The many actors who played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

Here's a look at some of the actors who've portrayed the great detective and his partner in movies and TV shows.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
1 of 18 Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly aren't the only actors to portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Take a look at some of the other actors who've played the great detective and his partner on camera.

Here's a look at Reilly as Dr. Watson and Ferrell (wearing the famed deerstalker hat) as Sherlock Holmes as they'll appear in the 2018 comedy Holmes and Watson

2 of 18 BBC

Benedict Cumberbatch​ and Martin Freeman

In the modern-day BBC adaptation Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a tactless Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman plays his tolerant roommate Watson as they solve murders using their wits, and sometimes their phones. The series spans four seasons and two specials from 2010 to 2017. 

3 of 18 BBC

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Victorian special)

Watson (Martin Freeman) and Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) also went back in time (hence their Victorian garb) for the BBC special Sherlock: The Abominable Bride.

4 of 18 CBS

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu

In the CBS series Elementary, Jonny Lee Miller plays a disgraced Holmes who lives in present-day Brooklyn after a stint in rehab. He's assigned a sober companion to live with him: former surgeon Dr. Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. The two team up to help the New York Police Department solve unusual murder mysteries. (Disclosure: CBS is CNET's parent company.)

5 of 18 Warner Bros. Pictures

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law

Move over, Iron Man! Robert Downey Jr. portrayed a reckless Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law acted as his trusty yet frustrated friend Dr. Watson in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. A third film is slated for 2020.

6 of 18 Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Jeremy Brett and David Burke

Jeremy Brett played a grumpy but brilliant version of Sherlock Holmes in the Granada Television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 1984 to 1994. His roommate and partner Dr. John Watson was portrayed by David Burke. Set in the Victorian era, the series included 36 one-hour episodes and five feature-length specials. 

7 of 18 Granada Television

Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke

Jeremy Brett portrayed the stoic and easily irritated Sherlock Holmes while Edward Hardwicke -- who replaced David Burke on the series in 1985 -- played his loyal sidekick Dr. Watson. The Granada Television adaptations of the Holmes tales are later referred to as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Hardwicke played the role for eight years from 1986 to 1994. 

8 of 18 20th Century Fox

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

From 1939 to 1946, a series of 14 films -- including Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and Sherlock Holmes Faces Death -- were released starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson. While Rathbone's version of Sherlock was both brilliant and personable, Bruce portrays Watson as a jovial but somewhat dense sidekick.

9 of 18 BBC Films

Ian McKellen

In the 2015 film Mr. HolmesIan McKellen plays an elderly version of Sherlock Holmes who's long since retired from crime sleuthing. The film is set during 1947, with Holmes living on a remote Sussex farm with his widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). Angry at Watson's (Colin Starkey) latest fictionalization of his last case, The Adventure of the Dove Grey Glove, Holmes decides to write his own version, but his memories are starting to slip away. Young Roger's curiosity and constant prodding helps Holmes remember the case, which is shown in flashbacks during the film.

10 of 18 Harmony Gold Pictures

Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee

In the 1991 TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, Christopher Lee plays Holmes while Patrick Macnee is Watson. One of the unusual highlights of this production was the depiction of leading lady character Irene Adler by '80s TV icon Morgan Fairchild.

11 of 18 Orion Pictures

Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley

For the 1988 British comedy film Without a Clue, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by Dr. John Watson (played expertly by Ben Kingsley) who writes about Holmes' adventures in a series of short stories published in The Strand Magazine. The character becomes so popular that the public demands to see Holmes in person. So Watson hires an unemployed actor, Reginald Kincaid (played by Michael Caine), to pretend to be Holmes. The duo work together, with hilarious results, to help solve murder mysteries in real life. 

12 of 18 Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Ronald Howard and Howard Marion Crawford

In the 1954 TV series Sherlock Holmes, Ronald Howard played Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford was Watson. The series included 39 half-hour episodes, and was considered the first American television adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. 

13 of 18 Hammer Film Productions

Peter Cushing and Andre Morell

Peter Cushing played Sherlock Holmes and Andre Morell portrayed Dr. Watson in the 1959 Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Cushing portrayed the famous detective throughout his career, and always demanded the character be depicted accurately and in line with Arthur Conan Doyle's original creation.

14 of 18 Universal Pictures

Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall

In the 1976 movie The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Nicol Williamson plays Sherlock Holmes and Robert Duvall is Dr. Watson. Williamson's is one of the best portrayals of Holmes, who Watson is convinced is delusional from an addiction to cocaine. The legendary actor Laurence Olivier plays Holmes' nemesis Moriarty, who convinces Watson that Holmes is harassing him. Eventually, Watson recruits the help of Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) to treat Holmes.

15 of 18 Universal Pictures

George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward

In the 1971 movie They Might Be Giants, George C. Scott plays Justin Playfair -- a a millionaire who retreats into fantasy after his wife's death. He imagines himself as Sherlock Holmes who wears the famous deerstalker hat, smokes a pipe and plays the violin. He creates a homemade criminal laboratory and is paranoid about plots hatched by Holmes' fictional archenemy, Professor Moriarty. He ends up in a mental institution and gains the attention of Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward), a psychiatrist who becomes fascinated by his case.

16 of 18 AVCO Embassy Pictures

Christopher Plummer and James Mason

In the 1979 thriller Murder by Decree, Christopher Plummer is Sherlock Holmes and James Mason is Dr. Watson. Holmes and Watson find themselves involved in the investigation surrounding the real-life 1888 Whitechapel murders committed by Jack the Ripper. The movie suggests that the killings were part of a deeper Masonic plot.

17 of 18 United Artists

Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely

Robert Stephens plays Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely is Dr. Watson in the 1970 comedy film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes directed by Billy Wilder. The hilarious romp includes a Russian ballerina who wants to have a baby with Holmes (to his dismay), a mysterious group of monks, a German spy, a woman's murder and the Loch Ness Monster. Bonus points for Christopher Lee playing Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes. 

18 of 18 20th Century Fox

Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman

The 1975 comedy film The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother deserves an honorable mention just for the performance of the always-hilarious Gene Wilder who plays Sherlock's more intelligent sibling Sigerson Holmes. Wilder wrote and directed the film that instead of focusing on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, spends the majority of the tale following around Sigerson as he investigates a theft of a mysterious and important document delivered by Queen Victoria to the British Foreign Secretary. 

Other cast members include Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise, Roy Kinnear and even a voice cameo from Mel Brooks. 

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