Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian private detective created by Agatha Christie, has been a favorite character of popular fiction for over a century now. He has been imagined and re-imagined in every artistic medium one can imagine, not to mention all the characters inspired by (or just plainly ripped off from) him. Even 102 years after he first appeared in the novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, we still return to the Poirot well, as Kenneth Branagh‘s delightful adaptation of Death on the Nile hit the big screen.
Many of our finest actors have donned the mustache to take on the role on screen. Some have created indelible interpretations that will last for generations. Some… let’s just say we do not need to remember. While the character seems to be a specific persona to slip into, each actor finds their own way into the part, and some wear that mustache better than the others. Let’s take a look at 10 actors who have portrayed Hercule Poirot screen and see whose performance will be the version of Poirot that will pop into someone’s head when they open an Agatha Christie novel.
10. Austin Trevor
Austin Trevor was the first actor to portray Poirot on screen in the 1931 film Alibi. The eccentricities of the character allow for a great range in how you play him. You can lean into his preciseness, his odd routines, or the strangeness with how he relates to others. What you absolutely cannot change is the fact that Hercule Poirot has a mustache. Austin Trevor has no mustache. His take on the character, essentially as a stiff upper lip British man with a slight Belgian lilt, already would have put him fairly low on this list. But no mustache… that is simply unforgivable. Plus, the audacity to play the man in three different films and never decide to grow one or have one glued to your face is truly outrageous. No one should have to struggle to figure out which actor on screen is Hercule Poirot. It should be obvious.
9. John Malkovich
There is no denying that John Malkovich, when he is right for a part, is one of our finest character actors. There is one thing Malkovich has never really had a handle on his entire career, and that is accents. He has such a particular, strange voice that suits so many of the characters he has played, but any attempt to change it proves deadly. His Belgian accent for Poirot in the BBC miniseries of The ABC Murders is truly abhorrent. That is, when he even remembers to do one. It fades in and out with wild abandon. On a pure performance level, he is keyed in on Poirot’s intellect but not much else. There is not a lot of what makes him a fun specimen to be found there, which is disappointing for an actor known to go big when called upon to do so. Also, he has a goatee. That is better than clean-shaven, but still not a mustache.
8. Hugh Laurie
Okay. This is a bit of a fun one. Hugh Laurie briefly shows up in the film Spice World as an imaginary Hercule Poirot. He is there for a quick gag, but even in that brief glimpse, you actually see the makings of a pretty fun Poirot. If Laurie was properly given the chance to play the part full out, this small snippet works as a pretty decent proof of concept. Obviously, he can’t place high on this list, but it’s a fun scene.
7. Alfred Molina
In a 2001 television film of Murder on the Orient Express, we see the great Alfred Molina take on the part. Everything about this take on the character is… fine. The accent is fine, the mannerisms are fine, the intellect is fine, the mustache is fine. There’s just no passion to be found in any of it. In a way, it seemingly feels like everyone is just going through the motions in making this picture. Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to screens big and small four times, and this is the least of them. Given better circumstances, Molina could have easily capitalized on this part. As it is, this performance will exist solely as a fun factoid for some film nerd scrolling through IMDb at 2 o’clock in the morning.
6. Tony Randall
Hercule Poirot was the obvious inspiration for Peter Sellers‘ wonderful comedic creation of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series that began in 1963. Two years after that film is released, we have The Alphabet Murders, starring Tony Randall as Poirot. This Agatha Christie adaptation feels more like it wants to capitalize on The Pink Panther and Clouseau rather than the actual source material. Randall’s Poirot is basically a straight-up comic character, where the objective is getting laughs first and foremost. That’s not a terrible thing. Poirot has plenty of qualities that one can laugh at, but he is so much more than the gimmicks. Also, no matter how funny Tony Randall is, he is not Peter Sellers. For what they were going for with the film, he is fine. As an overall Poirot, it needed a lot of work.
5. Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov appearing at this spot will probably upset a lot of Poirot fans out there. Ustinov played the part in six feature films, three for theaters and three for television, and he is an appealing figure. What he really gets about Poirot is his vanity. Every element of his look needs to be precise. Like Malkovich, he also really gets across just how smart Poirot is and finds a nice balance between showing that intelligence as a condescending trait or not. The problem with Ustinov’s Poirot is he is just a tad dry. There’s very little interiority to him outside whatever current case he is working on. This limits the drive and passion his Poirot has, making it more difficult to connect with him. He’s an effective Poirot, just not a great one.
4. Ian Holm
One of the more intense Poirot performances comes from one of the great British character actors, Ian Holm. In 1986, he starred as the detective in the television film Murder by the Book. This is not an adaptation of an Agatha Christie story but rather a meta narrative about Agatha Christie herself (played by Peggy Ashcroft) confronting an imaginary Hercule Poirot when she has decided to kill off the character. All he wants to know is why she wants him to die, after all the years of success they have had together. Holm nails Poirot’s arrogance here, which the material really allows for since it is about his own murder. His ability to transcend is hampered by this not being true-blue Christie material, where he unravels a proper mystery. Had Ian Holm actually taken on the part in a proper Poirot adaptation, he could have made the top two. As it stands, he is on the outside, looking in.
3. Kenneth Branagh
The most recent Poirot is one of the best. On the big screen, Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot has had the opportunity to not just play the investigator but also the man. He gets to have regrets, love, desire, and anger about things unrelated to the actual case he is working on. You can see Branagh’s interpretation of the man in a day-to-day existence, rather than just sitting around until a case falls in his lap. As a director, Branagh loves large scale melodrama, and his version of Poirot fits into that style perfectly. Also, his mustache is easily the craziest of the bunch, and he gets bonus points for totally going for it in the facial hair department.
2. Albert Finney
If you are going to make Hercule Poirot an otherworldly figure, you have to go as far as Albert Finney does in Sidney Lumet‘s excellent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Every single element about Finney’s adaptation of the character is outrageous, from his voice to his posture to the pale shade of his skin. Finney was not even 40 when he played the part yet looks to be in his late 50s. In many ways, he is a cartoon. However, Finney, being the unbelievable actor he was, manages to bring everything down to reality when push comes to shove. His disgust and defeat at cracking the case is palpable, and I’m sure that is what propelled him to get an Oscar nomination for his performance, the only Poirot actor to do so.
1. David Suchet
No other actor could have topped this list. David Suchet took on the role of Hercule Poirot for almost a quarter of a century on ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot and had the opportunity to discover every single nook and cranny that man had to offer. Amazingly, he nailed all the core traits of the character on his first episode, “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook.” Beyond that, he was able to explore all of Poirot’s eccentricities in a way that always felt truthful and would evolve over time. He was also the most personable Poirot, someone who could understand people even if he had some trouble truly connecting with them. For most, David Suchet’s face is the one they see when they open up a Poirot novel, and rightfully so. All these actors have taken on this part, but only one name will be synonymous with the character. That is David Suchet.
Kenneth Branagh may be the most recent actor to take on the part, but he will not be the last. It’s been over 100 years since he first showed up, and there is no sign of Poirot slowing down anytime soon. There will be more movies, television shows, plays, and even podcasts centered on the man with the mustache, and I look forward to seeing as many new faces I can take on the challenge.
How To Watch ‘Death On The Nile’: Where to Stream the Agatha Christie Movie
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From Kenneth Branagh to David Suchet, Every Live-Action Hercule Poirot, Ranked