Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey Jr. Wants Sherlock Holmes To Be His Next Big Franchise, So Where Can They Take the Character?

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The Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law delighted me to no end in 2009 and 2011. I thought the films were a wonderfully fun look at literary characters that I loved, and I wanted many more of them. Instead, the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over the known world, and nine years later, I’m still waiting for Sherlock Holmes 3. Now some hope arises, as RDJ has made it clear that he’d love to see, essentially, a Sherlock Holmes Extended Universe built out from his own Sherlockian franchise.

During a panel at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, my favorite duo (Susan and Robert Downey Jr.) talked about branching into a cinematic universe with Sherlock Holmes at the helm. Susan Downey explained the vision:

“Doing a one-off third movie, we could do, but we do think there’s opportunity to build it out more, to spin off some characters from the third movie, to see what’s going on in the television landscape, to see how Warner Media is starting to build things out with HBO and HBOMax. We definitely have kind of grand schemes and plans and all that, but it takes a lot. It takes a lot of coordination because again, Marvel wasn’t built in a day. It took several wins and things that worked very well to then be able to connect them, to then be able to branch out.”

RDJ went on to talk about how they could attempt to do this third movie and, more importantly, the wider world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective.

“At this point, we really feel there’s not a mystery-verse built out anywhere, and Conan Doyle is the definitive voice in that arena to this day, so to me, why do a third movie if you’re not going to be able to spin off into some real gems of diversity, and other times and elements? We’re not repeaters, we don’t want to just try to do what’s been done somewhere else. But I think the model itself has become much more dimensionalized than it was before.”

Cue me SCREAMING. I love all things Sherlock Holmes, and the idea of a whole sprawling ‘verse centered around him is wonderful. Sherlock is a fascinating character and a big reason why we return to the Conan Doyle stories so frequently. But he’s hardly the only compelling character—it’s all of the characters and their dynamics that we love even more than the mysteries. Even Mrs. Hudson is a household name! And Downey makes a great point in that there’s not a built-out cinematic “mystery-verse” at current, despite the ever-present popularity of mysteries and thrillers. This seems like a massive oversight. There is absolutely a place in our Hollywood landscape for ongoing adaptations of those stories into more movies and possibly TV shows, which is the direction so many big franchises are going.

I would love to see more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories made into screen adaptations, but with the exciting new angles that Downey mentions. Sherlock, as a television show, did this fairly well but brought in many of those stories through a modern lens, and the series was lacking in diversity and many forms of representation. There’s so much room to make the world of Sherlock Holmes far richer than what we think we know.

Though Downey mentions “other times,” personally I’d prefer if we still got our Sherlock EU in the Victorian era. Modern Sherlock takes have abounded in recent years. But there’s no reason we couldn’t build out, as Downey puts it, “some real gems of diversity” within that same Victorian model, and perhaps see lesser-known characters from the stories brought to vibrant life and eventually their own spin-offs. More inclusive casting would be excellent here, and I’d like to imagine, a given—and there’s also potential to recast some of the former film roles as well. The last Sherlock Holmes film was in 2011, and there’s a lot of room for change.

One of the biggest benefits of a Sherlock EU is that there are so many existing stories from which to draw upon for inspiration and reinterpretation. My own personal favorites are “The Final Problem” (which Game of Shadows used slightly) and “A Scandal in Bohemia,” whose elements will be familiar to many Sherlock media-watchers. The problem with “A Scandal in Bohemia” is that I’ve never seen it properly explored because people fundamentally misunderstand the importance of Irene Adler to Sherlock Holmes over and over again.

And now, this Sherlock Holmes franchise could have the unique opportunity to explore Irene Adler as a character as she’s already established in this franchise. Sure, she’s … technically dead after Game of Shadows, but also is anyone in a Sherlock Holmes movie really dead? The only bit we saw of her “death” was what Moriarty told to Sherlock so the entire thing could have been his grand plan to make Sherlock angry. I loved Rachel McAdams as the character, but we could also have a new actress as Irene. Hell, we could have multiple Irenes across time and space to fit with Downey’s vision. Irene Adler, as a worthy counterpart to Sherlock, is just one of the many minor characters who’s rendered richly enough in one short story that you can imagine her having a spin-off all her own.

Netflix proved with Enola Holmes that Sherlock Holmes need not take center stage himself, and that a cinematic depiction of his world can also be inclusive and also female-focused. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Downey’s Sherlock, and I hope that his enthusiasm for the potentials of a mystery-verse mean that we’ll be getting more movies with him in a featured role. But it’s also easy to picture Downey’s Sherlock playing a sort of Downey’s Iron Man role, popping up within other people’s stories to offer some advice, provide a clue, maybe a bit of mentorship, before swanning off again. This is the Sherlock Holmes Extended Universe that we deserve.

(via: IndieWire, image: Warner Bros.)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.