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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". 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.

In 1890 Moriarty hired American adventuress and Holmes' former romantic interest, Irene Adler, to find and steal a remote-control device from Lord Blackwood.[1]

Prior to this event, Moriarty began planning and executing a scheme to draw Europe into a continent-wide war.[2] 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. This was followed in 1891 by a bombing in the city of Strasbourg, which was blamed on various nationalists or anarchists. These actions were intended to increase tensions on the continent, primarily between France and the German Empire. At the same time, through a combination of blackmail and murder he managed to acquire ownership of a number of different companies connected to wartime industry, such as steel and cotton.

Sherlock Holmes had been following his actions intently, trying to understand what his plot was. After trailing Irene Adler to Cromwell & Griff's auction-house, where he intercepted her delivering a package from Moriarty to Dr Karl Hoffmanstahl, he in short succession found himself having to stop a bomb plot, witnessing Hoffmanstahl's subsequent murder by Sebastian Moran.

After meeting with Simza Heron, whose brother René was another of Moriarty's associates, he had another clue of Moriarty's movements. With Dr John Watson recently having married Mary Morstan, Holmes intended to continue his investigation alone. He met Moriarty at Cambridge, where he expressed his desire for the criminal to leave Watson and his wife alone as he was no longer part of his investigation. Moriarty, however, refused, saying that if Holmes wanted to fight him there would be collateral damage; to emphasize his point, he gave Holmes a blood-soaked handkerchief belonging to Adler, whom he reveals is dead, due to a poison that mimicked the symptoms of tuberculosis.

Moriarty demonstrated his criminal mastery in his assassination of Alfred Meinhard and bombing of the Hôtel du Triomphe. The assassination was done by Moran under the cover of a bomb built by anarchist Claude Ravache. This not only gave him ownership of Meinhard's weapons empire but also further escalated tensions between the Germans and the French, who viewed it as a nationalist retaliation for Strasbourg.

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 appparent 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 neverthless 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 had clearly greatly refined his skills to the point that when they calculated brawling, he was able to easily keep up against the highly skilled Sherlock Holmes, although Holmes was not at peak of his skills as his shoulder was injured and he did not know Moriarty was a far more resillent and competent martial artist than he expected, and even gained the upper hand and eventually restrained, pummeled, defeated and threw Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls, forcing Holmes to first blind Moriarty before grappling and then throwing them both off the castle to the waterfalls. He was shown to be evasive and highly unpredictable. His style is very sophisticated, emphasizing in the use of his momentum to counter and after swaying his opponent's momentum by skillfully exploiting an opponent's weaknesses against them, then counterattacking with a frenzied but concentrated barrage of attacks. He mixed strong boxing punches with skillful and fast blocking moves but he can also effectively employ grapple moves, which he included in his fighting style to some degree.
    • Skilled Marksman: He appeared to be proficient in using firearms as well, carrying a four shot pepperbox derringer on a mechanism concealed in his sleeve. It is likely that his interest in the weapons used in war made him learn how to use them so he can use them to defend himself.
  • Genius-level Intellect: Moriarty was extremely intelligent and possess an outstanding level of mental agility as well as being a brilliant strategist and tactician, outsmarting even the strongest of opponents in a battle of wits and being able to predict other people's action with a single glance. Moriarty's intelligence was so great that he was even considered to be as intelligent as Holmes, with Holmes admitting his ingenuity after reading Moriarty's handwriting. Moriarty even came very close to outsmarting Holmes and although Holmes eventually proved to outsmart Moriarty when they pitted their intellects against each other, it must be noted that Moriarty had been able to effectively counter Holmes and Holmes was forced to resort to drastic measures to win.
    • Prediction: Like Sherlock Holmes, he too could accurately predict combat scenarios, which allowed him to counter Holmes' use of his prediction ability.
    • Master Tactician/Strategist: Moriarty was an excellent strategist, having effectively orchestrated a number of assassinations in order to start a war and managing to take over multiple industries through a wide variety of methods - legal and criminal - all for the purpose of engineering a world war for the sake of greater profit. Because he now took over a company which was produces state of the art war supplies of the Victorian Era, he only wanted to create the demand for it and nearly succeeded as well. Moriarty was also an avid player of chess, able to match and almost defeat Sherlock Holmes in their match, although he was eventually defeated.
    • Master Businessman: Moriarty was also 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.
    • Master Author: Moriarty was also a prolific author, as he published the famous and excellent book Dynamics of an Asteroid, which even Holmes had to admit was interesting, and a treatise on the Binomial Theorem, both works which were deemed to be exemplary by the public.
    • Master Actor: Moriarty was a very skillful actor, able to effectively maintain his facade as a polite mathematics professor even when faced with Sherlock Holmes, who Moriarty despised for his stubborn attempts to stop him.
    • 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). (25 December, 2009 (US)). "Sherlock Holmes". United States of America, Warner Bros. Studios.
  2. 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.