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Sherlock Holmes 3 - Will It Ever Happen?

In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. began his epic Hollywood comeback by starring in "Iron Man." It catapulted him to superstar status practically overnight. He had his pick of projects to follow it, and eventually chose a big-budget adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's world-renowned Sherlock Holmes stories, signing onto the project just months after making his debut as Tony Stark. 

Directed by "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" director Guy Ritchie, 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" is a very different take on the iconic super-sleuth: It turns the erudite, sophisticated detective into a brawny man of action. Supported by Jude Law and Rachel McAdams, Downey's take on Holmes offers something unlike anything audiences had ever seen. Released to strong reviews, it was a smash hit, and a sequel quickly followed. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which arrived in 2011, pits Holmes against his most famous rival, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), and proved to be another success at the box office.

Ever since, talk of a third "Sherlock Holmes" film has circulated regularly around Hollywood. Every few years, new rumors pop up about production getting underway soon. Yet more than 10 years later, there's still nothing to show for it. Thus, the question remains: Will "Sherlock Holmes 3" ever happen?

Why isn't Sherlock Holmes 3 happening yet?

Even before "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" hit theaters, a third movie in the series was announced, with writer Drew Pearce — who was then prepping "Iron Man 3" for Marvel — hired to pen the script. Though no release date was revealed, it wasn't expected to be far away. But scheduling soon became a major obstacle.

In September 2012, Jude Law remarked on these delays. "I mean there's certainly talk of it," the star revealed (via Collider), "and I know there's a script being played around with, but Downey's a busy boy and I'm a busy boy, so we'll see. But we want to [do another one]. We are a very happy team and we have a lot of fun and we also think there's still a lot of legs in the duo."

Between Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and director Guy Ritchie always being in demand, it seems like something had to give if "Sherlock Holmes 3" were to ever move forward. That "give" finally gave in 2019 when Dexter Fletcher signed on to replace Ritchie as the sequel's director, with a planned 2021 release date. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the project became one of many to be put on hold.

As of 2022, Fletcher remained unsure of when "Sherlock Holmes 3" might finally see the light of day. "I don't know what the timeline of that is, unfortunately, but I believe it should be [happening]," he told Collider. "It's fantastic. I think it's about all the right people being at the right place, at the right time. I think it's that."

What the cast and crew have said about Sherlock Holmes 3

It's been more than a decade since fans got to sit in a theater and watch Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law hunt criminals through the back alleys of London. In that time, those involved with the film series have had a lot to say about the prospect of a follow-up — starting with the man who directed the first film, Guy Ritchie. In 2022, he spoke with Collider about the long-gestating third entry, and said it all depends on the movie's star. "So Robert [Downey Jr.] wanted to be in charge of this," the director remarked. "The ball's in his court, so he's in charge of the script, he's in charge of the whole thing. I've moonwalked out of that until there's a time for me to get involved." 

Considering that Downey has become one of the most powerful stars in Hollywood over the last 10 years, it can be assumed that he could use his clout to take charge of "Sherlock Holmes 3." So what has he had to say about it? So far, the actor has been tight-lipped, but his entourage spoke to The Wrap in 2023 with an encouraging update. "We had lunch together with Robert, the three of us," said Downey's wife and producing partner Susan Downey. "And ["Sherlock Holmes 3"] was a very specific topic of conversation. So yes, it is in the hopper. We're going to do it when it's right, with the right people, but it is a priority for the company and a priority for Robert."

What could be explored in Sherlock Holmes 3?

If "Sherlock Holmes 3" ever does come to pass, what will it be about? The finale of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" sees the end of Holmes' nemesis Moriarty, as well as the fake-out death of Holmes himself, who returns in the film's closing moments. The third entry could pick up right where that scene leaves off, but with more than a decade having passed since the second film debuted, that might not be possible. What we do know is that Robert Downey Jr. has big ambitions for the threequel.

"We have a 'Sherlock 3' in development," he said in a Reddit AMA in 2014. "We want it to be the best of the series, so that's a pretty tall order." Though some might scoff at a return for Moriarty, the long lay-off could come in handy here. The villain's return from death — whether through a literal resurrection or his own crafty fake-out — could provide star power from actor Jared Harris and a worthy adversary looking for a long-awaited rematch against the London detective.

Whether the film reintroduces Holmes' most famous foe, adapts a classic literary tale we've yet to see on screen, or creates an entirely new enemy for Holmes to face, everyone involved wants to make sure it's a story worthy of a third film. "We want it to be better than the other two," Jude Law told Empire. "We want to make sure it's smarter and cleverer, but in the same realm."

Who would star in Sherlock Holmes 3?

The first two "Sherlock Holmes" films star Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Mr. Watson, and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler. The second film, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," adds Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, brother to Sherlock, and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty. With Downey essentially in charge of any new film (according to former director Guy Ritchie), he's a lock to reprise the role of Sherlock. Law has also repeatedly expressed his interest in returning as Watson one more time.

Of course, with Moriarty falling to his death at the end of the second film, it's unlikely that Harris would return — unless the story were to revolve around his comeback, that is. Likewise, Adler — who was working with Holmes' rival — is offed in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows": Specifically, she's apparently poisoned by Moriarty when he realizes he can no longer trust her. This likely leaves McAdams out of the picture, though when it comes to the world of "Sherlock Holmes," anything is possible.

One actor we could see turn up once more, however, is Eddie Marsan, who played Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade and remains interested in a return more than a decade later. "They keep talking about it and talking about it and it's been 10, I think it's been over 10 years, 12 years now," he said in an interview with ComicBook.com in 2023. "I don't know ... I think Jude was fantastic. I'd be up for doing another one so we'll see."

Is there still a place for Sherlock Holmes 3?

The world of movies has changed a great deal since the first "Sherlock Holmes" film hit theaters all the way back in 2009. Between the explosion of cinematic universes and the rise of streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, it's harder and harder for new movies to make their mark and find success. Throw in the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the entire theater industry around the world and there's no telling what kind of a box office "Sherlock Holmes 3" would net.

Moreover, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories have garnered a number of popular adaptations since 2009. Most prominent is the BBC's "Sherlock" series, starring Downey's MCU co-star Benedict Cumberbatch. The show,  which debuted in 2010, quickly became one of the hottest series on television. For many modern viewers, Cumberbatch's Sherlock is the definitive on-screen take on the character. Stateside, CBS' "Elementary" enjoyed a wildly successful seven seasons on the air, led by Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Moreover, Netflix netted a major hit with "Enola Holmes." Henry Cavill plays the famed detective in this film, which got a sequel in 2022.

That's not where the adaptations end, either. Recall the notorious 2018 flop that is "Holmes & Watson." There's also the 2015 drama "Mr. Holmes," starring Ian McKellen as an aging version of Sherlock. Finally, there is upcoming CBS series "Watson," which is, of course, centered around Holmes' right-hand man. Have audiences had their fill of Arthur Conan Doyle's great sleuth? It's possible that "Sherlock Holmes 3" might simply be a bit too much Sherlock in an already Sherlock-heavy time.

Why there is no better time for Sherlock Holmes 3

Despite the years that have passed since "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" hit theaters, there may actually be no better time than now to release a third "Sherlock Holmes" film. For starters, Hollywood continues to be starved for movies that will get audiences back to the theater following the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, audiences are craving something special after years of the same old superhero movies. Given the success of both "Sherlock Holmes" films and the enduring popularity of both its stars — who are even bigger today than they were a decade ago — "Sherlock Holmes 3" could be primed to become the next big sensation.

It's not just the public and cinemas that are dying for a big hit, either. Since retiring as Tony Stark in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame," Robert Downey Jr. has struggled to land a hit movie. His first effort post-MCU was 2020's "Dolittle," which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. If he wants to make a triumphant comeback to theaters as the star of another major blockbuster, "Sherlock Holmes 3" might be the surest bet.