As Kenneth Branagh brings his third Hercule Poirot film to theaters with “A Haunting in Venice,” fans of the Agatha Christie character might debate: Who is the best actor to ever play the mustachioed Belgian detective? And which versions simply didn’t work?
We’ve compiled a list of the most notable actors to portray the famously fussy sleuth —from Tony Randall to PBS favorite David Suchet — and ranked them with both how true they are to Christie’s vision and how enjoyable their portrayal is to audience.
7. Tony Randall (1965)
The “Odd Couple” actor’s one outing as the detective in the Frank Tashlin-directed film “The Alphabet Murders” leans very hard into comedy. The result: Despite the mustache and bald cap and an occasionally passable accent, we get very little of “the little grey cells” character we expect and far more sight gigs and slapstick.
6. John Malkovich (2018)
The actor’s portrayal of Poirot in the Prime video series “The ABC Murders” is a very subdued one that features few of the character’s usual eccentricities. The series adds a tragic backstory for the detective, making the overall tone grim and bleak. And, for some reason, Hercule’s legendary mustache is now a goatee, making this adaptation hardly feel like Poirot at all.
5. Alfred Molina (2001)
We’re used to seeing the “Three Pines” star with a mustache, and he does bring the necessary wit and energy to the role, but this TV-movie adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” hopelessly sabotages the character with the decision to set it in modern times. That leads to dissonance like a now very-dated reference to ’90s presidential candidate Ross Perot when someone gets the detective’s name wrong. The production values are also lacking in this version, which co-stars Leslie Caron, Peter Strauss and Meredith Baxter.
4. Peter Ustinov (1978-1988)
The Oscar-winning British actor played Agatha Christie’s sleuth with panache in a number of feature films, including the excellent “Evil Under the Sun” and “Death on the Nile,” as well as several made-for-TV movies. His interpretation puts the emphasis on the detective’s fussiness as, for example, we see him shying away from any sort of water activities while on vacation in “Evil Under the Sun.” With his shrewd ability to suss out the truth, he might be considered the definitive Poirot for Gen X, if it weren’t for that fellow on PBS.
3. Kenneth Branagh (2017 to present)
While Branagh’s first two Christie adaptations might leave something to be desired in the screenwriting department, he utterly nails it as both actor and director in the third outing, the deliciously spooky “A Haunting in Venice.” He sports a requisitely heroic mustache as the detective in all three films and, especially in the new film, suitably balances the character’s often silly perfectionism with a more authoritative, weighty side.
2. Albert Finney (1974)
The British actor, who might be best-known in the US as Erin Brockovich’s grumpy boss in Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 biopic, remains the only one to be nominated for an Oscar for his Poirot portrayal. He also gave Agatha Christie’s personal favorite interpretation of the role, although she did wish his mustache had been bigger. He is both supremely fussy and completely in control of the situation in 1974’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” He’s blustery, he’s larger than life and he absolutely cannot be fooled by a train full of suspects. The drawing room scene where he reveals who committed the crime and how is an all-timer.
1. David Suchet (1989 – 2013)
Suchet has not only played Poirot the most often, thanks to starring in the beloved, long-running PBS series, but with the most finesse. We can almost see the wheels turning in his brilliant mind when he’s on a case. He can sometimes be heavy-handed or contemptuous towards staffers Hastings (Hugh Fraser) and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), but his portrayal remains the most definitive and the most endearing of all. To many Christie fans, he simply is Poirot.
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