CBS

The most famous fictional detectives

There’s nothing quite like a good detective story. Usually there’s a mystery involved, and so many pop culture detectives are memorable characters. The detect has been around in story for centuries at this point. Books, TV, and films are filled to the brim with detectives. Who are the elite of the world of fictional detectives? We could go on listing them all day, but we decided to stick with 25 of our favorite famous sleuths.

 
1 of 25

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
BBC

We start with perhaps the most famous detective ever. Sherlock Holmes has been iconic since the days when he was the subject of stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He’s been portrayed in movies and television dozens of times. People from Basil Rathbone to Robert Downey Jr. to Benedict Cumberback to, um, Will Ferrell have stepped into the role. Sherlock is truly one of the most indelible characters every created.

 
2 of 25

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo
ABC

You do not want to be a criminal who commits murder on Columbo’s beat. No matter how clever you think you are, Columbo is smarter. Sure, he seems absent minded and wears a rumple raincoat everywhere. When it comes to piecing together a mystery, his appearance only serves to lead the murderer into a false sense of security.

 
3 of 25

Jessica Fletcher

Jessica Fletcher
CBS

Admittedly, we do wonder why so many people die mysterious deaths in Cabot Cove, Maine. Also, why Jessica Fletcher, a seemingly mild-mannered novelist, is the one who solves them all. And yet, that’s what happens in “Murder, She Wrote.” It’s the sweet older lady who is getting to the bottom of everything. We can’t quibble, given that she’s portrayed by delightful Angela Lansbury.

 
4 of 25

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew
Warner Bros.

We turn to the opposite end of the age spectrum from Fletcher with Drew. She’s still a teenager and very much an amateur sleuth. Just like Fletcher, though, Nancy is able to get to the bottom of a lot of cases the professionals can’t. Although, she does deal with a lot fewer murders.

 
5 of 25

Joe and Frank Hardy

Joe and Frank Hardy
Book Cover

Joe and Frank, known forever as the Hardy Boys, have been the subjects of literally dozens of novels. Through them all, the brothers are out there solving mysteries. They were the starting point for detective stories for many young readers. Our only concern is that Frank and Joe seem to have only two friends, Chet and Tony, and one of the Hardys dates Chet’s sister while the other dates Tony’s.

 
6 of 25

Phillip Marlowe

Phillip Marlowe
United Artists

Marlowe has been played by a few iconic actors, including Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and Elliott Gould. He’s maybe the quintessential hardboiled Los Angeles private eyes. Chandler wrote several Marlowe stories, including “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye.” Speaking of “The Long Goodbye,” if you’re only going to watch one Marlowe movie making it Robert Altman’s version of that story.

 
7 of 25

Jim Rockford

Jim Rockford
NBC

You know who else played Marlowe once? James Garner. However, he’s much more well known for perhaps the best TV private eye. Well, at least the most enjoyable to watch. Jim Rockford wasn’t as suave as others. He’s often hard up for cash and takes as many punches as he dishes out. And yet, Rockford keeps hitting the streets to solve cases others won’t, even when it puts him in danger. Rockford is a legend of ‘70s procedurals.

 
8 of 25

Miss Marple

Miss Marple
MGM

Miss Jane Marple is the first of a couple Agatha Christie characters on this list. Chandler wrote stories about fast-talking, cynical men who got by with hustle and determination. Christie’s characters tend to be more gentle geniuses who don’t have to get as dirty. Miss Marple may be an “elderly spinster,” but she still knows how to crack a case.

 
9 of 25

Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot
StudioCanal

Poirot may be second only to Sherlock Holmes when it comes to literary detectives. Both have appeared many times over on TV and in film as well. Another creation of Christie, the Belgian with the remarkable mustache is maybe a tad less eccentric than Sherlock, but he may be just as smart. Otherwise, how could he have solved that murder on the Orient Express.

 
10 of 25

Thomas Magnum

Thomas Magnum
NBC

Poirot may be second only to Sherlock Holmes when it comes to literary detectives. Both have appeared many times over on TV and in film as well. Another creation of Christie, the Belgian with the remarkable mustache is maybe a tad less eccentric than Sherlock, but he may be just as smart. Otherwise, how could he have solved that murder on the Orient Express.

 
11 of 25

Sam Spade

Sam Spade
Warner Bros.

Humphrey Bogart has played multiple famed detectives. In addition to playing Marlowe, Bogie stepped into the shoes of Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.” The noir detective was first brought to life by writer Dashiell Hammett. Some even say Chandler’s Marlowe was inspired by Spade.

 
12 of 25

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars
UPN

What if a Spade-style detective was a girl in high school? That was basically the premise of “Veronica Mars.” Kristen Bell starred as the tough-as-nails teenager trying to shine some light on the dark elements of her hometown of Neptune, California.

 
13 of 25

Encyclopedia Brown

Encyclopedia Brown
Book Cover

Leroy Brown, known to most as Encyclopedia Brown, makes Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys look like slow starters. Brown is a true boy detective, making him a perfect protagonist for young readers. Mostly he exists in books, which consist of a series of short stories. However, there was a brief HBO show in 1989, though most of us still think of Encyclopedia from the books we read as children.

 
14 of 25

Easy Rawlins

Easy Rawlins
TriStar

Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins is a Los Angeles private eye (unlicensed, for the most part) who solved cases from the 1940s through the 1960s. He has a lot in common with other hardboiled detectives. The one big difference? Walter Mosley’s popular character is black, giving Rawlins’ adventures a very different perspective from somebody like Marlowe. There’s been one notable Rawlins adaptation so far, the Denzel Washington-starring “Devil in a Blue Dress.”

 
15 of 25

Adrian Monk

Adrian Monk
USA

The USA Network turned itself into the place for light procedurals for several years. This “blue skies” era began with “Monk,” though the premise isn’t as breezy as you might think. After his wife’s murder, Detective Adrian Monk develops a serious collection of tics and phobias, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Tony Shalhoub won multiple Emmys for his work on “Monk.”

 
16 of 25

Shawn Spencer

Shawn Spencer
USA

“Monk” paved the way for “Psych,” the rare one-hour procedural that is just a straight-up comedy. Shawn Spencer doesn’t have a tragic backstory. He’s just a goofy, shiftless guy who eventually finds an idea that sticks when he becomes a psychic detective. Shawn isn’t actually psychic, just extremely observant, but it allows him to get work, help the police with cases, and continue to goof around all the live long day.

 
17 of 25

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy
Touchstone

Dick Tracy has existed as a tough detective archetype since he debuted in comics in 1931. He continued to exist in comics form all the way until 1977. While Tracy found his way into some early serial films, you may know him best from Warren Beatty’s 1990 film adaptation. Mostly for the fact all the unusual characters from the comics were rendered real through makeup in a way that can only be described as disconcerting.

 
18 of 25

Inspector Clouseau

Inspector Clouseau
United Artists

Hey, we said famous detectives. We said nothing about them being good at their job. Inspector Clouseau certainly is not that. In fact, he’s quite bumbling and accident prone. You would know him from many of the “Pink Panther” films, either with Peter Sellers in the role or Steve Martin, perhaps depending on your age.

 
19 of 25

Popeye Doyle

Popeye Doyle
20th Century Fox

We wouldn’t say that Popeye Doyle from “The French Connection” is a good detective either. Sure, he gets the job done, but he also will cut any corner he can and is a straight-up racist. However, Gene Hackman was stellar in the first “French Connection” film, which won Best Picture as well.

 
20 of 25

Nick Charles

Nick Charles
MGM

We aren’t overlooking Nick’s wife Nora. In the “Thin Man” stories she plays a vital part in solving cases, and you could make the argument she’s an amateur detective in a way. However, Nick is the one who is a former Pinkerton detective, which is how they end up getting involved in so many cases. They are a dynamic duo together, as fond of a drink as they are of each other, but you’d better believe Nick and Nora get to the bottom of the case.

 
21 of 25

Spenser

Spenser
Netflix

Technically, we do know Spenser’s first name (David), but that didn’t happen to the second season of the TV show “Spenser: For Hire.” It’s not there in the first of the Robert B. Parker books, and it barely comes up in the show. There’s also that fairly-new Netflix movie “Spenser Confidential,” where Mark Wahlberg stepped into the role. That’s the perfect actor to play Spenser, given that he comes from Boston.

 
22 of 25

Benoit Blanc

Benoit Blanc
Lionsgate

Yes, Benoit Blanc is a new creation, but we already consider him an iconic detective. He’s the last of the gentleman sleuths, after all. “Knives Out” was a big success, in part due to Daniel Craig’s delightful and fun performance as Blanc. The movie was so successful that a sequel starring Blanc is already in the works. In a few years, we might consider Blanc on par with any of these detectives.

 
23 of 25

Temperance Brennan

Temperance Brennan
FOX

Forensic anthropologists are considered detectives as well. You will find them in a lot of mystery books and TV shows, such as “Quincy, M.E.” With all due respect to Quincy, he’s not on the same level as Temperance Brennan. You may know her better by her nickname “Bones,” which gave the hit TV show she was the main character of its name.

 
24 of 25

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones
Netflix

Jessica Jones is another hard-drinking private eye, but there’s something that makes her standout from the pack. Namely, she’s a superhero. Jessica is basically impervious to damage and has super strength as well. She’s been a Marvel character for almost 20 years, but she really came into notoriety when Krysten Ritter played her on a Netflix show.

 
25 of 25

Batman

Batman
ABC

Does Batman have a bunch gadgets, including the Batmobile? Absolutely. You may think of him primarily as the Caped Crusader, a true superhero. Ah, but what is one of the moniker’s that has been given to Batman? They call him “the world’s greatest detective.” How could we not include him?

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

More must-reads:

Customize Your Newsletter

+

Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.