Young Sherlock Holmes (also known with the title card name of Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear) is a 1985 American mystery adventure film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Chris Columbus, based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film depicts a young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meeting and solving a mystery together at a boarding school.[1]

Young Sherlock Holmes
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Levinson
Screenplay byChris Columbus
Based onCharacters by
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Produced byMark Johnson
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byStu Linder
Music byBruce Broughton
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 4, 1985 (1985-12-04)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$63.7 million

The film is notable for being the first full-length movie to feature a completely computer-generated character, created by Lucasfilm's Graphics Group. This was a historical landmark in special effects history and influenced other CGI future films such as Pixar's Toy Story.[2][3]

At the 58th Academy Awards for films produced in 1985, the film was nominated for Best Visual Effects (Dennis Muren, Kit West, John R. Ellis, and David W. Allen).



Following the closure of his school in the country, a young John Watson enrolls at London’s Brompton Academy, where Sherlock Holmes befriends him immediately. Holmes’ mentors there include Rupert Waxflatter, an eccentric retired professor to whom the school has given a large attic space for his inventions, which include a flying machine. Waxflatter's niece, Elizabeth, and Holmes, are in love.

Elsewhere in the city, a hooded figure with a blowgun shoots two men with thorns that induce nightmarish hallucinations, causing their apparent suicides. Holmes brings his suspicions of foul play to Scotland Yard detective Lestrade, who rebuffs him.

After a school rival frames him for misconduct, Holmes is expelled. He has one last duel with Professor Rathe, the fencing instructor. While Holmes says goodbye to Watson, Waxflatter is shot with a thorn and stabs himself. Dying, he whispers the word "Eh-Tar" to Holmes.

Holmes, Watson and Elizabeth secretly investigate the murders, uncovering the existence of Rame-Tep, an ancient Egyptian cult of Osiris worshippers. The trio track the cult to a London paraffin warehouse and a secret underground wooden pyramid, where they interrupt the sacrifice of a young girl. The Rame-Tep wound them with thorns and they escape to a cemetery to endure the hallucinations.

Back in Waxflatter's loft, Holmes and Watson find a drawing of six men, including the three victims and a fourth man, Chester Cragwitch, who is still alive. That night, Holmes and Watson go to see Cragwitch, who explains that in his youth, he and the other five men were in Egypt, where they looted an underground pyramid containing the tombs of five Egyptian princesses. The resulting protest was violently put down by the British Army. A local boy named Eh-Tar and his sister vowed to seek revenge and replace the bodies of the five princesses. As they return to the school, a chance remark by Watson causes Holmes to realize that Eh-Tar is none other than Professor Rathe.

Rathe and his sister Mrs. Dribb abduct Elizabeth, planning to use her as the final sacrifice. Using Waxflatter's flying machine, Holmes and Watson reach the warehouse just in time to rescue Elizabeth and destroy the temple. When Rathe tries to shoot Holmes, Elizabeth shields Holmes with her body and is mortally wounded. Rathe falls into the frozen River Thames.

Holmes transfers to another school and Watson gives him an antique pipe that he bought during the investigations as a Christmas/farewell present.

An ending credits scene reveals that Rathe escaped. Checking in to a hotel in Switzerland, he signs in as "Moriarty".





While the film is based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the story is an original one penned by Chris Columbus. Though he admitted that he was "very worried about offending some of the Holmes purists", Columbus used the original Doyle stories as his guide. Of the creation of the film, Columbus stated:

"The thing that was most important to me was why Holmes became so cold and calculating, and why he was alone for the rest of his life," Mr. Columbus explains. "That's why he is so emotional in the film; as a youngster, he was ruled by emotion, he fell in love with the love of his life, and as a result of what happens in this film, he becomes the person he was later."[4]

When Steven Spielberg came aboard the project he wanted to make certain the script had the proper tone and captured the Victorian era. He first had noted Sherlockian John Bennett Shaw read the screenplay and provide notes. He then had English novelist Jeffrey Archer act as script doctor to anglicize the script and ensure authenticity.[5]

The cast includes actors with previous associations to Sherlock Holmes. Nigel Stock, who played Professor Waxflatter, portrayed Dr. Watson alongside both Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing in the BBC series of the 1960s.[6] Patrick Newell, who played Bentley Bobster, played both PC Benson in 1965's A Study in Terror[7] as well as Inspector Lestrade in 1979's Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.[8] As well, cast member Alan Cox's father, actor Brian Cox, would later have a connection: he would play Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for Holmes, in the television film The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The film is notable for including the first fully computer-generated photorealistic animated character, a knight composed of elements from a stained glass window. This effect was the first CG character to be scanned and painted directly onto film using a RGB laser. [9] The effect was created by Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic and John Lasseter[10]

The fencing scenes were shot at Penshurst Place in Kent.[11]

In the United Kingdom and Australia, the film was titled Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear;[12] while in Italy —"Pyramid of fear" (Piramide di paura)— and in Spain —"The secret of the pyramid" (El secreto de la pirámide)— there were no mention to Sherlock Holmes.



The film music was composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton, who has a long-standing history of scoring orchestral film soundtracks.[citation needed]

MCA track listing:

  1. Main Title (1:58)
  2. Solving the Crime (4:53)
  3. Library Love/Waxflatter's First Flight (2:23)
  4. Pastries & Crypts (5:44)
  5. Waxing Elizabeth (3:35)
  6. Holmes and Elizabeth – Love Theme (1:54)
  7. Ehtar's Escape (4:02)
  8. The Final Duel (3:51)
  9. Final Farewell (1:53)
  10. The Riddle Solved/End Credits (6:25)

Intrada track listing, with tracks on the original release in bold:

Disc 1

  1. The First Victim (2:57)
  2. The Old Hat Trick (1:45)
  3. Main Title (2:01)
  4. Watson's Arrival (1:03)
  5. The Bear Riddle (:46)
  6. Library Love/Waxflatter's First Flight (2:54)
  7. Fencing With Rathe (1:07)
  8. The Glass Soldier (3:22)
  9. Solving The Crime (4:54)
  10. Second Attempt (1:11)
  11. Cold Revenge (4:08)
  12. Waxflatter's Death (3:38)
  13. The Hat (1:21)
  14. Holmes And Elizabeth – Love Theme (1:58)

Disc 2

  1. Getting The Point (6:25)
  2. Rame Tep (3:06)
  3. Pastries And Crypts (6:44)
  4. Discovered By Rathe (5:05)
  5. To Cragwitch's (1:32)
  6. The Explanation (1:48)
  7. Cragwitch Goes Again (1:23)
  8. It's You! (6:17)
  9. Waxing Elizabeth (3:37)
  10. Temple Fire (3:24)
  11. Ehtar's Escape (Revised Version) (4:04)
  12. Duel And Final Farewell (5:41)
  13. The Riddles Solved And End Credits (6:27)
  14. Ytrairom Spelled Backwards (:48)
  15. Main Title (Film Version) (1:42)
  16. Belly Dancer (1:02)
  17. Waxing Elizabeth (Chorus) (3:01)
  18. Waxing Elizabeth (Orchestra) (3:37)
  19. Ehtar's Escape (Original Version) (4:03)
  20. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (arr. Bruce Broughton) (01:06)



Box office


The film was a box-office disappointment,[13] grossing $19.7 million in the United States and Canada against an $18 million budget[14] and ranking 46th for the year at the box office.[15] Internationally it performed better, grossing $44 million for a worldwide total of $63.7 million.[16]

Critical response


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 64% based on reviews from 22 critics. The site's consensus states: "Young Sherlock Holmes is a charming, if unnecessarily flashy, take on the master sleuth."[17] On Metacritic the film has a score of 65% based on reviews from 15 critics.[18]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, and wrote: "The elaborate special effects also seem a little out of place in a Sherlock Holmes movie, although I'm willing to forgive them because they were fun."[19] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune wrote: "The production is first-rate in all technical ways imaginable, but the villain that Holmes and Watson chase is not worth their intellect or time or ours."[20] Christopher Null of called the film "great fun".[21] Reviewing the film for The New York Times, Leslie Bennetts called it "a lighthearted murder mystery that weds Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the kind of rollicking action-adventure that has made Steven Spielberg the most successful movie maker in the world".[4]

Colin Greenland reviewed Young Sherlock Holmes for White Dwarf #77, and stated that "Conan Doyle's creation is reduced to an irritating sequence of in-jokes about deerstalkers, violins and pipes. Instead of sleuthing we get swashbuckling in the blazing temple and swordplay on the frozen Thames; creditable acting, but a crass production from start to finish."[22]

Pauline Kael wrote, "This sounds like a funnier, zestier picture than it turns out to be. ... As long as the movie stays within the conceits of the Holmesian legends, it's mildly, blandly amusing. But when one of the imperilled old men gives an elaborate account of the background of the villainy ... your mind drifts and you lose the plot threads. And when the picture forsakes fog and coziness and the keenness of Holmes' intellect – when it starts turning him into a dashing action-adventure hero – the jig is up. ... the movie lets you down with a thump when Holmes and his companions enter a wooden pyramid-temple hidden under the London streets. ... There's a resounding hollowness at the center of this picture – Levinson's temple of doom".[23]

R.L. Shaffer writing for IGN in 2010, felt the film "doesn't hold up all that well" and that ultimately "the film shall remain a cult classic – loved by some, but forgotten by most."[24] DVD Verdict stated that the film was both "a reimagining of the detective's origin story, but it is also respectful of Arthur Conan Doyle's work" and "a joy from beginning to end."[25]



Video game


A video game based on the movie was released in 1987 for the MSX called Young Sherlock: The Legacy of Doyle released exclusively in Japan by Pack-In-Video. Although the game is based on the film, the plot of the game had little to do with the film's story.[30]


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (4 December 1985). "Young Sherlock Holmes Movie Review (1985) | Roger Ebert". Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  2. ^ World Records, Guinness. "First film character computer-generated". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  3. ^ Turnock, Julie A. (14 June 2022). The Empire of Effects: Industrial Light and Magic and the Rendering of Realism. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477325322 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b Leslie Bennetts (1 December 1985). "Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) IMAGINE SHERLOCK AS A BOY..." New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  5. ^ Boström, Mattias (2018). From Holmes to Sherlock. Mysterious Press. pp. 406–407. ISBN 978-0-8021-2789-1.
  6. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 308. ISBN 9780857687760.
  7. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 280. ISBN 9780857687760.
  8. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 198–199. ISBN 9780857687760.
  9. ^ "Visual and Special Effects Film Milestones". Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  10. ^ "The history of CGI list". 22 December 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  11. ^ Kent Film Office (5 March 1986). "Kent Film Office Young Sherlock Holmes Film Focus".
  12. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 305. ISBN 9780857687760.
  13. ^ Friendly, David T. (5 July 2000). "'Purple,' 'africa' Pace Box Office - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  14. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Domestic Box Office For 1985". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  16. ^ "UIP's $25M-Plus Club". Variety. 11 September 1995. p. 92.
  17. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  18. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes". Metacritic. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  19. ^ Roger Ebert (4 December 1985). "Young Sherlock Holmes". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  21. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes". Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  22. ^ Greenland, Colin (May 1986). "2020 Vision". White Dwarf (77). Games Workshop: 11.
  23. ^ Kael, Pauline. Hooked. New York: Dutton, 100-02.
  24. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes". IGN. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  25. ^ "Young Sherlock Holmes". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  26. ^ "Section 14: CGI in the movies". Archived from the original on 26 January 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  27. ^ "1986 | | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences".
  28. ^ "Cocoon Wins Visual Effects: 1986 Oscars" – via
  29. ^ "Filmography". Bruce Broughton.
  30. ^ "Young Sherlock: The Legacy of Doyle (1987)". MobyGames.