Sherlock: Every Watson, Ranked

Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson in Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes has been around for 132 years. But between Sherlock Holmes 3's release date being pushed back and Elementary set to end after next season, some Holmesians may be feeling a little abandoned. Never fear! There's plenty of Holmes content out there to enjoy in the meantime.

This list will put a spotlight on Holmes' "conductor of light:" Dr. John Watson, loyal helpmate, biographer, and all-around sidekick. Holmes can often barely function without his Watson, so it's important to get a good one. Inevitably, some Watsons turn out better than others. We'll count down some of the greatest Watsons to ever grace the big and small screen.

RELATED: 15 Most Iconic Adaptations Of Sherlock Holmes

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Watson in Sherlock Hound
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Watson in Sherlock Hound

These actors provided Watson's voice in different dubs of Sherlock Hound, a steampunk anime from the mid-1980s. This Watson, a sturdy terrier, is cute, though he's far from the brightest Watson ever. But his shortcomings pale beside the unfailing kindness he shows to Hound's clients... and the sheer stubbornness with which he confronts his enemies.

Despite his fluffy exterior, this Watson brings little in the way of fresh perspective to the role. In fairness, however, that's not really the show's goal. And Sherlock Hound is ridiculously fun to watch, with skillful writing and directing from Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki.

9 VAL BETTIN (The Great Mouse Detective)

The Great Mouse Detective Disney Movie

Bettin provided the voice of Dr. Dawson in the underrated Disney gem, The Great Mouse Detective. This version of Watson clearly took a few cues from Nigel Bruce's performance, but he is very much his own character. Like most Watsons, Dr. Dawson is not an expert detective and bungles things sometimes. Also like most Watsons, he still gets his moment to shine.

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Despite only knowing each other a couple of days, Dawson and the idiosyncratic Basil of Baker Street form a quick and close bond. Indirectly, Dawson is the one who saves the day, as he snaps Basil out of his defeated funk in time for him to stop the villain's grand schemes.

8 NIGEL BRUCE (Various Films, The New Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes)

Nigel Bruce as Watson

Bruce's Watson is frequently disparaged as a clueless idiot. In fact, it's highly unlikely you've ever read a description of his performance that didn't include the word "bumbling." But the popular image of him isn't strictly accurate. This Watson regularly helped Holmes in his investigations. He even got to put his medical training to good use on occasion.

That's not to say that all aspects of Bruce's performance have aged well. But love him or hate him, his version of the character has had a massive impact on Sherlock Holmes and on pop culture in general. Very few Watsons can say that.

7 SHIHORI KANJIYA (Miss Sherlock)

Shihori Kanjiya in Miss Sherlock

Miss Sherlock makes multiple changes to the Holmes canon. Most notably, both Holmes and Watson are now Japanese women in modern-day Tokyo. Shihori Kanjiya plays Dr. Wato Tachibana, a doctor recently home from Syria. Almost immediately, she is swept into the dark yet exciting world of her detective flatmate, "Sherlock" Futaba.

Both Wato and Sherlock resist the idea of becoming friends at first. Their personalities clash terribly, and Wato has to deal with lingering trauma from her time in Syria. But in the end, they succumb to the inevitable: Watsons will always find their Holmeses, regardless of race, gender or anything else.


Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson in Sherlock

No modern adaptation has received more attention than the BBC's Sherlock, which debuted in 2010. This John Watson writes a blog rather than short stories, but it's still all about Sherlock Holmes. His frequent exasperation with Sherlock is understandable, given that Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes is noticeably ruder than most other versions.

RELATED: 20 Behind The Scenes Details About The Making Of Sherlock

And yet John remains loyal to his prickly companion. He saves his life almost right after meeting him and fearlessly stands up to Sherlock's all-powerful brother. Sherlock's success has been somewhat marred by accusations of queerbaiting and a shaky Series Four in which John's behavior, in particular, didn't sit well with some fans.

5 VITALY SOLOMIN (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes And Doctor Watson)

Vitaly Solomin as Watson

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson is a series of Soviet TV movies that aired from 1979 to 1986. It is recognized as one of the greatest Holmes adaptations of the 20th century. Vasily Livanov made for a brilliant yet playful Holmes, while Vitaly Solomin was a lovably innocent Watson.

Solomin's Watson is very affectionate. He frequently hugs Holmes and openly cries when Holmes returns after his allegedly fatal fight with Professor Moriarty. His own attempts at sleuthing inevitably end poorly, but that's okay. More than perhaps any other Watson, Solomin brings the heart to the Holmes/Watson partnership.

4 DAVID BURKE & EDWARD HARDWICKE (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes)

Burke and Hardwicke as Watson

Much has been said about Jeremy Brett's legendary turn as Sherlock Holmes, and rightly so. But his Watsons deserve some props too. David Burke had the role in the first two seasons of this series, which is known among fans as the Granada series after the station it originally aired on. Edward Hardwicke took over for the rest of the show and five feature-length TV films.

There are differences between the men's performances, but they both provide their Holmes with a Watson who is supportive, caring, a little tired, and only occasionally sarcastic. Burke and Hardwicke are each perfect for Brett's Holmes in their own ways.

3 JUDE LAW (Sherlock Holmes)

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law Sherlock Holmes

Law is one of the more physically intimidating Watsons in recent memory, able to dispatch multiple villains with his cane in short order. He plays a more-than-usually exhausted Watson who is no longer so willing to put up with Holmes' eccentricities. Yet he always comes running in an emergency, and he is always genuinely devastated when Holmes appears to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

RELATED: Why Sherlock Holmes 3 Was Delayed

Law has played Watson twice so far, in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. He will be returning as Watson in Sherlock Holmes 3, currently scheduled for release in 2021.

2 ANDREI PANIN (Sherlock Holmes)

Andrei Panin as Watson

Panin's name is probably unfamiliar to most. He played Watson in the 2013 Russian miniseries Sherlock Holmes. Watson's PTSD is more pronounced here than in most other versions. Fortunately, Panin is more than up to the task of portraying a man grappling with, but not overcome by, his mental illness. Also of interest is the emphasis on Watson's role as storyteller and, by necessity, creative liar.

The series as a whole is enjoyable despite major flaws, but Panin's performance is one for the ages. He is by turns subtle, moving, sardonic and hilarious. Tragically, he passed away before the series aired.

1 LUCY LIU (Elementary)

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in Elementary

At the start of Elementary, Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are little more than business associates: she is his sober companion, he is the irritable recovering addict. The more time they spend together, the more they warm up to each other. Sherlock even teaches Joan how to be a detective, and how to beat up bad guys with sticks.

Throughout the show's six seasons, Joan gradually learns to deal with her housemate's weirdness and helps correct his worst behaviors. Sherlock has responded to her patient firmness with a real effort to be there for Joan in her hours of need. And that's why she is the greatest Watson of all.

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