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How Many Actors Have Played Sherlock Holmes?

Plenty of words can be used to describe Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's world-famous detective: brilliant, eccentric, flawed, intense, and — as his partner Dr. John H. Watson describes him in the short story "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" — bohemian. Fans might debate which of Holmes' many personality traits are the most important to discuss, but none would disagree that the word "timeless" fits him best.

While there have been many great detectives in popular media, Holmes' popularity has shown no signs of slowing down since his debut in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. In 2012, he won the Guinness World Record for being the "most portrayed literary human character in film & TV," at that time having appeared on screen a whopping 254 times. That number has only increased since then, with September 2020's Enola Holmes — in which the detective, now portrayed by Henry Cavill, plays second fiddle to his sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) — adding yet another tally mark.

This, of course, begs the question: Just how many different actors have played the sleuth over his 130+ year history? To uncover this mystery, it required a little detective work. 

Sherlock Holmes' myriad appearances

In order to properly answer that question, the first thing to consider is all the types of media in which Holmes has officially appeared. Like most characters that share a similar caliber of popularity, that means pretty much every form of media: radio programs and audio dramas, stage plays and musicals, television shows like Sherlock, films — both live-action and animated — and, finally, video games. Since this list is narrowed down to only looking at Holmes' "official" appearances, there are also things that must be discounted by default, such as YouTube fan-films and school plays, no matter how well done they are. Counting them would only further accentuate the detective's timelessness, but it'd be next to impossible to account for every single one. You'd have as much luck slapping a number on how many mini Sherlock Holmes have ever gone trick-or-treating.

With all that in mind, and including Cavill's upcoming performance, the grand total of how many actors have played Sherlock Holmes is 181. 

Though it's not quite up to 221 (ala 221B Baker Street, Holmes' address in London), it truly is an astonishing number, and that's only the amount of actors who've portrayed him. If you were to pin down just how many times the Englishman has actually appeared in media, including books, short stories, merchandise, board games, etc., you'd be be at it all day. 

The best part? There's plenty more where that came from. Who knows how many Sherlock Holmes stories will have been told a hundred years from now? Doyle's daring detective is, without a doubt, as timeless as time itself.