James Moriarty
Guy Ritchie adaptations
James Moriarty (Harris)
Vital statistics
Sex Male
Died 1891 (Presumed)
Nationality British
Occupation Mathematics professor
Criminal mastermind
Behind the scenes
Appearances Sherlock Holmes (2009 film)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Portrayed by Ed Tolputt (2009 film)
Jared Harris (A Game of Shadows)
"War on an industrial scale is inevitable - they'll do it themselves, within a few years. All I have to do is wait!"
―Professor Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes [src]

Professor James Moriarty was the arch-enemy of Sherlock Holmes, and the main antagonist of the Sherlock Holmes films, alongside Lord Blackwood in the first film. Whilst he appears to be a respectable mathematics professor, James Moriarty is in fact a criminal mastermind who is linked to a massive network of crime and deception.


Little is known about Moriarty's early life. It is known that he attended Cambridge University, where he excelled academically. While at school he also attracted some fame for his skill at boxing, which earned him the title "Boxing Champion of Cambridge". After graduation he was asked to teach at the school, and accepted a professorship in the department of mathematics. Moriarty published several popular works, including The Dynamics of an Asteroid and a treatise on the binomial theorem.

In 1890 Moriarty hired American adventuress and Holmes' former romantic interest, Irene Adler, to find and steal a remote-control device from Lord Blackwood.[1]

Prior to this event, Moriarty began planning and executing a scheme to draw Europe into a continent-wide war.[2] In 1889, he orchestrated the death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in an apparent murder-suicide, and around the same time orchestrated a bombing in Vienna. This was followed in 1891 by a bombing in the city of Straßburg (Strasbourg), which was blamed on various nationalists or anarchists. These actions were intended to increase tensions on the continent, primarily between France and German Empire. At the same time, through a combination of blackmail and murder he managed to acquire ownership of a number of different companies connected to wartime industry, such as steel and cotton.

Sherlock Holmes had been following his actions intently, trying to understand what his plot was. After trailing Irene Adler to Cromwell & Griff's auction-house, where he intercepted her delivering a package from Moriarty to Dr Karl Hoffmanstahl, he in short succession found himself having to stopping a bomb plot, witnessing Hoffmanstahl's subsequent murder by Sebastian Moran.

After meeting with Simza Heron, whose brother René was another of Moriarty's associates, he had another clue of Moriarty's movements. With Dr Watson recently having married Mary Morstan, Holmes intended to continue his investigation alone. He met Moriarty at Cambridge, where he expressed his desire for the criminal to leave Watson and his wife alone as he was no longer part of his investigation. Moriarty, however, refused, saying that if Holmes wanted to fight him there would be collateral damage; to emphasize his point, he gave Holmes a blood-soaked handkerchief belonging to Adler, whom he reveals is dead, due to a poison that mimicked the symptoms of tuberculosis.

Moriarty demonstrated his criminal mastery in his assassination of Alfred Meinhard and bombing of the Hôtel du Triomphe. The assassination was done by Moran under the cover of a bomb built by anarchist Claude Ravache. This not only gave him ownership of Meinhard's weapons empire but also further escalated tensions between the Germans and the French, who viewed it as a nationalist retaliation for Straßburg.

He then proceeded to assassinate the ambassadors of several brawling nations in order to trigger the Industrially-scaled war he had been planning. He visited Meinhard's, now his, ammunition factory, accompanied by Sebastian Moran. He was infiltrated by Simza, Holmes and Watson, along with a handful of gypsy thugs.

Moran apprehended Holmes, and interrogated him, resorting to stabbing a hook into the detective's shoulder and then suspending him at an altitude, whilst playing Schubert's Die Forelle.

Holmes escaped with the help of Watson, and they fled with the gypsies. Moran alerted the soldiers in the factory and then sent a force of men into the forest after them, whilst covered by the artillery fire from the factory. A chase and gunfight broke out but, despite several casualties, the trio and a few companions escaped.

His plans unscathed, Moriarty proceeded to the embassy in Switzerland. He placed Rene Heron, Simza's brother, to assassinate one of the German representatives present and thus start a war. Mycroft, Simza and Watson look and find Rene, who was shadowed by Sebastian Moran. Subdued by Watson and arrested, Rene was dragged away, screaming his plan failed. Before he could reveal his superiors' identity, Moran shot him with a poison dart.

Meanwhile, Holmes confronted Moriarty on the terrace outside. They began with a chess match, which Holmes narrowly won, in the process of which Holmes revealed he stole Moriarty's notebook encoded with the details of his criminal empire and exposed the truth about him by sending it to London, where it was decoded by Mary Watson using a book in Moriarty's office and its contents passed along to Inspector Lestrade, who seized all of after Moriarty's assets and donated them to anti-war charities, financially crippling him. After Moriarty calmly threatened to creatively murder Watson and his wife in revenge for this, he and Holmes calculated a violent altercation in their minds. Because of Holmes' injured shoulder, it seemed that Moriarty would easily win. Cunningly, Holmes blinded, grappled and, in front of the newly arrived Watson, threw himself over the Reichenbach Falls, dragging Moriarty with him, who screamed in terror on the way down.

Holmes survived, having used his brother's oxygen inhaler to survive the water at the bottom of the falls; Moriarty's fate is less certain.


Sherlock Holmes deduced Moriarty to be narcissistic, with a complete lack of empathy and total moral insanity. Moriarty's normally laid-back and calm disposition masks a sinister, sadistic and psychopathic nature. He was a very big admirer of the opera and had a taste for Schubert's works. He was a brilliant tactician and a deadly strategist, very nearly outsmarting Holmes and able to predict other people's action with a single glance.

Moriarty always spoke sedately with a dry and cynical sense of humor and a wide vocabulary. He dressed mainly in black suits and tails with a red tie and sometimes a top hat. He gave the appearance of being a laid-back and carefree man: he claimed to like Switzerland because it's people respected a man's privacy. This is a possible reference to Switzerland's neutrality in international situations.

He was seen to be a psychopathic, misanthropic and unpredictable individual, who was extremely self-centered and with an outstanding mental agility and incredible level of cunning and intellect. He was also a sociopath, and almost ruthlessly utilized other people's lives in his intensely villainous schemes. As a result, Moriarty expressed no qualms about murdering people and loved ones, such as when he seamlessly murdered Irene Adler and promised Sherlock he would 'creatively' kill Watson and his wife. He was also highly arrogant, considering Sherlock to be his finest opponent but still callously dismissing him as incompetent and irrelevant.

Abilities and Skills

  • Combat Skills: Even though Moriarty relied more on his high intelligence he was an incredibly skillful fighter, and noted to be a Cambridge boxing champion. In the final duel with Sherlock Holmes, Moriaty was able to outmatch Sherlock, altough this is mainly due to Holmes's injured shoulder and not knowing his opponent's true strengths and weaknesses and whether he would have overpowered Holmes in his prime is still unknown. Nevertheless, he displayed extreme proficiency in unarmed combat and proved to be evasive and highly unpredictable. His style emphasized mainly in strong boxing punches, blocks as well as pressuring an opponent whilst exploiting his or her weakness. He was capable of basic grapple moves, but focused on strikes and deflects. In combat, he preferred to redirect and block, swaying his opponent's momentum, and then moving in with a flurry of frenzied and concentrated attacks.
    • Weapons Usage: He is also shown to be proficient in other weapons as well, carrying a four shot pepperbox derringer on a mechanism concealed in his sleeve.
  • Genius Intellect: Moriaty was extremely intelligent, outsmarting even the strongest of opponents in a battle of wits. An avid player of chess, Moriaty was capable of competing with and nearly defeating Sherlock Holmes in their match at the Reichenbach Falls.
    • Prediction: Like Sherlock Holmes, he too can predict accurate combat scenarios.
    • Strategist: He orchestrated a number of assassinations in order to start a war. Because he now took over a company which was produces state of the art war supplies of the Victorian Era, he only wanted to create the demand for it and nearly succeeded as well.


Moriarty's plan to build profit by provoking a world war and selling weapons is similar to the plan used by the Professor Moriarty who appeared in the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which he attempted to acquire the powers of the League members as additional weapons (his mole photographing Captain Nemo's Nautilus and taking samples from the Invisible Man, the vampire Mina Harker, and Dr. Henry Jekyll's Hyde serum). He was played by Australian actor Richard Roxburgh, who previously portrayed Sherlock Holmes in a 2002 television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.


  1. Downey, Susan, Lin, Dan, Silver, Joel, Wigram, Lionel. (Producers). Ritchie, Guy. (Director). (25 December, 2009 (US)). "Sherlock Holmes". United States of America, Warner Bros. Studios.
  2. Downey, Susan, Lin, Dan, Silver, Joel, Wigram, Lionel. (Producers). Ritchie, Guy. (Director). (16 December, 2011 (US)). "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows". United States of America, Warner Bros. Studios.