smiley gives Guillam a dangerous assignment to steal a logbook.

3. 12 Years a Slave

Steven McQueen's 2013 historical biopic "12 Years a Slave" is a 21st century masterpiece. Rather than attempting to encapsulate the entirety of slavery into a single story, the film focuses on the reflections of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery at a plantation in Louisiana. Tackling important subject matter doesn't necessarily make a film an instant classic, but McQueen's film is a finely crafted work that allows the audience to witness Solomon's torment.

The film makes use of an excellent ensemble, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays a particularly critical character. He appears as plantation owner William Ford who purchases Solomon from slave catcher Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti). Ford is interested in Solomon's musical talents and gives him a violin to practice with. Cumberbatch expertly meets the challenge of depicting the deceptive kindness that Ford shows to Solomon. Although he appears to be fond of Solomon, Ford is still an oppressor who holds sinister beliefs and is indifferent to the suffering of enslaved people.

2. The Imitation Game

The 2014 biopic "The Imitation Game" is an ambitious historical epic. The film is set during the most grueling campaigns of World War II in which the British Army was desperate to stop the advance of the Nazis by using codebreakers to intercept and transcribe secret messages. Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who developed a computation machine that became a forerunner of the modern computer. A brilliant man who deserves to be remembered for his pivotal role in helping defeat the Nazis, Turing's life nonetheless ended in tragedy. Tormented and ostracized from the country he saved because he was a gay man, Turing died by suicide less than a decade after the end of the war.

It's an important story, and Cumberbatch delivers a powerful performance that captures Turing's heroism, extreme intelligence, and heartbreaking final days. Despite the tragic ending, "The Imitation Game" is very entertaining thanks to its exciting depiction of the process of codebreaking. Cumberbatch shows how Turing's fascination with puzzles drives him to develop the device that helped turn the tide of the war.

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1. The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion's modern masterpiece "The Power of the Dog" is a slowly-paced, deconstructive take on the American Western that steadily reveals itself to be a grippingly beautiful and tragic tale of masculinity. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the most complex and heartbreaking (and nearly unrecognizable) performance of his career). He makes a bold choice in playing the character of Phil Burbank from Thomas Savage's novel of the same name as a brutal and cruel man. Cumberbatch makes the viewer despise him and then has the nearly impossible task of peeling back the layers and finding something relatable within him.

Set in the farmlands of Montana in 1925, "The Power of the Dog" follows Phil as he heads a team of cowboys on his family's ranch. Phil's reclusive behavior makes it difficult for his brother George (Jesse Plemons) to relate to him. Nevertheless, the friendlier man looks up to him. As George grows romantically involved with waitress Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), Phil mocks his romantic yearnings and takes pleasure in tormenting Rose. When George marries Rose, Phil finds a new target for his insults — Rose's adolescent son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Peter's lack of ranching experience and soft nature make him an easy target, but Phil soon discovers something in the young man that he's fond of — even if he can't understand it. Phil takes Peter under his wing and becomes a father figure to him.