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 employ the detective to discover the whereabouts of the scientist Luke Reordan. 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 rendezvous with Moriarty in a carriage, which an incognito Holmes purposefully stumbles into, to get a look at Moriarty. Moriarty silently threatens Holmes at gunpoint, driving the detective away. Adler soon becomes overwhelmed by her mission and attempts to flee via train. Moriarty ominously confronts her aboard the boxcar and coerces further service from her with Holmes' life.
After Blackwood's plan goes awry and he is killed, Moriarty makes his move. Impersonating a police officer, Moriarty approaches the scene of the crime, where the device is located, and murders the stationed officer with his pistol. Moriarty retrieves the radio receiver and stores it in his satchel.
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.
Personality and Traits
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 him. While discussing his illicit conduct, Moriarty never directly acknowledges its explicit nature, always being underhanded and seemingly hypothetical. While he is generally calm and collected, he does have limits to this capacity, with him being able to become a fierce physical force.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Moriarty is similar to Peter Pan, Vector, Bill Cipher and Hades; they all served as Bigger Bads who were unseen for the first installment before appearing as the main antagonist in the second. However, while Moriarty, Peter Pan and Bill Cipher are Complete Monsters, Vector and Hades had some redeeming qualities.
- He is also similar to Ernst Stavro Blofeld from Spectre: They are supremely brilliant criminal masterminds who are obsessed with their arch-enemies and used other people (Irene Adler, Raoul Silva, Le Chiffre) to harm them while remaining hidden. They are also Complete Monsters. Despite Raoul Silva and Lord Blackwood, making great villains in their respective previous instalments (Sherlock Holmes and Skyfall), Moriarty and Blofeld appear in the sequels (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Spectre) as not only the main antagonists but also as villains turning out to be the most prominent ones of their respective series of films in a sense that the events that happened in previous instalments led directly to their ultimate battle with Sherlock Holmes and James Bond and it is also very likely that they will both return in at least one future instalment of their respective movie series.