10. Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012, TV)

The Case: Compromising photos threatening to scandalize the Queen lead Holmes into the presence of the first woman to truly catch his interest and who happens to hold the key to the pictures.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

The photos are something of a MacGuffin as the true core of the story is the budding dynamic between Holmes and Irene Adler. She’s part genius and part villain, and while their fall into each other’s fascination is perhaps a bit quick Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver make for an enticing pair. There are some fantastic back and forths between them as each moves a step ahead of the other, and while it mirrors his relationship with Moriarty in structure it exists with less vitriol and violence.

9. Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

The Case: Holmes works to identify a Nazi propagandist whose words lead to deadly attacks.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “His Last Bow” (1917)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Holmes’ first foray against the Nazis (and first to be visibly moved beyond his usual time period) is a terrifically tense thriller that presents a deadly enemy and a slow reveal to their identity. There’s real drama in the acts of sabotage taking British lives, and it gives Holmes’ investigation a strong sense of urgency beyond the fate of merely one or two people. The voice itself also carries an unnerving element that most villains would kill for especially as action beats build in their intensity.

8. Sherlock: The Great Game (2010, TV)

The Case: A series of hostages wrapped in explosives test Sherlock’s deductive abilities with life and death consequences, but the real puzzle comes in his realization that a single man is behind it all.

Doyle? Doyle! Very loosely based on “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” (1908)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Hints of Moriarty’s presence in previous episodes finally reveal the man himself here, and it was worth the wait. Andrew Scott’s portrayal of the master criminal is as perfect a blend of charisma and evil as you could hope for, and he creates a tremendous counterpoint for Holmes. His appearance here is relatively brief, but he packs a punch in his actions and effect. Seeing Holmes knocked a bit off balance is equally worth the price of admission. It’s lessened slightly by ending on a cliffhanger, but anything that brings viewers back for more can’t be all bad.

7. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Case: Is the Baskerville family cursed by a fearsome hound, or is something more evil behind the stream of deaths?

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

Holmes and Watson? Peter Cushing and Andre Morell

Hammer Films are best known for their horror efforts with classic monsters and human killers, but one of their other efforts is also their sole entry into the Holmes canon. It’s a shame as it’s also one of the best adaptations of this story complete with terrifically atmospheric set-pieces, some fantastically Gothic beats, and another pairing of the great Cushing and Christopher Lee (as the new Lord Baskerville). We get the story we all know so well, but its talents and visual stylings put more meat on its bones.

6. Sherlock: A Study in Pink (2010, TV)

The Case: A rash of serial suicides have hit London with seemingly unrelated people taking their lives in the same way, but Sherlock suspects it’s actually murder.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

This first entry in the BBC’s much-ballyhooed reboot does a terrific job introducing the characters to each other, to viewers, and to the 21st century. The story is good with a final face-off between Holmes and the cabbie killer that truly highlights the detective’s personality and ego, and the production style is energetic and lively. For viewers who like their Holmes playing host to all manner of diagnosable personality disorders the character brought to life by Cumberbatch is heaven-sent. The real draw, though, is the fantastic chemistry between the leads — both Cumberbatch/Freeman and Holmes/Watson. Their banter is smart, fast, entertaining, and increasingly emotionally charged offering a usually strong balance to the methodical nature of the cases and writing.

5. Without a Clue (1988)

The Case: Turns out Watson is the real genius while Holmes is a mere actor, and their success goes missing when the former fires the latter.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley

The conceit here is absolute genius, much like Holm–err, Watson himself, and it’s brought to beautifully comedic life through the lead performances of Caine and Kingsley. Caine in particular is perfection as the drunken, womanizing, and nearly idiotic Holmes. The mystery itself is pretty straightforward with Moriarty running a counterfeiting scheme, but the laughs, action, and affection for the characters lifts it above the fray and make it a clearly superior inspiration for both 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and 2018’s Holmes & Watson.

4. Sherlock: The Lying Detective (2017, TV)

The Case: With John Watson still recovering from his wife’s death Sherlock publicly accuses a well-known personality of being a serial killer.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” (1913)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Things are a bit wobbly early on for various reasons including the show once again having one of its leads see and talk with a dead person — Holmes did it previously with Moriarty — but the structure of the story forces things back in the right direction. Toby Jones is terrific as the accused killer, and the H.H. Holmes allusions are on point. It’s good stuff made great, though, by the sheer power of emotion as these two friends, Holmes and Watson, find each other once more. The wrap-up ties various threads together beautifully with the show’s best new villain arrival since Moriarty’s in “The Great Game,” and every element is moving in high gear here from the characters to the deductions to the emotional appeal.

3. Terror By Night (1946)

The Case: A fabled diamond is stolen while en route via train, and only Sherlock Holmes can catch the thief turned murderer.

Doyle? Not really, but it does lift elements from “The Adventure of the Empty House” (1903), “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax” (1911), and The Sign of Four (1890)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

I’m an admitted sucker for train-set thrillers as the tight location moving at high speeds promises all manner of suspenseful delights, and dropping Holmes into such a situation works beautifully. It plays like an Agatha Christie mystery as we’re locked in with a set number of suspects for the great detective to make deductive mincemeat of, and he doesn’t disappoint against a motley group of passengers while the train hurtles down the tracks. Sure Bruce’s Watson is still a bit goofy but he proves useful in addition to earning some smiles.

2. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Master Blackmailer (1992, TV)

The Case: A woman engaged to be married is blackmailed by a devious and greedy villain.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” (1904)

Holmes and Watson? Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again if we ever meet in person, but Jeremy Brett is the best and most consistently exciting Sherlock Holmes. He played the role 41 times over a decade, and this entry is among his most enthralling in a rare story where Holmes’ mental efforts stumble and force him into a corner relying solely on physical, morally suspect action. The villain is cruel, the threat is real, and seeing Holmes in distress raises the drama immensely. The episode ends with a defeated Holmes telling Watson not to record this adventure, saying “There are certain aspects of which I am not proud. Please, bury this case deep in your file.” It’s powerful stuff.

1. Murder By Decree (1979)

The Case: Holmes and Watson investigate a serial murderer known as Jack the Ripper, and the clues lead them to England’s highest seats of power.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Christopher Plummer and James Mason

No apologies here, but while you might expect an authentic Doyle adaptation and/or a colder Holmes portrayal to top the list there’s just no way around this film’s supremacy. Plummer and Mason are fantastic as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and both bring dramatic weight and real charisma to the characters even with the former being a more human detective than we often get. In addition to the expected Holmes-ian elements regarding his sharp displays of brilliance, the film also delivers conspiracy theories and a brutal conclusion that feels like a more literary take on 1970s conspiracy thrillers. It’s not the first time Holmes faced the Ripper (see 1965’s A Study in Terror), but it’s easily the best, and knowing it’s from the director of Black Christmas (1974), Porky’s (1981), and A Christmas Story (1983) just makes it all the more impressive.

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