45. The Spider Woman (1944)

The Case: A series of mysterious deaths point to a murderous woman with a penchant for poison.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” (1913), “The Final Problem” (1893), and The Sign of the Four (1890)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

The detective deduces a series of suicides are actually murder, and the prime suspect is a woman who’s every bit as smart as he is. Their battle of wits and the games they play between them are pretty entertaining, but the film is hurt by two lesser decisions. Holmes’ ploy at faking his own death is handled so quickly and ultimately feels unnecessary to anything, and even more unfortunate is his effort at an Indian disguise complete with “brown face” makeup. It hurts the film on rewatch, but viewers who can separate themselves from the times will find an engaging enough mystery here.

44. Sherlock: Case of Evil (2002, TV)

The Case: A young Sherlock Holmes still making his name as a detective suspects the recently deceased Moriarty is behind a series of murders.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? James D’Arcy and Roger Morlidge

While its ambition falls prey to the budgetary restraints of a television movie this original tale manages a few inspiring moments in its production design, and its more energetic take on the famed detective is equally okay. D’Arcy is wide-eyed and plays Holmes as a man seeking attention and the love of the ladies before learning a hard lesson of the heart. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Moriarty suffers from a rough British accent but makes up for it in smarm and swordplay, while both Gabrielle Anwar and Richard E. Grant co-star in smaller supporting roles. It’s perfectly serviceable.

43. Sherlock: The Blind Banker (2010, TV)

The Case: A bank break-in sees nothing stolen but a deadly message left behind.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” (1903)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

The initial setup is an interesting one as the motivation behind breaking into a bank but not stealing anything intrigues, and we also get a murder committed in a locked room, but the answers are never all that interesting. The character writing doesn’t quite gel, an attempted murder sequence relies on Bond villain-like delays, and we don’t get nearly enough of Gemma Chan.

42. Pursuit to Algiers (1945)

The Case: Sherlock is tasked with delivering a prince to his home country by ship while eluding assassins.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

The premise is similar, but 16 Blocks (2006) this isn’t. There’s no real report between Holmes and his charge, and the thugs on their tail never feel like much of a threat. While something like Terror By Night (1946) works in its confined train space the ship doesn’t enjoy the same building of suspense. Rathbone and Bruce are terrific as always, but they’re the only real highlight of the film.

41. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Case: A toymaker has gone missing, and a mousy Holmes suspects the nefarious Professor Ratigan.

Doyle? Nope, it’s based on a series of children’s books which were in turn inspired by Doyle’s creation

“Holmes and Watson?” Barrie Ingham and Val Bettin (voices)

To clarify, our heroes here aren’t actually meant to be Holmes and Watson, but their rodent counterparts Basil and Dawson who live in the walls of 221 ½ Baker Street. It’s an origin story of Dawson’s first team-up with the great detective, and in addition to a one-legged bat and a rodent arch-nemesis named Ratigan (voiced by Vincent Price!) we also get a frequently depressed Holmes in a kids movie. The animation is rough at times – a victim of budget slashing after The Black Cauldron (1985) stumbled at the box-office – but there’s charm in the action and characters.

40. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

The Case: Murders in a convalescent home leave Sherlock certain that greed is the motive.

Doyle? Doyle! Based on “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” (1893)

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Kudos to this entry for summarizing a key element of movie villains through the years with Holmes’ conclusion that “Egomaniacs are always so much more chatty when they feel they have the upper hand.” The core of the story sees a killer acting on greed resulting in a house filled with suspects, and Holmes explores some of usual trickery to crack the case including playing a game involving human chess pieces. Typical Sherlock.

39. Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014, TV)

The Case: An evil powerbroker leads Sherlock to a shocking revelation about Mary that leaves him with a bullet in his torso.

Doyle? Doyle! Loosely based on “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” (1904) and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” (1891) with the title a riff on “His Last Bow” (1917)

Holmes and Watson? Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

There are two elements at play here, and neither works as well as they should. The villain is menacing at first before being quickly revealed to be something of a shtick whose vault of knowledge is actually a “mind palace” similar to Holmes’. Still, his M.O. is just interesting and threatening enough, but the reveal that Mary is an ex-super agent – hoo boy – this just lands clunkily. It feels so unnecessary, as if they just weren’t sure what to do with a “normal” female character.

38. The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987, TV)

The Case: John Watson’s great-granddaughter discovers a cryogenically frozen Sherlock Holmes in the basement of her family estate.

Doyle? Doyle-ish! Very loosely inspired by The Sign of the Four (1890)

Holmes and “Watson?” Michael Pennington and Margaret Colin

Yet another TV movie with hopes of becoming a series, this time for CBS, the specifics of the premise here are fairly interesting. It’s Holmes in modern-day courtesy of cryogenic freezing – a technique that he himself invented! – and there’s fun to be had in his “fish out of water” scenario. The pair are quickly drawn into a case involving conspiracy and murder, and Pennington does a good job with the infamous character balancing his wit, curiosity, and mildly dismissive nature.

37. Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

The Case: An agent goes missing in America along with a top secret document sending Sherlock Holmes off to the New World.

Doyle? No

Holmes and Watson? Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

The third of the series’ overtly political efforts aimed at war-time audiences, this entry even ends with a plea for viewers to buy war bonds. It’s also one with little mystery as we see the men responsible for the abduction and murder in the very beginning, and instead the bulk of the film is more action and suspense-oriented. It’s fine but we don’t get a lot of Holmes’ deductive abilities and occasional moments where he’s stumped for an answer.

36. Sherlock Holmes (1932)

The Case: Professor Moriarty escapes justice and targets his persecutors for death.

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

Holmes and Watson? Clive Brook and Reginald Owen

There’s a somewhat unique setup to this entry as not only is Holmes heading into retirement but he’s also engaged. To be married! He frustrates his fiancee by returning to detective work in order to re-capture the villainous Moriarty. Brook makes for a compelling Holmes selling both the intelligence and wit – his demonstration of a “motor-wrecking ray” to disable cars remotely feels both authentic and futuristic – and he spends most his time bantering with a child instead of Watson. It’s an engaging thriller.


Check out part two of our ranking soon, where we count down the 35 best Sherlock Holmes movies.

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