A hit series that has retained its pop culture sway years after its conclusion, Sherlock remains one of the best depictions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character and stories ever put to screen. The modernized series found a great deal of appeal in its characters, from its beloved heroes to its vast array of villains who made themselves memorable with their cunning, cruelty, and a dash of style.

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Ranging from the infectiously nefarious Moriarty (Andrew Scott) to the calculating and manipulative Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), and even to an engaging cohort of one-off villains with their own sinister schemes and serial killing ways, Sherlock was truly blessed in the realm of big bads which perfectly complimented Benedict Cumberbatch‘s spellbinding portrayal of the titular detective. After all, what good is it being the greatest sleuth of all time if there isn’t an impressive rogues’ gallery to match?

Sherlock TV Poster

Sherlock

Release Date
July 25, 2010

Cast
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Loo Brealey, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott

Main Genre
Crime

Rating
TV-14

Seasons
4

12 Lord Moran

Season 3, Episode 1, “The Empty Hearse” (2014)

Lord Moran in 'Sherlock' Season 3, Episode 1
Image via BBC

A character inspired by Colonel Sebastian Moran from Doyle’s books, Lord Moran was one of the most underrated though underutilized villains from the series as a Member of Parliament executing a dastardly terrorist plot. Ultimately, the character’s underwhelming standing within the series was a result of poor timing, with his appearance in the first episode of season three, “The Empty Hearse,” being overawed by the spectacle of Sherlock Holmes’ return from the dead.

As such, the episode dedicated a lot of its runtime to re-establishing the relationship between Holmes and Watson, meaning some portion of Moran’s villainy was relegated to the subplot. Having sprung to Holmes’ attention after surveillance footage shows him mysteriously disappearing in the London Underground, Sherlock is able to surmise that Moran is a North Korean mole and uncover the politician’s plan to blow up the House of Parliament during a hearing on an anti-terrorism bill.

11 Oscar Dzundza aka “The Golem” (John Lebar)

Season 1, Episode 3, “The Great Game” (2010)

John Lebar and Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Sherlock' Season 1, Episode 3
Image via BBC

One of the strongest episodes in the series, the season one finale “The Great Game” is best remembered for officially introducing Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty to the fold as an on-screen villain. However, there was another major antagonist in the episode, with the Czechoslovakian assassin known as The Golem (John Lebar) hired by Moriarty to kill Holmes and Watson.

With Sherlock and John frantically looking into active mysteries at the behest of a criminal mastermind who communicates to them through hostages in bomb vests, the duo soon find themselves on the trail of the Golem, pursuing him to the planetarium where they face the gargantuan man in a gritty physical encounter. In a series where so many villains are cunning criminals, it was refreshing to have the Golem as an intimidating physical force, though he was largely underused as Moriarty’s grander scheme took center stage.

10 The Black Lotus

Season 1, Episode 2, “The Blind Banker” (2010)

Sraha Lam as General Shan in 'Sherlock' Season 1, Episode 2
Image via BBC

While it didn’t soar to the same heights as the pilot episode, “The Blind Banker” did produce an enthralling mystery at its center. Having been summoned by an old acquaintance, Holmes and Watson investigate mysterious symbols that are being spray-painted in places where victims – who are being killed inside their locked apartment buildings – will see them.

This leads the duo to the Black Lotus, a criminal gang from Asia operating a smuggling ring and tracking down anyone who may have stolen an immensely valuable artifact from them. With the mystery spanning from the National Antiquities Museum to a traveling Chinese circus, the Black Lotus weaves quite the web of murderous villainy. It is also revealed that they were being aided by Moriarty as well.

9 Jonathan Small aka “The Mayfly Man” (Jalaal Hartley)

Season 3, Episode 2, “The Sign of Three” (2014)

Jalaal Hartley as Jonathan Small in 'Sherlock' Season 3, Episode 2
Image via BBC

Not too dissimilar to Lord Moran, Jonathan Small (Jalaal Hartley) is a brilliant criminal mastermind whose wicked plot was overshadowed by the events of the episode he appeared in. With “The Sign of Three” focusing on John and Mary’s (Amanda Abbington) wedding and Sherlock’s awkwardly hilarious display as the best man, Small was largely an unspecified antagonist, with many of his actions not being connected until later in the episode.

However, he was finally revealed to not only be the centerpiece of the episode’s mystery, but a major player in the wedding as well, with Small maneuvering himself as the photographer to assassinate Watson’s reclusive ex-military commander and wedding guest James Sholto (Alistair Petrie). Small was referred to as “The Mayfly Man” due to his ability to disguise himself, while his attempted murder of a guardsman was so elaborate that even Holmes himself was unable to solve it initially.

8 Dr. Bob Frankland (Clive Mantle)

Season 2, Episode 2, “The Hounds of Baskerville” (2012)

Dr Bob Frankland (Clive Mantle) smiles as he converses with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he escorts him out of Baskerville.
Image via BBC

“The Hounds of Baskerville” is understandably a favorite episode for series fans who adored Sherlock’s mystery intrigue. It follows Holmes and Watson as they venture to Dartmoor to investigate a terrified young man’s claims that, 20 years prior, he saw his father being mauled to death by a gigantic black hound with red eyes that is still roaming the area, leading the consulting detective to the nearby Baskerville Military Base.

While exploring the base, Sherlock and Watson are aided by Dr. Bob Frankland (Clive Mantle) who claims to be a fan of John’s blog, thus earning their trust even as the case grows more horrific and fantastical. It was eventually revealed, however, that Frankland had been behind the whole thing as a believer in a powerful hallucinogenic drug which he kept experimenting with even though research into the drug was discontinued. Frankland killed Henry Knight’s (Russell Tovey) father after realizing what he was doing and used the drug to discredit Henry for years.

7 Emelia Ricoletti aka “The Abominable Bride” (Natasha O’Keefe)

“The Abominable Bride” Special (2016)

Natasha O'Keeffe as Emelia Ricoletti in 'Sherklock' special episode
Image via BBC

A unique, one-off episode released between the show’s third and fourth seasons saw Sherlock retreat to his mind palace to investigate a case from the 1890s concerning a mystery surrounding Emelia Ricoletti (Natasha O’Keeffe), a suicidal bride who seemingly returns from the dead to kill her husband and several others. Seeing the cast play their roles in a Victorian-era setting was a little treat for fans of the series, but the episode does have a somewhat underrated mystery at the heart of it.

While John succumbs to mounting evidence that the ghost must be real, Holmes deduces that Ricoletti’s death has been an elaborate cover to give women facing oppression in the midst of the suffragette movement a haunting guise to do away with their abusers. While “villain” is too harsh a word for the secret society, their captivating killings did prove to be rather stumping, and it was eventually determined that their actions were necessary rather than cruel or savage.

6 Culverton Smith (Toby Jones)

Season 4, Episode 2, “The Lying Detective” (2017)

Toby Jones as Culverton Smith in 'Sherlock' Season 4, Episode 2
Image via BBC

While Sherlock revels in the peculiar charm of its charismatic and often humorous antagonists, Culverton Smith (Toby Jones) was a stark departure from that as the purest depiction of true evil in the series. A successful philanthropist and entrepreneur with a prominent and adored public image, Smith presents himself as being a charitable man with strong value, even being a part-owner of a charity hospital he had built.

However, beneath the surface, Smith is actually a deranged killer who uses his immense wealth and power to facilitate his deranged and sadistic urge to kill for the mere fun of it. Inspired by American serial killer H. H. Holmes, Smith’s charity hospital is rife with secret passageways that allow him to sneak into rooms undetected to carry out his murders without arousing suspicion.

5 Eurus Holmes (Siân Brooke)

Season 4 (2017)

Siân Brooke as Eurus Holmes in 'Sherlock' Season 4, Episode 3
Image via BBC

While presented as the overarching villain of Sherlock’s fourth and final season, Eurus Holmes (Siân Brooke) is revealed to be the person behind the “Did you miss me?” return of Moriarty. A master of disguise, even audiences were fooled by her throughout season four as she appears as the girl on the bus that Watson teases an affair with, the girl claiming to be Culverton Smith’s daughter who reaches out to Sherlock for help, and John’s therapist before finally revealing her true identity at the end of “The Lying Detective.”

Like her brothers, Eurus seems to be unable to experience emotions. However, she has a far better understanding of human behavior than her siblings and uses that to her advantage frequently. A master at manipulation with a genius-level intellect, Eurus is as dangerous a villain depicted throughout the series and one of Sherlock‘s most enthralling characters.

4 Jeff Hope (Phil Davis)

Season 1, Episode 1, “A Study in Pink” (2010)

Phil Davis as Jeff Hope in 'Sherlock' Season 1, Episode 1
Image via BBC

The pilot episode of Sherlock, “A Study in Pink” was nothing short of masterful. The introduction of the characters and dynamics was sublime, the tone was immediately pitch perfect, and it had a gripping mystery to boot. A bizarre series of identical suicides between people with no connection has Scotland Yard bemused, prompting DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) to reach out to Holmes for help.

With a missing suitcase enabling Holmes to deduce that they are in fact looking for an active serial killer who forces victims to take poisonous pills, Sherlock soon determines that the killer is someone who can approach his victims without arousing suspicion. Jeff Hope (Phil Davis) comes forward to Sherlock, intriguing him with the proposition of revealing how he killed his victims. Hope and Holmes’ ensuing battle of wits was magnetic, serving as a faultless establishment of the series’ thrill-seeking mood while cementing Hope as an unforgettable one-off foe.

3 Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen)

Season 3, Episode 3, “His Last Vow” (2014)

Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Augustus Magnussen in 'Sherlock' Season 3, Episode 3
Image via BBC

While Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) could be considered the overarching villain of Sherlock‘s third season given his teased presence in the first episode, he doesn’t unveil himself until the third and final episode “His Last Vow.” An incredibly powerful media magnate who specializes in blackmail and manipulation, Magnussen thrives on having power over people, particularly influential figures in the government, as is evidence by his targeting of Lady Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan) who soon hires Sherlock Holmes to take Magnussen down.

Just when Holmes thought he had Magnussen against the ropes, with agents arriving at his stronghold with cause to forcefully search his cherished vaults, Magnussen joyously reveals that there is no physical evidence stored but that he – like Sherlock Holmes – stores information in a mind palace. Smug and domineering, Magnussen was a master at exploiting people’s weaknesses, even using John and Mary to pressure Sherlock. He was the most calculating villain in Sherlock, and it was actually a bit disappointing when his death came so abruptly.

2 Irene Adler aka “The Woman” (Lara Pulver)

Season 2, Episode 1, “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012)

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler in 'Sherlock' Season 2, Episode 1
Image via BBC

Arguably the series’ most wickedly delightful villain, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) – also known professionally as “The Woman” – was a manipulative dominatrix who used her vocation and prestige to secure compromising photos of political clients. Holmes and Watson are called in by Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) to bring her down when she secures damning photos from a session with a member of the British Royal Family.

Using her sexuality and her cunning to outwit her rivals, she proves to be one of the most confounding villains Sherlock faces, one whose enigmatic allure stokes Holmes’ interest. In the end, it proved to be this mutual attraction that was her undoing, as her sentimentality gave Holmes the hint he needed to crack the code to her phone just when she was about to exploit her leverage. While she was revealed to be collaborating with Moriarty, Holmes did have a soft spot for her, which led to him saving her life and helping her fake her death.

1 Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott)

Season 1 (2010) & Season 2 (2012)

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty in 'Sherlock' Season 2, Episode 3
Image via BBC

Typically an elusive and ingenious criminal mastermind, Moriarty has been revered as Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis and intellectual equal ever since he first appeared in Doyle’s 1893 short story “The Final Problem.” To say Andrew Scott’s incredible performance did the villain justice would be an understatement, as he captured Moriarty’s intelligence and callous, cold-blooded cruelty with a maniacal playfulness that made him captivating, terrifying, and strangely endearing all at once.

Whereas Holmes regards himself as a consulting detective, Moriarty acts as a consulting criminal, playing an advisory role to many of the criminals Sherlock and John unveil. However, it was when Scott got the chance to take center stage that Sherlock‘s Moriarty truly flourished, with his elaborate plot to discredit Holmes in “The Reichenbach Fall” making the season two finale one of the greatest episodes of any show ever released and consolidating Moriarty among the best television villains of all time.

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