A Decade Ago Today, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes Showed A Whole New Spin On The Classic Character

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A decade ago today – December 25, 2009 – Warner Brothers released Sherlock Holmes. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as the namesake detective, and Jude Law as his longtime friend Dr. John Watson, the Guy Ritchie-directed movie reimagined the classic character for a whole new world.

Instead of Sherlock Holmes as the always-focused, purely intellectual detective from previous incarnations, Downey’s version of the famous sleuth was full of action and hang-ups, unafraid to step into a chase or go shirtless into a fight if need be. Combined with Ritchie’s trademark kinetic action scenes and speed ramping, Sherlock Holmes became a surprising but bona fide hit. Despite opening merely a week after James Cameron’s juggernaut blockbuster Avatar, Holmes was able to gross over $500M and become one of 2009’s top ten films at the box office. The late film critic Roger Ebert gave some praise to the flick, noting that while the changes it made to the character might upset some long-time fans of the detective, the film was “cheerfully revisionist” and he singled out for praise the film’s opening sequence.

However, the movie almost could have been completely different. Originally attached as director in 2007 was Neil Marshall (then best known for his 2005 horror film The Descent, and most recently the director of this year’s complete flop of a Hellboy reboot). When Ritchie signed on as director a year later, he originally didn’t want to cast Downey in the title role at all, instead hoping to get a fresher actor. “Before Mr. Downey came along, Mr. Ritchie considered making the film about Sherlock Holmes as a young man, in the vein of Batman Begins,” said the New York Times in a profile about the film’s development, “…but he soon scrapped that idea, betting on Mr. Downey’s action-hero prowess, on display [the previous] year in Iron Man.”

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After the success of the first film, Warner Brothers quickly green-lit a sequel. Two years later, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was released, bringing Downey, Law, and Ritchie back together. This time, the adventure was trying to unfoil the plans of the classic Holmes villain Professor James Moriarty. Played by Jared Harris in the sequel, the appearance of the professor had already been teased in the first film.

Yet despite the first and second Holmes films being hits, with both films grossing in the $500Ms off of only $90M-$125M budgets, a third movie did not come quickly. There were years of false starts. A writers’ room was set up for a sequel in 2016, and nothing came out of it. Holmes producer Lionel Wigram said a third film would start filming in late 2018, only for nothing to happen. A 2020 release date was set, and then cancelled.

Finally, in July of this year, a director was chosen and a hopefully definitive release date of December 22, 2021 set. Taking over for Ritchie will be Dexter Fletcher, a fellow Englishman best known for his work on Rocketman, Eddie the Eagle, and finishing the Academy Award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody after original director Bryan Singer was fired. Fletcher is a Ritchie veteran too, having starred in Ritchie’s 1998 film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Now let’s just hope the film will actually get released, and that two Decembers from now we’ll be able to watch Downey and Law as the famous duo in theaters once again.