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"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. He appeared as a secondary antagonist in Sherlock Holmes, and as the central threat in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. While he appears to be a respectable mathematics professor, he is actually in fact a criminal mastermind who oversees 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 gained some fame for his skill at boxing, which earned him the title "Boxing Champion of Cambridge", as well as befriending the future Prime Minister. 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. It was sometime here that he presumably began building a criminal empire, which he ran from the shadows while maintaining his life as a reknowned academic.

At some unknown point in time, Moriarty began planning and executing a scheme to draw Europe into a continent-wide war with the intent of profiting of the war.[1] In 1889, he orchestrated the death of Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria in an apparent murder-suicide, and around the same time orchestrated a bombing in Vienna.

Blackwood's Resurrection[]

In 1890, Moriarty enlisted the help of American adventuress and Holmes' former romantic interest, Irene Adler, to find Luke Reardon, a corraborator of Lord Blackwood who went missing, as he desired the machine that Reardon made for the Lord, specifically the distilled poison within.[2] To ensure her cooperation, he threatened her with the life of Sherlock Holmes should she fail. Under his orders, Irene enlisted Sherlock's help to find the missing person. After putting Sherlock on the trail of Reardon, Irene reported back to Moriarty in his carriage. Unbeknownst to him, Sherlock, disguised as a disabled vagrant, crashed into their carriage and pretended to be a beggar. Moriarty then pointed his hidden gun at the detective, scaring him away but not before giving Sherlock a glimpse of the professor. This marked the future rivals' first ever encounter with each other.

Moriarty would later intercept Irene at the train she boarded in an attempt to flee after an encounter with Blackwood. He sternly reminded her that her job was not finished until she retrieved the machine that Reardon made and reprimanded her for letting her feelings towards Sherlock interfere with her work, reminding her that failure would result in the death of the detective. Unbeknownst to Irene however, she was there to serve as the distraction for Sherlock as he was actually not after the poison within the device, but the receiver which allowed it to be activated remotely, a revolutionary technology at the time. Moriarty then managed to secure the receiver during Sherlock's final confrontation with Blackwood as both Sherlock and Irene were out of his way, with an unwitting policeman being killed as a result. This would set Sherlock on his trail and begin a game of cat-and-mouse between the two in the following months, as Sherlock began cracking down on Moriarty's movements.

A Game of Shadows[]

Months later, Moriarty had secretly acquired ownership of a number of different companies connected to wartime industry such as steel, cotton, and opium through both legal and illegal means. At the same time, he had secretly sponsored the anarchist movement in France to the point where he was able to dictate their movements. He had the anarchists take responsibility for bombings which he orchestrated in order to increase tensions between France and the German Empire and catalyze a World War. He had also secured himself a respectable position as a diplomatic advisor thanks to his reputation as an academic and connection to the Prime Minister.

During this time, Moriarty continued to employ the services of Irene Adler. He sent to deliver a package contaning payment for Dr. Karl Hoffmanstahl, a German doctor who was a pioneer at the medical field, for his services as well as retrieve a letter from the doctor written by a French-Romani member of the anarchists under Moriarty's employ named René Heron addressed to her sister, Simza Heron. The package itself actually contained a bomb meant to kill the doctor but was detonated safely by Sherlock Holmes, saving the doctor, Irene Adler, and several other civilians. However, the doctor would still wind up killed afterwards by Sebastian Moran, a former soldier turned mercenary under Moriarty's employ.

Moriarty later met Irene Adler at a restaurant. He questioned her on her failure to retrieve the letter and her motives for setting a meeting place in her favorite restaurant, asking if she was afraid for her life. Moriarty then demonstrated his influence and power by clearing out the restaurant abruptly before facing Irene directly, stating his awareness of Irene giving in to her feelings for Sherlock and the latter's recent efforts to take him down. As he declared her services were no longer required, Irene succumbs to the poison that had been secretly administered to her and falls down dead. Moriarty then retrieves her blood-stained handkerchief. Moriarty then sent assassins after Simza Heron who had begun searching for her brother, but the attempt was once again thwarted by Sherlock Holmes.

Shortly after John Watson and Mary Morstan's marriage, Moriarty extended an invitation towards Sherlock through Sebastian to meet him after his lecture. Sherlock accepted the invitation and met Moriarty at Cambridge, marking the first official meeting between the two where Sherlock wasn't disguised as someone else, and the two exchanged formal pleasantries. Moriarty stated his awareness of Watson's marriage, which Sherlock affirmed. The latter then expressed his request that Watson and his wife be left alone as he was no longer part of his investigation. Moriarty ultimately declined and cited the laws of celestial mechanics, which states that damage of a collateral nature was unavoidable in the event of two objects colliding. To stress his point, Moriarty offered an example of a woman who dies as she is caught between the conflict of two men and showed Sherlock Irene's blood-stained handkerchief. He warned Sherlock that should the detective continue to try and destroy him, he will do the same to Sherlock, an outcome which Sherlock said he would find acceptable as long as Moriarty's defeat was assured. As Sherlock left, Moriarty gave a final veiled threat towards John and Mary.

Moriarty then departed to Paris under the guise of a lecture tour while simultaneously carrying out his plans. Using blackmail, Moriarty had forced the anarchists' leader Claude Ravache to create a final bomb and forced him to kill himself in exchange for his family's safety. The bomb was hidden inside a cake tray on the Hôtel du Triomphe where a meeting of businessmen from France and Germany was being held. The true target however was Alfred Meinhard, one of the attendees and an arms manufacturer. As Moriarty had bought a large share of Meinhard's business, killing the German would give Moriarty majority ownership of his weapons manufacturing business. Therefore, Moriarty had Sebastian snipe Moran from a distance to ensure Meinhard's death and used the bombing to both cover up the killing as well as escalate political tensions. During these events, Moriarty attended a showing of Don Giovanni where he saw and taunted Sherlock Holmes from a distance after the latter made a mistaken deduction of where the bomb would be.

The day after, Moriarty departed by train for Germany to visit his newly owned munitions factory in Heilbronn. He encountered Sherlock Holmes, who had followed him across the borders with the help of Simza and her band of gypsies, and captured him. Moriarty tortured Holmes by having a hook snagged into the detective's right shoulder and hoisting him up in the air.

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 in Heilbronn, accompanied by 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 single companion escaped.

Undaunted, Moriarty proceeded to Switzerland. Thanks to his friendship to the British prime minister, he gained entrance to the peace summit. Under his orders, René Heron, disguised as the Romanian ambassador, was to trigger a war by assassinating the German chancellor. However, Simza and Watson manage to identify René and subdue him. To protect Moriarty, Moran, who had been tailing René, quietly killed him with a poisoned dart as he was being arrested to prevent him from revealing his employer's identity.

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. Clearly furious of having the wealth he tried so hard to get reduced to practically nothing, Moriarty, although still calm, seething with anger, promised that he will murder Watson and his wife in the most creatively excruciatingly painful and slow means in revenge for this. Moriarty and Holmes immediately calculated a violent altercation in their minds, with Moriarty furiously, but still methodically, attacking Holmes. Because of Holmes' injured shoulder, it is apparent that while Sherlock could still go up against Moriarty, his defeat was inevitable as Moriarty's fighting skills as a boxing champion of Cambridge would have outmatched Sherlock in his injured state. Cunningly, instead of going fist-to-fist with Moriarty, 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 is presumably dead.


Sherlock Holmes deduced Moriarty to be narcissistic, with a complete lack of empathy and an inclination toward moral insanity. Moriarty's normally laid-back and calm disposition masked 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 nihilist, 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. When angered, he can even prove to be intensely sadistic, as he furiously promised Sherlock that for financially crippling him, he would kill Watson and his wife with the most creatively excruciating means. He was also highly arrogant, claiming to have the utmost of regard for Sherlock's talents, while still callously dismissing him as incompetent and irrelevant in comparison to himself. He also severely underestimated Watson, believing him incapable of substituting for Holmes in uncovering René Heron, only for Watson to do so anyway. Moriarty's arrogance ultimately led to his defeat. 

Abilities and Skills[]

  • Master Hand-to-Hand Combatant/Martial Artist: Even though Moriarty relied more on his high intelligence, he was known to be nevertheless a highly talented and capable martial artist even while still young, with a particular talent and profiency in boxing to the point that his skills as a boxer was good enough to earn the title "Boxing Champion of Cambridge" while still a student. As an adult, Moriarty was apparently still a skilled fighter as Sherlock Holmes still considered him a capable fighter as he saw no chance in winning against the professor in direct hand-to-hand combat, though Sherlock was greatly disadvantaged at the time.
  • Marksmanship: He appeared to be proficient in using firearms as well, carrying a four shot pepperbox derringer on a mechanism concealed in his sleeve.
  • Genius-level Intellect: Moriarty was extremely intelligent and possess an outstanding level of mental agility, which was his greatest asset. He was able to garner a respectable reputation as a published academic professor at the top of his field while simultaneously managing a vast criminal empire in the shadows, seemingly succeeding in both with equal measure. Sherlock Holmes, a genius in his own right, considered him a dangerous threat which must be stopped at all costs, even that of his life.
    • Prediction: Like Sherlock Holmes, he too could accurately predict and simulate scenarios in his mind, which allowed him to counter Holmes' own use of this ability.
    • Master Tactician/Strategist: Moriarty was an excellent strategist. He orchestrated a number of assassinations and bombings in Germany and France in order to escalate the tensions between the two countries to the point of global war. Meanwhile, he secretly took over businesses of various key assets throughout the world whose value would rise in times of war such as armaments, cotton, and steel to profit greatly from his engineered war. In his competition against Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty was able to outwit the detective several times before ultimately losing. Moriarty was also an avid player of chess, able to match and almost defeat Sherlock Holmes in their match, although he was eventually defeated mirroring their race to destroy each other.
    • Master Businessman: Moriarty was an excellent master of financial and economic matters, as displayed by his ability to skillfully handle and expand the efficiency of the war tools industries that he took over.
    • Master Cryptographer: Moriarty was an excellent Cryptographer, as the writings on his notebook containing his criminal plans were encoded to the point that deciphering it needed the aid of a specialised cryptographic team.
    • Multilanguism: Moriarty was also fluent in many languages, including French and German.
    • Polymath: Much like Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty was excellent in a wide variety of academic fields. He was an ingeniously skillful and knowledgeable Mathematician, as he was distinguished as one of the best Professors of Mathematics in Cambridge University's history, and apparently had a particular affinity for Binomial theorem, as he wrote a treatise on it. He was also very accomplished and knowledgeable in the study of Astronomy, as evidenced by his ability to publish the renowned book The Dynamics Of An Asteroid.
    • Mental and Emotional Control: Moriarty displayed excellent control over his mental and emotional conditions, as while clearly furious by Holmes having taken away his fortune, Moriarty was still able to cordially converse with him to the point of even igniting Holmes' cigarette for him. In his fight with Holmes, while he unleashed his fury for having been deprived of his fortune, Moriarty remained fully controlled and even seemed to use his anger to make him more formidable rather than hampering him.
  • Network: Moriarty had a dense network of criminal followers that he used to execute his criminal activities while remaining in the shadows. He once had an immense fortune through all his endeavors, but this was lost when Scotland Yard confiscated his wealth.


  • 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). (16 December, 2011 (US)). "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows". United States of America, Warner Bros. Studios.
  2. 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.