The best Benedict Cumberbatch movies and TV shows, ranked
Benedict Cumberbatch has forged a distinctive path to the top of Hollywood. This year in particular has shown the British actor’s versatility. In the six months between November 2021 and May 2022, Cumberbatch collected multiple acting nominations for his lead role in Netflix’s The Power of the Dog before embarking on the promotional tour for his latest blockbuster turn as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange.
He’s not only one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, bringing the same gravitas to multiple genres, but he’s fearless to boot. He’s portrayed real-life figures and legends of fiction. He’s not only taken a starring role in the MCU, but Star Trek, and was even key in Sherlock becoming a television phenomenon.
From portraying real-life figures and acting in period pieces to supplying legendary vocal performances, his rise to the top of his profession has been steady and a joy to watch. Here’s our ranking of Benedict Cumberbatch’s greatest films and TV shows.
12. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
While Star Trek Into Darkness was a disappointment after its fresh predecessor, Cumberbatch was a revelation. His character was shrouded in secrecy in the run-up to the film’s release, but one legendary Star Trek villain’s name kept coming up. He couldn’t be, could he? We’d soon know that signing on to play Khan Noonien Singh was a typically bold and fearless move.
The villain had already undergone a strange transformation from Sikh to Latino, but was inseparable from Ricardo Montalban’s charismatic performance in Star Trek: The Original Series and the unbeatable Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Into Darkness crumbled compared to that other second Star Trek movie, but Cumberbatch’s embodiment of the genetically enhanced psychopath as a cold and dangerous English assassin was its highlight.
11. The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014)
It was a long saga ⏤ some would say too long ⏤ but Smaug is the slithering highlight. Who else had the deep, serpentine delivery to articulate this gigantic, if sleepy, dragon but Cumberbatch? It’s a dripping menace he also brought to Shere Khan in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.
Cumberbatch brilliantly also motion-captured the dragon and, in a surprise cameo, the film’s chilling Necromancer. That makes him probably the ultimate villain of The Lord of the Rings on the big screen.
10. Frankenstein (2011)
Available online from the London’s National Theatre, this play is well worth catching. The twist in Danny Boyle’s electric adaptation of Mary Shelley’s horror classic is that the lead actors Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of monster and creator across the production.
It’s worth watching both versions to capture their superb performances and the parallels drawn between the two. Cumberbatch, drawing deep on cold emotion, just about edges it as the aloof Dr. Frankenstein.
9. Parade’s End (2012)
As a former pupil of England’s Harrow School, you may think stiff upper lip was typecasting for Cumberbatch. But this list shows how versatile and distinctive his roles have been. He may have donned a military uniform several times, but you’ll find his upper lip more often mustached than stiff, and his accent American more often than not. So this five-part adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s books is refreshing.
Acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard had Cumberbatch in mind to play Christopher Tietjens for some time and he was, once again, brilliantly cast. The story spins between Cumberbatch’s well-to-do religious and conservative statistician, his socialite wife (Rebecca Hall), and a suffragette (Adelaide Clemens). This captivating drama has been called one of the BBC’s finest.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) / Avengers: Infinity War (2018) / Avengers: Endgame (2019) / Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
We’ll group Cumberbatch’s MCU cameos together, as they fall into one main camp: effortlessly connecting the MCU with the gigantic multiverse of mysticism (or madness). Wong may be a sturdy foil, but Cumberbatch captures his Strange character perfectly. It’s no wonder that he’s quickly become integral to the MCU. He’s one of the few characters who can combine gravitas and comedy in the mold of the ultimate MCU original, Robert Downey Jr. We’re fortunate that we got to see Tony Stark and the “Wizard” share some screen time together, especially when it gave us snarky comments like, “It’s protecting your reality, douchebag,” which was improvised by Cumberbatch on set. As for his role in the pivotal climax of Endgame, Alan Silvestri’s show-stopping “Portal” music says it all.
7. Hawking (2004)
The later movie adaptation of Professor Stephen Hawking’s extraordinary life stole all the plaudits a few years later, but Cumberbatch honored the great man with this astonishing TV movie performance before Eddie Redmayne did. Focusing on his early life, Cumberbatch captures the lows and highs as Hawking is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis at Cambridge University before achieving fame with his groundbreaking theories.
Cumberbatch was the person to portray the physicist, not to be Hawking himself (Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons were memorable stand-outs). The actor earned a BAFTA nomination for the role and won a Golden Nymph and a friendship with the subject. When the esteemed physicist passed in 2018, Cumberbatch said, “I will miss our margaritas.”
6. The Mauritanian (2021)
A gem from Amazon that snuck out during the COVID-19 lockdown, The Mauritanian is a legal drama based on the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man held for 14 years without charge at the United States military prison in Guantanamo Bay. It was packed with fine performances, especially Tahar Rahim in the leading role and Jodie Foster as his lawyer, Nancy Hollander. As Marine prosecutor Colonel Stuart Couch, Cumberbatch was one of the last actors to be cast, while his riveting scene opposite Foster in the prison “gift shop” was filmed on her first day on set. In the film, it plays like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro meeting in Michael Mann’s Heat.
5. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange could have been a bit of a stretch for the MCU, but we didn’t need to worry with Cumberbatch on board. An essential part of the Marvel comic books, the Sorcerer Supreme is now integral to the MCU after this mind-bending debut. Doctor Strange was hampered as an origin tale and could never live up to its horror potential, but Cumberbatch is captivating in every scene as he takes the Doctor from arrogant surgeon to saver of worlds. At the head of a strong cast, he shines even before taking to the Astral Dimension. This was just the start of the character becoming a massive player in the MCU and is destined to be one of Cumberbatch’s definitive roles.
4. The Imitation Game (2014)
Cumberbatch has played his fair share of real-life characters, but his most remarkable so far must be bringing this wronged hero to the screen. This film signaled Cumberbatch’s shift from award-winning TV actor to future serial Oscar-nominee and, surely one day, winner. He stars as the computer scientist who decrypted German intelligence messages during World War II. It played fast and loose with history, but it played a role in shining a light on Turing’s contribution to ending the war and the world we now know, a year after Turing received a Royal pardon (59 years after his death). Some traits were criticized as stereotyping, but Cumberbatch brought commitment and poignancy to the role. Turing’s nephew Dermot Turing called it “perfect casting.”
3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Multiverse of Madness is a film that could only have been made by Sam Raimi. The references to cinematic horror, especially his own back catalog, are astonishing for a high-profile MCU sequel. Although Raimi’s frequent collaborator and Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell cameos in the film, he’s not the foil for a disorientating and extraordinary dark comic horror adventure. It all falls on Cumberbatch’s cloaked shoulders, and he effortlessly takes on the multiverse, along with multiple versions of himself, dead and alive. Comedy, emotion, and darkness on a blockbuster scale, anchoring a film like this, is no mean trick.
2. The Power of the Dog (2021)
Cumberbatch’s most critically lauded film brought him nods from the BAFTAs and the Oscars. As the fascinating and not entirely likable central character in this late Western, Cumberbatch sparingly draws out the character. Phil Burbank is the psychological study at the movie’s heart, a prodigious talent boxed into but unwilling to escape his life. It’s a repressed film, stunningly realized, and Cumberbatch is superbly cast as a character it’s impossible to root for. The scenery is mesmerizing, Campion’s staging in New Zealand captivating, but the chill blue of Cumbetach’s eyes, and what they see, is what the movie is all about.
1. Sherlock (2010-2017)
This is the show that made Cumberbatch not as much of a household name as a worldwide one. The fourth series lost its way, but the first three remain utterly rewatchable. The cliffhanger between the second and third is one of the greatest TV water-cooler moments of the past 20 years. The modernization is sublime, each series carried by three feature-length stories, combining and subverting, and honoring the rich material of over a century before.
Overall, it was the casting that sold it, with Martin Freeman as veteran foil John Watson and a mesmerizing performance from Cumberbatch as the consulting detective. Sherlock quickly became an A-grade genre phenomenon, inspiring cos-players, fan-fiction, and phenomenal queues at conventions. Incredible for a property this old and massively to do with Cumberbatch’s thrilling and invigorating role. Cumberbatch is undoubtedly one of the definitive Sherlocks and, as always with this great detective, there’s a chance that he’ll return.