20. The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988, TV)

The Case: There’s rumor of a hound. On the moors. By the old Baskerville estate.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

Holmes and Watson? Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke

As is evidenced by its numerous appearances on this list it’s safe to say that this is Doyle’s most frequently adapted tale, and its ubiquitous nature has dampened some of its bite. Brett, as you may have heard, is the best Holmes and helps lift the film from a crowded field, but that only goes so far in a story that sends Holmes off screen for far too long. Still, familiarity isn’t much of a negative meaning fans of the hound should be fans of this respectful adaptation.

19. Dressed to Kill (1946)

The Case: The theft of a music box is set to the tune of murder.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” (1904)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

The final Rathbone adventure is more of a suspense tale than a mystery as we know who’s behind the thefts from early on. The fun comes in Holmes’ journey to the truth, and his realization that a deviously talented actress (played by Ursula Eileen Patricia Augusta Fraser Morison) is behind it all comes with an intriguing display of respect for her abilities. He and Watson go out on a high point with an entertaining riff on a tale they’ve previously tackled (in 1944’s The Pearl of Death) with slightly lesser results.

18. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

The Case: A curse, a hound, and the moors walk into a bar.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

This isn’t the first adaptation of what is arguably the best known of Doyle’s Holmes tales, but the Rathbone/Bruce pairing began here with positive results. Viewers knew immediately that they were in store for a more humorous and less competent Watson. A family curse and frightening canine attacks draw the duo to the countryside where they pursue the truth behind a recent murder and the promise of another, and it’s an effective excursion into the fog-shrouded mystery that as usual with adaptations of this particular story only really suffers from less time with Holmes.

17. Mr. Holmes (2015)

The Case: An aging Holmes suffering from dementia struggles to recall his final case and a life built on fleeting memories.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Ian McKellen and Colin Starkey

Most of the films on this list understandably play like traditional Holmes tales, but a few give the formula a twist with appealing results. Here we’re given a Holmes long since retired and facing the greatest threat to his legendary mental acuity — Alzheimer’s. The film follows his attempt at recalling the details of his last case knowing only that he failed and it was the one that ended his career. It’s a beautifully made film with an engaging story, and McKellen brings real heart and sorrow to the role.

16. The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four (1987, TV)

The Case: After years of receiving pearls from an anonymous benefactor a young woman is asked to meet, and she brings Sherlock Holmes along for the ride.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on The Sign of the Four (1890)

Holmes and Watson? Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke

The second of Doyle’s four Holmes-centric novels has seen its share of adaptations, and each has made for nothing less than a competent telling of an intriguing tale. This version sticks closer than most to the book, and while that’s a positive in theory it also leaves us with a healthy chunk of the tale told in flashback as well as the presence of a pointy-toothed native for better or worse. The story itself is still a strong one, though, and in case you haven’t heard, Brett is the best Holmes and always worth watching.

15. Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014, TV)

The Case: John and Mary’s wedding sees Sherlock deduce a murder plot while giving his best man speech.

Doyle? No. But it is named after The Sign of the Four (1890)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

The conceit of the episode eases viewers into the mystery at hand while seemingly focusing more on the characters’ friendship woes. The pieces of the plot are dripped throughout, though, and while it makes for one of the easier cases in which to pinpoint the players — of course Watson’s disgraced military friend is the target, obviously the photographer is involved, etc — the slowly rising tension successfully holds our attention and growing excitement.

14. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

The Case: Sherlock is forced to juggle both a recently acquitted Professor Moriarty and a woman whose life is in immediate danger.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on the play Sherlock Holmes (1899) co-written by William Gillette

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

The second Rathbone/Bruce feature is based on a play co-written by Doyle, and it features their first face-off with the legendary Moriarty. The film establishes duel plot lines destined to collide, and it manages some engaging set-pieces and sequences along the way. A big draw, though, is the always engaging Ida Lupino as the woman in trouble. It’s also worth noting that at 85 minutes it’s the longest of the series, and there’s not a wasted frame.

13. Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The Case: A killer returns from the dead to threaten all of London.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law

Guy Ritchie has become something of a parody of himself in recent years, but his revisionist take on Holmes and Watson — they’re still great thinkers but now they also kick ass — is a supremely entertaining affair. Downey Jr. and Law show great chemistry in their banter and interactions, and Ritchie crafts some fantastic action set-pieces as companions to scenes where Holmes’ deductive efforts come to life. Hans Zimmer also turns in a terrifically lively score to round out the experience.

12. Sherlock: The Final Problem (2017, TV)

The Case: Sherlock has a sister, and she is as brilliant as she is nucking futs.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” (1893), “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” (1924), and “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” (1893)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

The final episode of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes reboot serves both a fantastic conclusion and a tease leaving viewers wanting more, and as is the case with other eps in the show it walks a fine line between strong style, affecting emotion, and a sloppy embrace of the illogical. The island prison is a great setting, and Holmes’ discovery of the truth behind his sister Eurus (Sian Brooke) builds some impressive emotional beats en route to a highly satisfying end.

11. The Scarlet Claw (1944)

The Case: Someone or something is tearing out throats in Quebec, and only Sherlock Holmes has the stomach to catch the killer.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

This is a darkly entertaining mystery that feels like a Scooby Doo episode infused with murder — a lot of murder as there’s a solid body count this time around. None of that is a knock either as it’s supremely entertaining throughout. Glowing creatures in the marsh, a killer who’s a master of disguise, and some of Bruce’s most amusing beats as Watson help make this a fun and thrilling watch. Canada also gets some kind words from the detective to end the film, and that’s never a bad thing.

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