The 10 best Sherlock Holmes adaptations, according to Sherlockians

Lucy Liu, left, as Dr. Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary.”
(Giovanni Rufino / Associated Press)

With hundreds of movies and series already crowding the Sherlock Holmes canon, it takes expert sleuthing to determine which rank above the rest.

Luckily, The Times is on the case, with the help of some expert film historians and Sherlockians. Here are 10 of the greatest adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries.

“Sherlock Holmes” (1916)

"Sherlock Holmes" (1916)
Director Arthur Berthelet, left, and actor William Gillette on the set of 1916’s “Sherlock Holmes.”
(UCLA Film & Television Archive)

The oldest known surviving Holmes movie, which recently and miraculously turned up mislabeled in a Paris archive, stars William Gillette as Holmes and Edward Fielding as Watson as they investigate royal blackmail. The Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s Roger Johnson called the newly restored flick “a wonderful treat.”

“Sherlock Holmes” (1954)

Ronald Howard, left, as Sherlock Holmes and Paulette Goddard as Lady Nina Beryl in the 1950s series "Sherlock Holmes."
(Pages Francois / Paris Match via Getty Images)

The first small-screen American take on Conan Doyle’s stories starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and H. Marion Crawford as Watson. It appeals to Baker Street Irregular and “The Seven-Per-Cent” solution author Nicholas Meyer — a self-proclaimed Holmes “purist” — for its fidelity to the originals.

“A Study in Terror” (1965)

"A Study in Terror"
John Neville as Sherlock Holmes on the poster for 1965’s “A Study in Terror.”
(Fototeca Storica Nazionale / Getty Images)

In this British thriller, John Neville’s Holmes and Donald Houston’s Watson pursue infamous London serial killer Jack the Ripper with the help of Holmes’ sedentary brother Mycroft, played by Robert Morley. Baker Street Irregular Leslie Klinger praised the film for its “very intelligent script.”

“Sherlock Holmes” (1965)

Johnson called this series featuring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson “excellent.” The British program ran until 1968 on BBC, with Peter Cushing eventually taking over for Wilmer in a later version.

“The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970)

On the set of "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes"
Robert Stephens, center, as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely, right, as Dr. Watson on the set of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” directed by Billy Wilder.
(United Artists / Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)

This Billy Wilder film stars Robert Stephens as a more complex Holmes beyond the suave observer depicted in Watson’s (Colin Blakely) tales. Johnson lauded the movie’s ability to honor Conan Doyle’s creations with “a completely new story.”

“Sherlock Holmes” (1984)

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in Granada TV's "Sherlock Holmes."
(Associated Press)

Klinger hailed this long-running series, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke (later Edward Hardwicke) as Watson, for presenting “serious and deep” portrayals of Holmes’ loyal companion that audiences can “really admire” — as opposed to other, more buffoonish takes.

“Without a Clue” (1988)

Ben Kingsley, left, as Dr. Watson and Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes in "Without a Clue."

Multiple Sherlockians admitted to having a soft spot for this “hilarious” reimagining that flips the personalities of its dynamic detective duo, featuring Ben Kingsley’s Watson as the brain and Michael Caine’s Holmes as the bumbling student.

“Sherlock Holmes” (2009)

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Warner Bros.' "Sherlock Holmes."
Robert Downey Jr., left, as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson in Warner Bros.’ “Sherlock Holmes.”
(Warner Bros.)

For one of the most recent big-screen adaptations, Klinger paid particular kudos to Jude Law, who plays “one of the very best Watsons ever” opposite Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes. Klinger served as a technical adviser on the first two Warner Bros. films; a third installment coming in 2021.

“Sherlock” (2010)

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's "Sherlock."
Martin Freeman, left, as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s “Sherlock.”

Sherlockians and film historians agree BBC nailed this serialized, updated take on Conan Doyle’s mysteries, featuring Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as a Holmes with “a kind of arrogance that ... is actually not very sympathetic but that made the role interesting,” according to UCLA Film & Television archive director Jan-Christopher Horak.

“Elementary” (2012)

Jonny Lee Miller, left, as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in CBS's "Elementary."
(Patrick Harbron / CBS)

Sherlock Holmes, but make it modern-day Manhattan. That’s the premise for this buzzy CBS series starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as a rare female Watson. The program’s success, Horak said, proves “great capacity” for change in the Holmes canon as long as “the essence of the characters remains.”

Time lost more than 100 Sherlock Holmes films. UCLA detectives — and Robert Downey Jr. — want to find them with “Searching for Sherlock: The Game’s Afoot.”