(Months ago, writer Rob Hunter set out on a wild and dangerous case: he would watch and rank as many feature-length Sherlock Holmes movies as possible. This is part one of his investigation. Part two will run on Monday.)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes may not have been the first fictional detective – that honor belongs to Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from 1841’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” – but he’s quite possibly the most well-known and ubiquitous in pop culture. He’s a fascinating creation on the page and rarely less captivating on the screen despite the varied nature of his incarnations over the years.

If we consider both feature-length film and television movies (those 60 minutes or longer), there are roughly 110 adaptations and original adventures that have been produced since the early 20th century. Seeing them all is impossible as one or two have been lost to the ravages of time, but even in today’s age of worldwide internet access, seeing the remainder is just as unlikely. Believe me, I tried, but with the time and resources allotted, I’ve had to call it quits at 70. The missing films consist mostly of non-English adaptations I was unable to find subtitled (or at all) and a handful of TV movies that remained elusive and out of my reach.

As mentioned, the beauty of Holmes on screen is often in the varied forms he takes. They range from the casual to the intense, the anti-social to the fun-loving, and the prick-ish to the unmistakably human, and everyone’s bound to have their own favorite performer in the role. Some prefer portrayals in line with Doyle’s writings while others are open to performances that a bit more flexible, and someone somewhere probably thinks Larry Hagman nailed it in his failed pilot from the 1970s.

70. Sherlock Holmes (2011)

The Case: A killer is killing women but it’s the viewer who’ll wish they were dead.

Doyle? No, but only because he rose from the dead and asked to have his name removed and credited as Alan Smithee instead

Holmes and Watson? Kevin Glaser and Charles Simon

Look, just because you have a digital camera doesn’t mean you need to make a feature film with it. This “original” tale is actually a near remake of 1945’s The Woman in Green brought into the modern day without any semblance of skill or talent. Performances are insulting to the senses, direction and editing are sloppy, music choices are… choices, microphones are usually turned on, and scene transitions in the form of poorly faked comic pages are just ugly. I did laugh, though, when a character pulled up a news site on his phone only to have the image be a picture of a newspaper – they faked a newspaper, took a photo, and pretended it was a web page. Anyway, it’s pretty terrible.

69. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers (2011)

The Case: Prostitutes are being killed while masked voyeurs watch from the shadows.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Anthony D.P. Mann and Terry Wade

You’d be hard-pressed to say this is better than the film above, but it edges itself out of last place by featuring an original story that’s more than just a direct riff on an existing one. It’s not a good story necessarily, and it’s definitely not a well made one, but there are dark themes at play and some creepy mask imagery struggling to bring them to life. Mann also directed (and probably wrote) the film in addition to playing Holmes, and I hope he someday finds his true calling whatever it may be.

68. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)

The Case: Something is amiss and askew at the Baskerville estate.

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

Holmes and Watson? Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

Sometimes a comedy comes along that doesn’t seem to land for most viewers but that I find funny anyway. This is not that comedy. It’s hard to argue with the cast as Cook & Moore are well-established funnymen and they’re joined by a reliable supporting cast, but good gravy is this loose spoof of Doyle’s popular tale an absolute bust. It’s loud, aggressive, and constantly in your face without ever approaching the realm of “funny.” The leads co-wrote the script with director Paul Morrissey (Flesh for Frankenstein, 1973), and they all failed to realize it’s utter shite.

67. Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962)

The Case: Prof. Moriarty takes a fancy to Cleopatra’s stolen necklace with deadly but fashionable results.

Doyle? Nein

Holmes and Watson? Christopher Lee and Thorley Walters

On paper, this German-produced entry looks like a surefire winner as it’s directed by Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, 1958), written by Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man, 1941), and stars Christopher Lee as the famed detective. And yet… it’s so damn boring and bland. Nondescript English dubbing (even over Lee) doesn’t help, but the real culprit is a dull story severely lacking in energy and intrigue. It’s ultimately made worse for all the talent that it wastes.

66. Holmes & Watson (2018)

The Case: Professor Moriarty has threatened to kill the Queen of England unless Sherlock Holmes can stop him.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly

The immediate reaction to this movie is “What the hell happened here?” Ferrell and Reilly aren’t necessarily infallible, but even their lesser efforts typically bring some laughs. The answer, though, rests with writer/director Etan Cohen who also made the abysmal Get Hard (2015). A couple moments here threaten to tease a smile from viewers’ faces, but the vast majority just leaves us doubly disappointed in its waste of actors like Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald, and Ralph Fiennes. The trouble with an idiot Holmes is that we’re left wondering why he’s perceived as a genius in the first place, and Ferrell’s doofus detective has no answers on that count.

65. Sherlock Holmes (2010)

The Case: Monsters are loose on London’s streets and waterways, and a madman from The Asylum is controlling them.

Doyle? Ha, no

Holmes and Watson? Ben Syder and Gareth David-Lloyd

Look, the fine folks at The Asylum do what they do and there’s an audience for it, but if you’re not on their wavelength the films are little more than CG-filled journeys into dullsville. If the blockbuster Guy Ritchie film was too disrespectful for your tastes than this romp might just push you over the edge, and no amount of dinosaurs and dragons will change that. Yes, there are dinosaurs and dragons.

64. A Study in Terror (1965)

The Case: Jack the Ripper draws the curiosity and ire of the great Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? John Neville and Donald Houston

1979’s Murder By Decree tackles the Holmes vs Jack the Ripper setup worlds better, but credit where credit’s due for this film reaching the screen first. And that’s the extent of the credit it earns. We get some bright blood to accompany the murders, but the bulk of the film is surprisingly lacking in energy. There’s no wit about it, and neither Neville nor Houston seem all that excited by their roles – a feeling viewers soon share.

63. Murder at the Baskervilles (1937)

The Case: A visit to an old friend leads to murder and horse-napping.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” (1892)

Holmes and Watson? Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming

Wontner’s final outing as Holmes – well, final on the screen anyway as he returned to the role in 1943 for a BBC radio production – is the least thrilling of the batch. The return to the Baskerville estate is for reference only as the case here involves a couple murders and the search for a racehorse in time for its next race. It’s not the most exciting ticking clock, and not even the return of Moriarty can spice things up.

62. A Study in Scarlet (1933)

The Case: Members of an exclusive club are dying and leaving no one to pay the dues.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on A Study in Scarlet (1887) and “The Five Orange Pips” (1891)

Holmes and Watson? Reginald Owen and Warburton Gamble

The producers of this feature only paid for the use of the novel’s title – how is this a thing? – and not the contents, so the script is an “original” creation. It actually bears a very clear similarity to Doyle’s “The Five Orange Pips” which was adapted better for 1945’s The House of Fear, and it pales beside that superior film. Owen is fine as Holmes, but Gamble never gets a real hold on Watson resulting in a sidekick who’s more annoying than helpful. The story itself remains lightweight but without the charisma of a captivating lead duo, and not for nothing, but it also wastes the great Anna May Wong with a too-brief appearance.

61. The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976, TV)

The Case: An L.A. motorcycle cop obsessed with Sherlock Holmes suffers a brain injury and wakes up believing he’s the legendary detective.

Doyle? No.

“Holmes and Watson?” Larry Hagman and Jenny O’Hara

Sherman Holmes is a terrible cop, but a little brain damage goes a long way apparently. This TV movie – a hopeful series pilot that NBC wisely declined to pick up – looks to be as inspired by 1971’s They Might Be Giants as it is by Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, but it lacks that film’s whimsy and heart. Sherman takes on a murder case and solves it with Holmes’ usual deductive reasoning, but it all feels very flat and almost sitcom-like resulting in a harmlessly bland adventure. Hagman is entirely the wrong choice for the character as his performance is relentlessly one-note and feels more like imitation than acting.

60. The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002, TV)

The Case: A vampire is biting its way through the clergy… or is it?!

Doyle? No.

Holmes and Watson? Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh

The fourth and final film in the Hallmark Channel’s Sherlock Holmes film series is the first to tell an original story. It looks quite good for a TV movie, and we get some creepy visuals involving blood, dead bodies, and bats, but Frewer and Welsh are not an exciting or interesting duo. Their accents are sketchy, and Frewer seems constantly on the edge of making some exaggerated facial expression or vocal styling leftover from his more comical roles. He feels like he’s just about to laugh which in turn leaves viewers thinking something funny is around the bend in this non-comedy.

59. Sherlock Holmes and the Baskerville Curse (1983, TV)

The Case: Is it a curse, a dog, or poor British manners that threaten the heir to a remote country estate?

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

Holmes and Watson? Peter O’Toole and Earle Cross (voices)

On the one hand an animated version of this tale means the glowing mutt can’t stand out as a bad visual effect like it does in nearly every live-action version, but on the other it’s still a pretty straightforward adaptation of a story we all know far too well. (No? Just me after watching a dozen versions of it?) Similarly, O’Toole as Holmes is a fantastic choice, but it’s just his voice and Holmes is a supporting player in this tale.

58. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972, TV)

The Case: A big dog and even bigger amounts of greed threaten the heir to a seemingly cursed estate.

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

Holmes and Watson? Stewart Granger and Bernard Fox

The 70s and 80s saw more than a couple attempts at reviving Holmes for network television, and this stab at a new series of TV movies met the same fate as the rest – instant failure. This isn’t the worst of the bunch as poor Larry Hagman’s entry above earns that title, but it’s not much better. Its only real advantage is the choice to stick with a familiar and beloved story, but it brings nothing fresh in the process and Granger’s large, heroic stature feels wholly inappropriate for the curious detective. On the plus side the cinematographer is named Harry L. Wolf.

57. The Woman in Green (1945)

The Case: Women are turning up dead, each with a missing finger, and Sherlock Holmes is on the killer’s case.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “The Final Problem” (1893) and “The Adventure of the Empty House” (1903)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Serial murder with post-mortem mutilation has rarely been so dull. Rathbone and Bruce are their usually reliable selves, but the film reveals nearly everything early on leading to a slow rollout of Holmes’ deductions. The focus on hypnosis also drags it down as it’s a bland explanation removing culpability from everyone but Moriarty and the woman in green.

56. Hands of a Murderer (1990, TV)

The Case: Prof. Moriarty escapes his own execution forcing Holmes onto the hunt once again.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Edward Woodward and John Hillerman

Production design on this CBS television movie features decoration and detail standing apart from earlier TV productions, but pretty sets can only take it so far. Instead, it crumbles in two key areas – its story and its performances. The story is an original meeting of Holmes and Moriarty involving spies and deceptions, but details pile on despite none of them feeling all that interesting. Woodward is surprisingly bad as Holmes preferring to yell most of his lines, and Anthony Andrews’ Moriarty somehow manages to be both dull and hammy. But hey, Hillerman makes a good Watson and it’s not often that character is the highlight.

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