Top 10 Hercule Poirot Actors, Ranked

top 10 hercule poirot actors, ranked

Top 10 Hercule Poirot Actors, Ranked

Characterized by his eccentricities, the iconic mustache and his “little gray cells'” that enable him to solve even the most complex of cases, the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot — brought to life by renowned British writer Agatha Christie — is perhaps one of the most iconic literary characters to appear on screen. Since the mustachioed sleuth made his debut in Christie’s 1920 novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the fastidious detective has penetrated virtually every form of entertainment, including theater, video games, TV and, of course, film. The affable yet sardonic genius became such a prominent addition to pop culture that — following the character’s demise in Christine’s last novel, Curtain, in 1975 — the New York Times published an obituary, considered the only real obituary for a fictional character.

Over a century after his 1920 introduction, the fictional detective is still in the public eye as Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice — considered a loose adaptation of Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party — just landed on the big screen. Over the years, Branagh and many other fine actors have donned the mustache. Although the detective has a specific persona that is easy to slip into, each actor has offered their own unique interpretation of the Belgian sleuth.

Some iterations fare better than others and the release of the third installment of Branagh’s Poirot series leaves us with a Poirot-worthy case to solve: who did the discerning detective justice? It may be a question for the detective’s little gray cells, but we’ll do our best to answer it. Here are the top 10 actors who played Hercule Poirot, ranked.

John Malkovich — The ABC Murders (2019)

There’s no denying that John Malkovich is a great actor with many iconic performances in his repertoire. However, his iteration of the astute sleuth in the 2019 film The ABC Murders isn’t one of them. Although Malkovich captured the character’s intellect, his interpretation failed to encapsulate the literary icon’s eccentricities and odd behaviors. Further, the actor — who has a very particular voice that suits many of his performances, especially his most menacing roles — doesn’t come close to nailing the famous detective’s noticeable Belgian accent. Malkovich’s accent seems to come in and out with the vaguest of approximations.

The actor does possess a menacing confidence and pompousness in the film that aligns with Poirot’s ethos as a man who is acutely aware of his own intellect. But, unfortunately, everything else that we appreciate about the character, especially his theatrical personality, was left hanging. Malkovich is indeed a fine actor who is compelling in almost every performance, but alas, this wasn’t the role for him.

Alfred Molina — Murder on the Orient Express (2011)

Alfred Molina donned the famous mustache in one of the many incarnations of Murder on the Orient Express, this one released in 2011 as a made-for-TV movie. The Spider-Man actor’s interpretation — as well as the film as a whole — is passable, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up, especially when you compare it to the various other adaptations of the same film.

Molina did his best to make the role his own, but alas, his performance succumbed to the film’s lack of substance. Overall, this version of Christie’s locomotive whodunit finds itself simply moving through the plot with a considerable lack of passion throughout the film. Consequently, Molina’s performance — while it does capture the basics of Poirot’s character — felt somewhat dry, through no fault of Molina, as a result of the film’s overall execution.

Austin Trevor — Alibi (1931), Black Coffee (1931), Lord Edgeware Dies (1934)

Austin Trevor may have been the first actor to portray Poirot on-screen in the 1931 film Alibi — but it may not be the most iconic interpretation. After his first appearance, Trevor subsequently continued playing the lively detective in two more films: Black Coffee (1931) and Lord Edgeware Dies (1934). When it comes to bringing the sleuth to life, there’s definitely room to lean into the character’s odd mannerisms, but this wasn’t the case for Trevor’s interpretation.

Instead, Trevor’s outing as the sleuth tended to interpret the character as a stiff British man as opposed to the lovable, eccentric Belgian detective. Then there’s the abhorrent part that — across the three films in which Trevor portrayed the eccentric egocentrist — not once did the actor adorn the iconic mustache. That, unfortunately, we cannot excuse.

Hugh Laurie — Spice World (1997)

Hugh Laurie’s quick outing as the detective may be reduced to a spontaneous cameo, but it’s a fun addition to Poirot’s on-screen legacy. So, naturally, it deserves some credit. Laurie popped up as the ‘stache-adoring detective in, believe it or not, Spice World (1997), the movie about the Spice Girls. We see Laurie emerge in a Poirot-style dream sequence in which he tries to solve a murder committed by Baby Spice. Though the actor seems to have fun with the role in his few moments on screen, there wasn’t much to this appearance.

Funnily enough, this wasn’t Laurie’s only interaction with Christie’s literature. The House star took it upon himself to adapt Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, one of Christie’s Poirot-less novels, which was released on BritBox last year.

Tony Randall — The Alphabet Murders (1965)

It’s likely because of the fact that the 1965 film The Alphabet Murders positions itself as more of a satire that Tony Randall’s interpretation of the eccentric sleuth is a lighter addition to the Poirot canon. One could even argue that Randall’s tongue-in-cheek incarnation is a polar opposite to Malkovich’s darker, gritter version of the character.

The film moves the detective to the present day, where — drawing inspiration from Christie’s 1936 novel The ABC Murders — he faces a mysterious killer who targets victims alphabetically based on alliterations in their names: Albert Aachen, Betty Bernard, Carmichael Clarke. Although the film’s plot doesn’t deviate too much from Christie’s novel, the flick takes a comedic approach to the story, which aligns with Randall’s slapstick rendition of the role.

Ian Holm — Murder by the Book (1986)

What is most interesting about the 1986 made-for-TV film Murder by the Book is that it’s not based on any of Christie’s original works. Instead, it’s a meta narrative about Christie herself being confronted by an imaginary Poirot about her decision to ax the character in her last Poirot novel, Curtain. Ever see Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell? It has a similar premise.

The late Ian Holm, who portrayed the ill-fated literary character in the film, does a marvelous job at capturing Poirot’s arrogance. This is a feat that the former actor from The Lord of the Rings was able to accomplish even without the literary source material or a Christie mystery to be solved. Imagine how Holm’s Poirot would contend with a killer to catch?

Kenneth Branagh — Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Death on the Nile (2022), A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Kenneth Branagh bears the distinction of being the only one who also directed his adaptations in addition to portraying the charismatic detective — starting with Murder on the Orient Express (2017), succeeded by Death on the Nile (2022) and the newly released A Haunting in Venice, which has just hit theaters.

However, his dual roles of directing and acting didn’t stop him from delivering a compelling performance that captures the detective’s ethos. There’s no doubt that Branagh looks the part, especially with the most profligate mustache you’ve ever seen. He also brings an interpretation that is equal parts melancholy, arrogant and impatient as he incessantly seeks out the truth.

But, unlike other iterations, Branagh also compellingly brings out personal development for the character beyond his role as an investigator, in the form of a lost loved one. Even with ensemble casts across all three films, Branagh still manages to steal scenes as the great Poirot.

Peter Ustinov — Many Adaptations

Veteran English actor Sir Peter Ustinov appeared as Poirot half a dozen times. He first donned the mustache in the 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile, after which he proceeded to portray the sleuth for 10 years — appearing in various other film and TV adaptations including Evil Under The Sun (1982), Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts (1986), Dead Man’s Folly (1986) and, finally, Appointment with Death in 1988.

Throughout his tenure as the literary genius, Ustinov manages to embody pretty much everything we love about Poirot: his larger-than-life personality, his vanity and his spirit. The only thing that he has going against him is that he is not Albert Finney or David Suchet. Speaking of Suchet, what is also noteworthy about the Ustinov adaptations is that the future Poirot actor made an appearance in Thirteen at Dinner as Inspector Japp, Christie’s version of Inspector Lestrade.

Albert Finney — Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express was, in short, a masterpiece and essentially a love letter to Hollywood. So it’s no surprise that Christie herself — who passed away four years after the release of the film — cited this as one of her favorite adaptations of any of her works.

The film’s success is in large part due to Albert Finney’s captivating performance as the inquisitive sleuth. The late Finney brings to life Poirot’s whimsical side on a level that almost no other actor on this last has been able to do. From his unique voice to his mannerisms, everything about him shouts Poirot. It’s no surprise then that the late actor received an Oscar nomination for the performance.

David Suchet — Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2013)

The pilot episode of the ITV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot begins with a woman asking the great detective, “You’re Poirot? You’re not a bit how I thought you’d be.” Poirot — portrayed in the series by David Suchet — merely shrugs and sheepishly replies in his Belgian accent, “C’est moi.” There’s something quite ironic of the protagonist sleuth not meeting someone’s expectations here because David Suchet is the quintessential Hercule Poirot. After all, he portrayed the iconic character for almost a quarter of a century, appearing in nearly 70 episodes, some of which are feature-length films on their own.

Throughout his 25-year tenure as the detective, Suchet managed to consistently bring to life all of Poirot eccentricities, right down to the physicalities and movement of the character — as, notably, Suchet managed to perfect Poirot’s distinct walk. Now, it’s hard to read any of Christie’s works featuring the mustachioed sleuth without imagining David Suchet as the great detective.

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