One of the earliest portrayals of the great sleuth was by Basil Rathbone. He played Holmes in fourteen movies between 1939 and 1946, with Nigel Bruce accompanying him as John Watson. This is one of the most well-known versions of Sherlock Holmes and is often considered the best - at least by that generation. Several images that are well know come from Rathbone's Holmes. I have personally seen three of these fourteen movies and thought they were rather enjoyable, if a little dry.
Ronald Howard and H. Marion Crawford
An American produced half-hour television series staring Ronald Howard as Holmes and H. Marion Crawford as Watson, from 1954. The story's deviate from the cannon material and I make no apologies in the fact that I have a massive soft-spot for this series. It is a much lighter, funner adaptation than usual, something that the creator (Sheldon Reynolds) is noted for wanting. In this version, Holmes is a more relaxed, younger man than most adaptations.
From 1984 to 1994, Jeremy Brett portrayed Sherlock Holmes, alongside to different Watson's, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke. This television series is one of the most faithful to the original stories, and most people consider this the definitive Sherlock Holmes. Much like Rathbone's version, this Holmes is very tense and has a nervous energy. Also, his drug usage, in keeping with the eighties, isn't glossed over. (I forget which version of Watson it was, but this series had one of the biggest bumbler of a Watson I ever seen.)
In 1985 a Holmes movie was made staring Nicholas Rowe as Holmes and Alan Cox as Watson. What makes this unique was the fact that it was a retelling, a what-if the boys had met at boarding school. This was actually a fairly curious take on Holmes, and it didn't completely work. It wasn't all bad though and, if you like anachronistic stew, there are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon. (At least, I thought so.)
Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties, there were various adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, some better than others, I'm sure. The only one of these un-notable, one-off, versions I took the time to watch was the worst adaptation I've ever seen. I never got the courage up to watch another. (And I cannot even remember anything about it besides the fact that it was a Hound of the Baskervilles adaptation.)
In 2002, a made-for-television movie, staring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson was made. Riddled with inaccuracies, some that admittedly are a bit painful, this is still one of my favorite adaptations. There's just something about the talent behind the acting and the atmosphere that make me really like it.
This is a 2004 follow-up to the previous adaptation, staring the same Watson, but Rupert Everett as Holmes. It is also not, in fact, an adaptation, but an all-new story. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about the movie. The plot itself was rather decent, if a little more explicit than most stories. But Everett's version of Holmes seems all wrong to me. I found this an attempt to 'sexy up' Holmes and make him more appealing to the younger generation.
Robert Downey, Jr
Downey stars in two movies (2009 and 2011) as Holmes, Jude Law opposite him as Watson. I will admit, there is both a lot to like about these movies and a lot to dislike. Once again, this portrayal of Holmes feels like an effort to make him appealing to younger people. Judging by the new 'boom', it worked. (I simply have problems with my Holmes having too much Tony Stark in him.)
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
In this very popular adaptation, starting in 2010, we find Holmes, played by Cumberbatch, and Watson, played by Freeman, firmly in the modern era. This version of Holmes is quickly becoming the Rathbone/Brett of our generation and, I admit, while Holmes has been updated, there is still something about him that makes me feel this is a nice adaptation. (It doesn't hurt that Watson finally has a brain again.)
Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu
Staring Miller as Holmes, this 2012 television adaptation took a unique approach - making Watson, played by Liu, a woman. While this series was originally met with some criticism, (and I only originally started watching it because I like Liu) I think that this is a very enjoyable adaptation, even considering some of the liberties that were taken with the source material.
So, that's a not-at-all exhaustive list of screen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure I missed some, but I think this really covers the high points, a few low points and my favorites. If you've got any versions that I didn't mention, please leave me a comment. What did you think of this list? How many of these have you seen and what did you think of them?