Professor James Moriarty appears in an obscured and uncredited role in the 2009 film Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and returns as the main antagonist in the 2011 sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Moriarty is a genius math professor and an author at Cambridge University, but secretly he is operating as a crime lord and a terrorist. He is also Sherlock Holmes' archenemy.
Moriarty discretely hires Sherlock Holmes' former lover and antagonist, Irene Adler, to discover the whereabouts of missing scientist Luke Reordan - ironically by hiring Holmes. Moriarty is aware that Lord Henry Blackwood is coordinating the construction of a groundbreaking device that is controlled via radio--the receiver being a component he is eager to obtain for financial gain. After Adler successfully hires Holmes, she later rendezvouses with Moriarty in a carriage, which an incognito Holmes purposefully stumbles into while attempting to eavesdrop on the interview. Moriarty silently threatens Holmes at gunpoint, driving the detective away. Adler soon becomes overwhelmed by her mission and attempts to flee via train, but Moriarty ominously confronts her aboard the boxcar and coerces further service from her in exchange for Holmes' life.
After Blackwood's plan goes awry and he is killed, Moriarty makes his move: impersonating a police officer, he approaches the scene of the crime where the device has been located, murdering the stationed officer with his pistol and leaving with the radio receiver in tow.
A Game of Shadows
During the film, Sherlock Holmes comes into conflict with Moriarty after the latter poisons Irene Adler to death, deeming her expendable after she succumbs to her feelings for Holmes. During his inquiries into Moriarty's criminal activities, Holmes learns that the professor had managed to "buy, scheme or murder" his way into various businesses, including arms and chemical weaponry, without leaving any criminal evidence that could be traced back to him. In order to create a demand for his vast supply of weaponry, Moriarty attempts to provoke a world war using bombs and by sending an assassin into a crucial conference using an early form of plastic surgery. At one point in the film, Moriarty captures Holmes and tortures him while singing the German song "Die Forelle" by Franz Schubert.
With Dr. John Watson having deduced his assassin's identity in Switzerland while Moriarty is occupied in a chess game with Holmes, Holmes reveals to Moriarty that he had managed to steal the professor's personal diary containing all the information on his empire and investments. Having cracked the code needed to decipher his handwriting, Holmes had sent the diary back to London for his colleagues to work on, reducing Moriarty's enormous fortune to practically nothing.
Infuriated by having lost the fortune he worked so hard to get, Moriarty responds with evidently seething anger but still remaining calm by telling Holmes that he will develop the most excruciatingly painful and slow ways to kill both Watson and his wife in retaliation for what Holmes has done to him and soon he and Holmes calculate a potentially oncoming violent altercation. Moriaty proves to be able to predict accurately the scenario of the fight as well as Sherlock could and Sherlock realizes that he would inevitably lose a fight with Moriaty due to an injury in his shoulder sustained during his recent torture by Moriarty. Wanting to protect Watson from Moriarty's revenge, Holmes instead grapples Moriarty over the balcony and they both tumble into the Reichenbach Falls, while a horrified Watson watches from afar. Holmes is later shown to have survived the fall, presumably due to having taken his brother Mycroft's oxygen breathing apparatus with him, while Moriarty is most likely dead.
However, Sherlock Holmes has recently announced a third film, implying that Moriarty could return.
When Sherlock Holmes first happens across Moriarty, the professor is secluded in shadows, but can be seen wearing fine leather gloves, a Cambridge PhD hood and a top hat. He is armed with a spring-activated, small caliber pistol hidden up his right sleeve. Despite being cunning and upper-class, Moriarty fails to clean the residue chalk from his clothing.
Professor James Moriarty maintains the facade of a celebrated academic and author, while he is in fact infinitely devious. Due to his cautious nature, the vast sum of his criminal activities are virtually untraceable to anyone without access to his encoded notebook. While discussing his illicit conduct, Moriarty never directly acknowledges its explicit nature, always remaining seemingly hypothetical. While generally calm and collected, he does have limits to his patience, finally losing his temper in the finale during his assault on Holmes but his rage is not blinded rage since he can control and channel his rage to analyze and counter-attack Holmes mental and physical attack perfectly.
- Genius Level Intellect: Moriarty is extremely intelligent, considered to be the equal of Sherlock Holmes, something that even Holmes himself admits to after examining his handwriting. He is easily capable of outsmarting even the strongest of opponents in a battle of wits. A deadly strategist and tactician, Moriarty was capable of easily deducing what a person is doing with a simple glance. He even managed to fool Holmes due to his great ruthlessness granting him an advantage over the world's smartest detective and came very close to outsmarting him. While Sherlock ultimately proved smarter when they engaged in intellectual matches by chess and later a violent altercation, Moriarty had came very close to winning in their chess contest and Sherlock had to resort to knocking both of them down to the Reichenbach Falls to outsmart and defeat him, a move that was certainly completely unexpected as Moriarty clearly did not believe Sherlock would be suicidal and desperate enough to stop him to do such.
- Musical Aptitude: Moriarty was quite knowledgeable of many Opera songs due to his interest in the field and he displayed high levels of knowledge in piano music, appearing to be particularly excellent and interested in Schubert songs. He also proved to be an excellent singer, able to fluently play Schubert's Die Forelle while ignoring Sherlock's screams of pain.
- Polymath: Much like Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty is excellent in a wide variety of academic fields. He is an ingeniously skillful and knowledgeable Mathematician, as he was distinguished as one of the best Professors of Mathematics at Cambridge University's history and apparently having a particular affinity for Binomial theorem, as he wrote a treatise on the binomial theorem. 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.
- Criminal and Terrorizing Techniques: Moriarty was an unparalleled master of criminal and terrorizing techniques, as he was able to effectively combine blackmail and murder to take over many different companies connected to wartime industry and has orchestrated many plans that led to perfectly executed criminal activities, such as the death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria that was so flawlessly done it was considered suicide, a bombing in Vienna and the city of Straßburg (Strasbourg), which was blamed on various nationalists or anarchists, as well as giving Moran the plans that successfully led to the assassination of Alfred Meinhard and bombing of the Hôtel du Triomphe. All these hideous acts were done without any traces and evidences that could be tracked back to Moriarty, with even Sherlock having difficulty doing so, displaying his consummate mastery of criminal techniques.
- Business Management: He is 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.
- Multilingualism: Moriarty is also a knowledgeable and capable polyglot, being fluent with a number of languages, and has the habit of carefully encoding his notebook to keep his criminal activities secret.
- Strategist: Moriarty is an exceptional strategist, orchestrating the takeover of multiple industries through a wide variety of methods - legal and criminal - all for the purposes of engineering a world war for the sake of greater profit. He even planted fake clues in a wine cellar hideout convincingly enough to perfectly misdirect Sherlock. His strategical aptitude is displayed in his great prowess in chess-play, as when he and Holmes dueled in a chessboard, Moriarty gave Holmes extreme difficulty and almost defeated him until he eventually lost.
- Prediction: Like Holmes, he too can predict accurate possibilities in any scenario, mainly how a fight will play out. This was a trait which frightened Holmes, as a combination of his combat abilities and predictive foresight would allow Moriarty to best him due to being injured at the time.
- Mental control: Moriarty has extremely strong mental control, as he was able to restrain his rage of having been crippled financially to a considerable degree, able to still quite cordially talk with and even light Holmes's cigarette for him, and while he soon furiously attacks Holmes, he was still perfectly able to fight with Holmes both mentally and physically without his rage hampering his prowess and he even seemed to be able to channel his rage to become even more formidable and ferocious while retaining self-control.
- Martial Artist: He is a highly adept combatant, particularly in boxing. Even as a young student, his talents and capability in boxing was great enough to earn him the title of "Boxing Champion of Cambridge". Describing himself as highly competent and unpredictable as a martial artist, Moriarty displayed himself to be an evasively agile fighter with a huge amount of skill in brawling when he and Holmes calculated a fight and Moriarty not only held his own but even outmatched Sherlock due to his injury. His style emphasized mainly in strong boxing punches, blocks as well as pressuring an opponent whilst exploiting his or her weakness. While he preferred using strikes and deflects, he displayed proficiency in using grapple moves. He also had a particular affinity and tendency to redirect and block, swaying his opponent's momentum, and then moving in with a flurry of frenzied and concentrated attacks.
- Weapon Mastery: Moriarty also appears to be quite capable in the use of weapons, carrying a four shot pepperbox derringer under a mechanism hidden under his sleeve, likely due to his interest in war weapons making him train in how to use them.
- Control over Criminals: Moriarty has command over the majority of the criminals that are in London, as he was able to hire the likes of Irene Adler and Moran to do his bidding.
- Vast Resources: Being the owner of numerous corporations around the world, he has access to considerable resources, most prominently a sizably large private fortune. But due to Holmes exposing him, his wealth was confiscated by Scotland Yard.
- In the theatrical release of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty was voiced by an unknown actor. Following the casting of Jared Harris for A Game of Shadows, Guy Ritchie had the character's scenes re-dubbed for further releases.
- Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn and Javier Bardem were considered to play Moriarty.
- The Jared Harris interpretation of James Moriarty bears a strong resemblance to purported Moriarty inspiration Adam Worth, including a beard. He dresses in a fine manner that would appear to be unassuming for a veteran Cambridge professor. This Moriaty however should be noted to be a depraved and darker adaptation of the character since the BBC adaptation as he kills mostly or nearly injures Holmes, allies as he murdered Adler with no utter empathy and his polite behavior is a act to hide his depraved nature.