The 10 Best Professor Moriartys Ever
The world and his wife seem to love Benedict Cumberbatch. It is unsurprising; as our beloved Sherlock he gives one of the most distinctive, arguably greatest performances of the man there’s ever been. Super! Give him some BAFTA’s! But this got us thinking about the anti-hero, the arch-enemy. Who has done it best? After all, every hero must have a nemesis, and Moriarty just happens to be one of the greatest. Despite Sir Arthur Conan Doyle originally creating the character as an way of enabling Sherlock’s demise (not to mention the small fact that he only ever appears in two books), scheming criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty (Jim to his mates) is a character who – based on reputation alone – has become the most infamous of literary villains. In Holmes’ own words: “He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city…”. Undoubtedly he can be as downright enjoyable as the great detective himself. Over time there have been countless versions of Doyle’s scheming Napoleon of Crime. Here are just ten! Have we missed out your favourite? Let us know in the comments section..
The ‘Real’ Moriarty
Naturally, it seems fitting to kick off the list with the real-life inspiration behind the literary character. There have been many theories throughout the years as to who Doyle based the villainous Moriarty on, however the name that seems to crop up the most is the notorious criminal and rather disappointingly named Adam Worth (left). Despite sounding pretty dull, Worth actually led a life chock-a-block with crime; upon arriving in London he set up his own network, masterminding a series of major robberies and other fraudulent activities. The man became so renowned that Scotland Yard nicknamed him ‘the Napoleon of the criminal world’… hence Doyle nicking the impressive title for his very own fictional version.
Despite the made for TV movie ‘Hands of a Murderer’ coming in for a lot of criticism from hardcore Sherlock fans, many still appreciate the rather brilliant performance of Anthony Andrews (seen here skulking in the background). Some have even suggested that by focusing so much on the villain, viewers come away on the side of Moriarty rather than the hero. A controversial notion… however Andrew’s evil-genius-like portrayal undeniably steals the show. It’s just a shame the rest of the adaptation was pants! Check out this clip of him escaping the gallows (with the help of his crime network..)
Star Trek: Elementary, Dear Data
In a nod to Doyle’s great literary invention, Star Trek once created their very own Moriarty. Daniel Davis plays a holodeck (i.e. simulated reality) version invented in order to defeat Data. Ultimately creating an opponent far more capable than they originally planned, Moriarty realises he is a simulation and attempts to transfer his existence to the real world. Despite mostly being known to Trekkie’s and nerds alike, this version reflects the cultural impact of the character. In a cross-reference to further blow your mind; Futurama does a double-whammy in its episode ‘Kip Gets Knocked Up a Notch’, using the ‘HoloShed’ in reference to the aforementioned Star Trek episode and a cartoon depiction in homage to Moriarty himself.
Another made-for-telly movie is found in the form of 2002’s Sherlock: A Case of Evil. In a deliberate departure from the original books, the story focuses on Sherlock in his twenties and a quest to pursue his escaped enemy. Played by actor Vincent D’Onofrio – a wide-ranging actor known in the bizz as the ‘Human Chameleon’ – Moriarty cuts a striking figure. Despite mixed reviews calling into question his accent and the movie’s general tongue in cheek nature, some still found it enjoyable enough. One kindly reviewer complimented D’Onofrio saying he captured “the massive ego and appetites of Moriarty” to good effect.
Staying with the theme of the detective in his early days, there’s Young Sherlock and the Pyramid of Fear. This Spielberg directed family film sees Holmes before he was even old enough to smoke his trademark pipe; whilst at boarding school he meets companion Watson and encounters the seemingly friendly Professor Rathe. Played by Anthony Higgins, the role of Rathe is a departure from the usual in-your-face nature of the villain. Eventually, Holmes fulfils his sleuthing duties and reveals the kindly Prof as ‘Eh Tar’, the man behind all the murderous goings-on. At the end of the film Rathe is seen signing his name as ‘Moriarty’, cementing the twist and – due to many childhood memories – one of the most sentimentally loved versions.
The influence of the 1939 feature film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is defined by the line “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Going on to become one of the most popular movie lines of all time, it was in fact never sourced from any of Doyle’s books. The film’s impact was also furthered by the portrayal of Moriarty, seeing him mastermind a plot to steal the crown jewels. Despite other actors going on to play the baddie in the follow-up movies The Secret Weapon and The Woman in Green, they didn’t quite strike the same chord as Zucco in his superb performance opposite original sleuth Basil Rathbone; it is certainly a benchmark interpretation.
The big-budget of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and its sequel The Game of Shadows might have called for a suitably big-name to rival Downey Jr. However, Guy Ritchie’s decision to cast the relatively little-known Jared Harris proved to be a wise decision. The subtle and restrained performance of the actor (otherwise known for his role in Mad Men) has proved to be popular with audiences, giving the threat of Moriarty a genuinely chilling air. The modern Hollywood interpretation of Doyle’s tales could easily have been caricature, yet with a modest build and still the believability of somebody who wouldn’t go down easily in a fight; he was able to pull-off the intellect and menace required with equal measure.
The Great Mouse Detective
As a rather underrated animation, The Great Mouse Detective is often overlooked when it comes to the Disney canon. However, some are still appreciative of the 1986 cartoon crime caper and rightly so! Before Ratatouille stole the animated rodent crown, there was Basil and his arch-enemy Professor Ratigan. Voiced by the distinctive tongue of Vincent Price, the latter – unmistakably based on Moriarty and his wicked tendencies – plots to seize control of the British monarchy in a suitably badass manner.
In the late eighties and early nineties, the television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was broadcast on ITV, resulting in one of the most popular portrayals of both Sherlock and his adversary. Moriarty was played to fantastic effect by Eric Porter, an actor not unused to portraying literary villains (he also went on to play Fagin in the 1985 version of Oliver Twist). In the series, Porter appears true to illustrator Sidney Paget’s vision, perfectly resembling the character’s physicality and creating a character who for some is still the definitive Moriarty.
Cumberbatch’s counterpart Andrew Scott has been rather divisive in his thoroughly modern portrayal. With mannerisms expressing an overt psychotic edge to the character, some seem to like his high-pitched effeminacy and flamboyantly dramatic touches whilst others find it off-putting. Regardless, it is undeniable that the young actor brings originality to the role. In an interview he expressed his wish to keep the mystery surrounding the character alive, saying: “That’s the challenge. Is he going to be scary or is he going to be in a good mood? That for me is the most important thing – to keep that sense of unpredictability about him.”