9 of Benedict Cumberbatch’s best ever film and TV performances

9 of Benedict Cumberbatch’s best ever film and TV performances


Benedict Cumberbatch is a star who can effortlessly juggle big-budget franchises, prestige TV and indie gems. Here are some of our favourites.

From his star-making stint in Sherlock to tackling real-life figures such as Alan Turing and a smattering of high-profile literary adaptations, it’s certainly fair to say that Benedict Cumberbatch has given some unforgettable performances over the course of his career.

A brief glance at his acting CV shows us he can juggle big-budget franchises (including the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Trek movies), prestige TV and indie gems.

Next, he’ll be teaming up with Abi Morgan (the creator of The Split) for a new Netflix project, Eric, where he’s set to play a puppeteer and children’s TV show creator whose nine-year-old son goes missing on the way to school.

Naturally, every Cumberbatch fan will have their own favourite performances, but these are some of our all-time top picks (which you can stream at home).

The Power Of The Dog

Cumberbatch went method to prepare for his role in Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning western, learning how to play the banjo, refusing to bathe and even giving himself nicotine poisoning from smoking so many cigarettes – all in pursuit of an authentic portrayal of creepy rancher Phil Burbank. “I embodied him for a more intense and locked-in period of time than any other character I’ve played to date and that took a while to unravel,” he told the BBC. For viewers, at least, it seemed to pay off (although his co-stars might have something to say about the whole no-shower rule). The resulting performance was a career-best that earned him an Oscar nomination. 

The Power of the Dog is available to stream on Netflix.


No list of Cumberbatch’s most memorable performances would be complete without a nod to his stint as the eccentric, fast-talking detective in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s contemporary spin on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories. The actor had already appeared in a clutch of acclaimed films and TV series – including Joe Wright’s adaptation of Atonement and the BBC’s version of Small Island – but this was the role that really sent Cumberbatch’s career into the stratosphere. The cast is seriously star-studded (featuring a who’s who of British telly, comprising the likes of Martin Freeman, Andrew Scott and Rupert Graves), but they never overshadow the intriguing lead character, who fizzes with energy throughout.

Sherlock is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

Patrick Melrose

This adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novel cycle, written by multi-talented One Day and Sweet Sorrow author David Nicholls, is a heavy watch, grappling with alcoholism, heroin addiction, abuse and PTSD over the course of five episodes. As the series opens, Patrick (Cumberbatch) flies out to New York for his father’s funeral and drowns his conflicted, fraught feelings with a cocktail of booze and drugs before descending into an emotional maelstrom.

Cumberbatch said that this role was one of two on his acting bucket list (the other was a certain Shakespearean Prince of Denmark) and he is on winning form (literally – he picked up a TV Bafta for the part) in this alternately darkly funny and emotionally devastating saga.

Patrick Melrose is available to stream on NOW.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The film adaptation of John le Carré’s masterpiece boasts a cast packed with big names: Gary Oldman as the avuncular agent George Smiley and the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Toby Jones playing suspects in his hunt for the mole, aka the Soviet double agent at the heart of the Secret Service. Cumberbatch still manages to hold his own, though, and makes a likeable Peter Guillam, Smiley’s young protegé who proves indispensable in the search for the traitor.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

The Imitation Game

Cumberbatch earned his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the pioneering mathematician Alan Turing. The Imitation Game chronicles Turing’s work as a code breaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, striving to crack the German Enigma code and decode messages being sent by the Nazis, with the likes of Keira Knightley,Matthew Goode and Downton Abbey’s Allen Leach appearing as his colleagues.

It also unpicks the tragedy of how Turing and other gay men were treated by the establishment of the time. Cumberbatch plays Turing as alternately standoffish and vulnerable, awkward but dedicated.

The Imitation Game is available to stream on Netflix.

The Hollow Crown

Thanks to his legions of fans, getting your hands on tickets to see Cumberbatch on stage can be a real challenge. Luckily, The Hollow Crown, the BBC’s epic, star-laden adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays, feels like a truly theatrical experience. Cumberbatch plays Richard III, one of the bard’s most compelling villains, in the final two installments of the series, directed by Dominic Cooke (who he’d later work with again on The Courier). The battle scenes are epic in scope and Cumberbatch’s fourth-wall-breaking soliloquies amp up the intensity. 

The Hollow Crown is available to stream on ITVX and is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+.

Doctor Strange

It was inevitable that Cumberbatch would end up joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the role of Dr Stephen Strange feels like the perfect fit: the star brings a touch of Sherlock’s know-it-all arrogance to the part of the talented neurosurgeon. After he is injured in a car crash, leaving him unable to operate, he decides to pursue experimental techniques to regain his dexterity, eventually coming into the orbit of the mystical Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who agrees to train him as a sorcerer. Since appearing in Doctor Strange back in 2016, Cumberbatch has reprised the role in a handful of Avengers movies, along with Spider-Man: No Way Home and a mind-boggling sequel, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness.

Doctor Strange is available to stream on Disney+.


Sam Mendes’s moving First World War drama boasts a whole host of cameos peppered through its two-hour run-time. Cumberbatch’s appearance as Colonel Mackenzie comes towards the end of the film. It’s a brief role but a crucial one: Mackenzie is the man with the power to call off an attack that would jeopardise hundreds of British soldiers, and the aim of protagonist Schofield (George Mackay)’s quest is to warn him off before it’s too late.

1917 is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

The Courier

Another Cold War project from Cumberbatch, The Courier sees him tackle the true story of Greville Wynne, the unassuming businessman who was approached by the British secret service. They were looking to recruit a British salesman with a legitimate reason to travel between the UK and Moscow, and Wynne, a former electrical engineer who had travelled through the Soviet Union representing British companies, seemed to fit the bill.

His very ordinariness became his calling card as he struck up a bond with Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who would eventually pass military secrets to the British as part of one of the biggest covert operations of the era. It’s a fascinating tale, snappily told, with support from Jessie Buckley and Marvellous Mrs Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan.

The Courier is available to stream on Netflix.

Image: Getty

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