Robert Downey Jr vs. Benedict Cumberbatch: Who’s the Better Sherlock?

Sherlock Holmes is a literary icon with a distinct style. But between Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr., which actor is the better fit?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been around for well over a century. However, his characterizations have yet to go stale with his readership or viewership in that time. This is the ability largely thanks to the author’s to create a fully realized character with flaws and feelings that match his massive deductive mind and ability to solve seemingly unsolvable crimes. While new portrayals can always put their own spin on the character, his foundation is so rigid that certain aspects can’t be changed. For modern audiences, this is best represented in Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films and Benedict Cumberbatch’s in the BBC’s Sherlock. But when compared, which one is truly the top detective?

Downey’s Sherlock Is a Faster Deducer With Great People Skills

Downey’s version of Sherlock exists in the 1890s, around the time of the industrial revolution, which is also when the character was introduced. As a result, audiences can see how he operates in an era where his skills are more akin to a computer solving problems. To do this, Ritchie utilizes storytelling and brief actions by Downey to show that the gears are always turning in his mind. It all comes together when Holmes explains his deductions. In the time it takes for him to sit down, he has already analyzed an area, deduced the whereabouts or intentions of the person in question and come to a conclusion on his next steps. The speed at which he does this makes him almost superhuman, and his ability to listen to witnesses and at least pretend like they are helping earns him more friends than enemies. Because of his allies, he spends less time sneaking around and more time utilizing his connections, so his mind can better focus on the case at hand.

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Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Has Technology To Help Him Research

Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is just as intelligent and deductive as Downey’s. But the most crucial difference between the two is Cumberbatch has technology on his side. Because of this, he can search the web for answers to smaller questions rather than scouring a library. This frees his mind to examine a scene better and understand the culprit’s motivations or tactics. Also, because he lives at an age where surveillance is everywhere, he allows technology to do the hard tasks of gathering information, forensics and more. Therefore, his mind is free to look at the bigger picture and think outside the box. After all, in a world where the police can trace nearly everything, it may take more archaic or equally clever means to circumvent their work. Therefore, Sherlock has a better chance of understanding and solving these methods by focusing on them first.

Downey’s Sherlock Is Eccentric to a Fault

In the short stories and books, Holmes was always an eccentric man. He wasn’t one to shy away from disguises, substance abuse or putting himself in situations that could endanger his well-being for information. These choices often put his partner, John Watson, on edge, as Holmes was so much of a free spirit. That said, Downey’s performance plays this up to a fault. While it’s no secret that Holmes is a skilled fighter, he often battles with his mind before throwing punches. In contrast, this interpretation is much more hands-on and uses his knowledge to incapacitate his assailants properly. This is best shown when he and his rival, James Moriarty, have a mental fistfight where they deduce the best way to defeat one another. However, because he’s more active, spectacle tends to follow him as he is nearly killed by explosions or shipping equipment. His theatricality only slightly detracts from the overall tone of the character but can take some audience members out of the film’s mystery.

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Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Closes Himself off Too Much

Sherlock Holmes has always been a strange character compared to anyone else in his world. Sherlock‘s interpretation even considers himself a “high-functioning sociopath.” As a result, he is often drastically eccentric in a way that alienates him from others. Even Watson didn’t readily work with his friend at first, as this interpretation of the character is rude and has no time for anyone that can’t keep up with him. Because of this, he has very few friends and is on even worse terms with the police. This makes his presence not only an annoyance but a hassle to those around him because they don’t readily want to help him. While Holmes sees this only as a minor annoyance, it’s clear that if he were only slightly more open, he would have an easier time getting the information he needs. Ultimately, he may not realize it, but he hinders his progress by being difficult with his peers.

Winner: Robert Downey Jr.

While both interpretations are iconic and Cumberbatch has had more time with the character, there’s a better balance with Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal. He may be overly eccentric, but by placing him in an earlier time, audiences see how basic social skills only help his case, and his deductive talents are likely even more astute. Without a computer to turn to, it’s up to Holmes to solve things on a time crunch. Since he rarely misses his mark, it shows that certain tools may only slow the mind of a person like Holmes, and when putting his talents and his skills in utilizing others, he is nearly unstoppable and a superior detective overall.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo