It's a pointless exercise if ever there was one and I won't be participating in any more. It's always going to be a generational thing. For many people born before the 1960s Basil Rathbone is going to be top. For the next generation it is likely to be Douglas Wilmer. Reach the 1980s and it will be Jeremy Brett and so on until we get to Cumberbatch.
The point is that the name at the top (or towards the top) of any poll is highly likely to be the one on screen at the time (or the most recent past). It's true that certain Holmes actors appear to have more staying power than others. Basil Rathbone will be remembered for decades because not only was his an iconic performance but his films are still screened regularly. This allows him to continue to gain admirers. The same cannot be said for Douglas Wilmer, Ian Richardson or Arthur Wontner; all of whom starred in very good adaptations which are essentially not screened and can only be obtained on DVD. Jeremy Brett continues to tower as high as Rathbone for much the same reasons - his was an iconic performance and thanks to constant repeats we will never forget it.
To be blunt, mortality also plays a role. Slowly but surely the fans of any given actor will start to die off and this naturally benefits the actors whose fans are still alive and kicking.
The point I'm trying to make is that these polls are never a guide to which actor is/was truly the best in the part. The best the polls can ever hope to be is a guide to which is uppermost in the minds of people at the time the poll is held and we generally all know the answer without the need for a poll.
Written by Alistair DuncanBuy my books here