Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.
British theatrical release poster
Directed byGuy Ritchie
Screenplay by
Story by
Based onSherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Produced by
CinematographyPhilippe Rousselot
Edited byJames Herbert
Music byHans Zimmer
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • 25 December 2009 (2009-12-25) (United States)
  • 26 December 2009 (2009-12-26) (United Kingdom)
Running time
129 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Germany
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$524 million[2]

Sherlock Holmes is a 2009 period mystery action film starring Robert Downey Jr. as the character of the same name created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey, and Dan Lin. The screenplay written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg was developed from a story by Wigram and Johnson. In addition to Downey Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law portrays Dr. John Watson. In 1890, eccentric detective Holmes and his companion Watson are hired by a secret society to foil a mysticist's plot to gain control of Britain by seemingly supernatural means. Rachel McAdams stars as their former adversary Irene Adler and Mark Strong portrays villain Lord Henry Blackwood.

The film was widely released in North America on 25 December 2009, and on 26 December 2009 in the UK, Ireland, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Sherlock Holmes received mostly positive critical reaction. Downey won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. A sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, was released on 16 December 2011, with a third film in the works to be directed by Dexter Fletcher.[3]


In 1890 London, private detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson prevent the ritualistic murder of a woman by Lord Henry Blackwood, who has killed five other young women in a similar manner. Inspector Lestrade and the police arrest Blackwood. Three months later, Watson is engaged to Mary Morstan and moving out of 221B Baker Street; while he enjoys their adventures together, Watson looks forward to not having to deal with Holmes' eccentricities. Meanwhile, Blackwood, who claims to have supernatural powers, has been sentenced to death and requests to see Holmes, warning him of three more unstoppable deaths that will cause great changes to the world. Blackwood is subsequently hanged.

Holmes is visited by Irene Adler, a former adversary who asks him to find a missing man named Luke Reordan. After her departure, Holmes follows her as she meets with her secret employer, and only learns that the man is a professor and that he intimidates Adler. Meanwhile, sightings of a living Blackwood and the discovery of his empty tomb convince the authorities that Blackwood has risen from his grave. Reordan is found dead inside Blackwood's coffin. Following a series of clues from the body, Holmes and Watson find Reordan's hideout and discover experiments attempting to merge science with magic. After they survive a battle with Blackwood's men when they try to torch the lab, Holmes is taken to the Temple of the Four Orders, a secret magical fraternity with considerable political influence. The leaders — Lord Chief Justice Sir Thomas Rotheram, U.S. Ambassador Standish, and Home Secretary Lord Coward — ask Holmes to stop Blackwood, a former member of the society and Sir Thomas' secret illegitimate son.

That night, Sir Thomas drowns in his bath as Blackwood watches, and the next night Lord Coward calls a meeting of the Order. He nominates Blackwood to take command in place of Sir Thomas and Blackwood reveals himself to the group, explaining his intention to seize control of the British Empire and reconquer the United States. Standish attempts to shoot Blackwood but bursts into flames when he pulls the trigger of his gun, falling out a window to his death. Lord Coward issues an arrest warrant for Holmes, causing him to go into hiding. Holmes studies the rituals of the Order and recognizes their symbols in Blackwood's staging of the murders; from this, he deduces that the targets of the final murder are every elected member of Parliament. With the aid of Lestrade, Holmes fakes his arrest and is taken to see Coward, where he uses evidence on Coward's clothes to deduce Blackwood has conducted a ceremony in the sewers beneath the Palace of Westminster.

Holmes escapes and he, Watson, and Adler find Blackwood's men in the sewers guarding a device based on Reordan's experiments, designed to release cyanide gas into the Parliament chambers and kill all but Blackwood's supporters, to whom he has secretly given an antidote. Blackwood comes before Parliament and announces their impending deaths, then attempts to activate the cyanide device by remote control; Adler is able to deactivate it with a controlled explosion. Blackwood flees Parliament and sees Holmes chasing Adler, who has taken canisters of cyanide from the device, through the sewers, and pursues both to the top of the incomplete Tower Bridge. Blackwood subdues Adler and fights Holmes, as the latter reveals he has deduced how all of Blackwood's supposed supernatural feats were merely the work of science and trickery. Blackwood accidentally falls off the bridge into a tangle of chains, and is choked to death when one wraps around his neck.

Adler explains to Holmes that her employer is Professor Moriarty, and she warns that Moriarty is not to be underestimated. As Watson moves out of 221B, the police report to him and Holmes that a dead officer was found near Blackwood's device. Moriarty used the confrontations with Adler and Blackwood as a diversion while he took a key component, based on the infant science of radio, from the machine. Holmes looks forward to the new case and his new adversary.


McAdams and Downey Jr. at a panel to promote the film at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con
McAdams and Downey Jr. at a panel to promote the film at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con

Andrew Jack provided the voice of Professor Moriarty,[22] although director Guy Ritchie initially declined to identify him.[23] Jared Harris, who played Moriarty in the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, re-dubbed Jack's lines for later home media releases and television broadcasts of the film.



"A lot of the action that Conan Doyle refers to was actually made manifest in our film. Very often, Sherlock Holmes will say things like, 'If I hadn't been such an expert short [single] stick person, I would have died in that' or he would refer to a fight off screen. We're putting those fights on screen."

—Producer/co-writer Lionel Wigram[24]

Producer Lionel Wigram remarked that for around ten years, he had been thinking of new ways to depict Sherlock Holmes. "I realized the images I was seeing in my head [when reading the stories] were different to the images I'd seen in previous films." He imagined "a much more modern, more bohemian character, who dresses more like an artist or a poet", namely Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. After leaving his position as executive for Warner Bros. in 2006,[5] Wigram sought a larger scope to the story so it could attract a large audience, and amalgamated various Holmes stories to flesh it out further.[7] Some sequences in the movie were more than suggested by uncredited incidents found in a 1979 novel Enter the Lion: A Posthumous Memoir of Mycroft Holmes. Lord Blackwood's character was developed as a nod to Victorian interests in spiritualism and the later influence of Aleister Crowley.[24] The producer felt he was "almost clever" pitting Holmes, who has an almost supernatural ability to solve crimes, against a supposedly supernatural villain. The plot point, moreover, nods to the Holmesian tale of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where a string of seemingly supernatural events is finally explained through intuitive reasoning and scientific savvy. Wigram wrote and John Watkiss drew a 25-page comic book about Holmes in place of a spec script.[24] Professor Moriarty was included in the script to set up the sequels.[25]

In March 2007, Warner Bros. chose to produce, seeing similarities in the concept with Batman Begins. Arthur Conan Doyle's estate had some involvement in sorting out legal issues, although the stories are in the public domain in the United States.[citation needed] Neil Marshall was set to direct,[26] but Guy Ritchie signed on to direct in June 2008.[27] When a child at boarding school, Ritchie and other pupils listened to the Holmes stories through dormitory loudspeakers. "Holmes used to talk me to sleep every night when I was seven years old," he said.[28] Therefore, his image of Holmes differed from the films. He wanted to make his film more "authentic" to Doyle,[8] explaining, "There's quite a lot of intense action sequences in the stories, [and] sometimes that hasn't been reflected in the movies."[29] Holmes' "brilliance will percolate into the action", and the film will show that his "intellect was as much of a curse as it was a blessing".[9] Ritchie sought to make Sherlock Holmes a "very contemporary film as far as the tone and texture", because it has been "a relatively long time since there's been a film version that people embraced".[29]


Geometric staircase at St. Paul's Cathedral was used for the opening sequence of the film.
Geometric staircase at St. Paul's Cathedral was used for the opening sequence of the film.

Filming began in October 2008.[30] The crew shot at Freemasons' Hall and St Paul's Cathedral.[25][31]

Filming was conducted in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Manchester Town Hall was extensively used for numerous scenes with some minor CGI modifications. The interior courtyard was used for a fight scene, the Great Hall doubled as the House of Lords and numerous areas such as the landing were used as a backdrop.[32]

They shot the opening scene for three days at St Bartholomew-the-Great church in London,[24] and shot on the river Thames at Wapping for a scene involving a steamboat on 7 November.[33] Filming continued at Stanley Dock and Clarence Dock in Liverpool[34] and The Historic Dockyard, Chatham.[35] Street scenes were filmed in cobbled alleyways in Chatham and Manchester. Brompton Cemetery in London was used for a key scene, and the palatial 19th-century interior of the Reform Club stood in for the Café Royal. Scenes from the interior of 221B Baker Street were shot on a sound stage at Leavesden Studios.[36]

In late November 2008, actor Robert Maillet, who played Dredger, was filming a fight scene at Chatham Dockyard in Kent, and accidentally punched Robert Downey Jr. in the face, causing Downey to be bloodied and knocked down, but not knocked unconscious as originally reported.[21]

When filming at St John's Street in December, the schedule had to be shortened from 13 to nine days because locals complained about how they would always have to park cars elsewhere during the shoot.[37] In January 2009, filming moved to Brooklyn.[38]

Ritchie wanted his Holmes' costume to play against the popular image of the character, joking "there is only one person in history who ever wore a deerstalker". Downey selected the character's hat, a beat-up fedora. The director kept to the tradition of making Holmes and Watson's apartment quite messy, and had it decorated with artifacts and scientific objects from the continents they would have visited.[16]


Main article: Sherlock Holmes (soundtrack)

The soundtrack for the film was composed by Hans Zimmer. It was released on 12 January 2010.[39] Zimmer purchased an out-of-tune piano for 200 dollars and used it throughout the scoring process because of its "quirkiness".[40]


The film had its world premiere on 14 December 2009, in London and was subsequently released worldwide on 25 December 2009 (26 December, Boxing Day in the UK and Ireland), after being pushed from a November release date.[41] An advance charity screening was held in select locations in Belgium on 10 December 2009.[42]

Home media

Sherlock Holmes was released on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD/digital on 30 March 2010 in the United States.[43] The film has since grossed $44,908,336 in DVD sales.[44]


Box office

The film opened to an estimated $62.4 million in its first weekend in America alone, placing in second at the US box office to Avatar, which grossed $75.6 million. The film earned a strong per-theater average of $18,031 from its 3,626 theaters. Its one-day Christmas sales broke records. Sherlock Holmes grossed $209 million in North America and $524 million worldwide,[2] making it Guy Ritchie's biggest box-office success at the time; it has since been surpassed by Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Aladdin.[45] It was also the 8th highest grossing film of 2009 worldwide, and domestically. On the domestic charts, it is the sixth highest-grossing film to never hit No. 1 in the weekend box office, behind Sing, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, that film's 2007 predecessor, and A Star Is Born.[46]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 69% based on 248 reviews, with a rating average of 6.25/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Guy Ritchie's directorial style might not be quite the best fit for an update on the legendary detective, but Sherlock Holmes benefits from the elementary appeal of a strong performance by Robert Downey, Jr."[47] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average to reviews, the film has a score of 57 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[48] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[49]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars and highlighted the film's strong characters, visuals and action-packed plot;[50] the characters were also praised by Jake Tomlinson of Shave Magazine, who believed that Downey Jr. and Law were "perfect together" and that Strong was "a convincing and creepy villain".[51]

A. O. Scott of the New York Times noted that the director's approach to films was "to make cool movies about cool guys with cool stuff" and that Sherlock Holmes was essentially "a series of poses and stunts" which was "intermittently diverting" at best.[52]

David Stratton of The Australian disliked the film's interpretation of the original Holmes stories and concluded, "The makers of this film are mainly interested in action; that, they believe, is all that gets young audiences into cinemas today. They may be right, but they have ridden roughshod over one of literature's greatest creations in the process." Despite this, he praised the production design and score.[53]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Art Direction Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer Nominated
Best Original Score Hans Zimmer Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Musical or Comedy Robert Downey Jr. Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Score Hans Zimmer Nominated
Empire Awards Best Thriller Won
Best Actor Robert Downey Jr. Nominated
Visual Effects Society Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects
in a Feature Motion Picture
Jonathan Fawkner, Chas Jarrett,
David Vickery, Dan Barrow
Outstanding Compositing in a
Feature Motion Picture
Kate Windibank, Jan Adamczyk,
Sam Osborne, Alex Cumming
Saturn Awards Best Action or Adventure Film Nominated
Best Director Guy Ritchie Nominated
Best Actor Robert Downey Jr. Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jude Law Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Rachel McAdams Nominated
Best Music Hans Zimmer Nominated
Best Costume Jenny Beavan Nominated
Best Production Design Sarah Greenwood Nominated


The sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, with Downey and Law returning, was released on 16 December 2011.[54] A third film was scheduled for release in 2022, with Downey and Law again reprising their roles, Dexter Fletcher replacing Ritchie as director, and Chris Brancato writing the script.[3] Two television series set in the universe of the films are in development for HBO Max.[55] However, there hasn't been any update on it since then.


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