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 attempt 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.
A furious Moriarty responds by telling Holmes that he will kill both Watson and his wife in retaliation for what Holmes has done to him, but Holmes realizes that he cannot defeat Moriarty in a direct fight 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 presumably 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: He is a true intellectual match for Sherlock Holmes, something that even Holmes himself admits to after examining his handwriting.
- Polymath: Much like Sherlock Holmes, he is an expert in a wide variety of academic fields. Already distinguished as the Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, his book The Dynamics Of An Asteroid also indicates he has interests and mastery in astronomy.
- Business Management: His corporate expansion demonstrates his mastery of financial and economic matters.
- Multilingualism: He is also something of a polyglot as well, being familiar with a number of languages, and is in the habit of carefully encoding his notebook to keep his criminal activities secret.
- Strategist: He is a master 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 so as to perfectly misdirect his nemesis.
- 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, mainly due to his injury, as a combination of his combat abilities and predictive foresight allowed Moriarty a vast advantage.
- Rage control: Moriarty has extremely strong mental power to channel his rage to perfectly fight with Holmes both mentally and physically.
- Martial Artist: He is an adept combatant, described as the "Boxing Champion of Cambridge"; as well as being more resilient than Holmes expected, Moriarty has no scruples in combat, targeting Holmes' wounded shoulder over the course of their final battle.
- 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.