Who is the best Hercule Poirot on screen?

The little Belgian has been portrayed on the silver screen for a number of years

Hercule Poirot has been depicted onscreen a number of times, including by David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh (ITV/Warner Bros.)
Hercule Poirot has been depicted onscreen a number of times, including by David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh (ITV/Paramount Pictures/20th Century Studios)

Hercule Poirot is one of the most iconic detectives in fiction, coming second only, possibly, by the great Sherlock Holmes.

Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth has been brought to life on the silver screen for decades, with a new actor taking on the challenge of embodying the character in the same way James Bond is played by a new face every generation.

Kenneth Branagh is the latest actor to play Poirot and he returns to portray the character for the third time in A Haunting in Venice, following on from Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express. He is not the first and he is by no means the last to take on the role.

But how do these actors compare and who, really, can be called the best actor to have played Poirot? To find out, we at Yahoo UK put our little grey cells to work to create the ultimate guide to the detective onscreen.

Who is the best Hercule Poirot?

Hercule Poirot's enduring legacy onscreen has seen him be depicted in radio, TV, film, and even anime, all across the world but for the purpose of this piece we will only be focusing on the actors who played the character in TV and film in English.

Christie wrote 33 novels, 51 short stories and two plays starring Poirot from 1920 to 1975, and there were a few actors to portray the character during this time as well as several to come after.

Austin Trevor (3 appearances from 1931 to 1934)

20th November 1943:  Austin Trevor, who looks after Equity's War Relief Fund expressing his views at a meeting called by the actors trade union Equity. Original Publication: Picture Post - 1580 - Actor Plan Their Post-War Future - pub. 1943  (Photo by Felix Man/Picture Post/Getty Images)
Austin Trevor played Hercule Poirot in three films (Getty Images)

Hercule Poirot was first depicted onscreen by Austin Trevor in Alibi, a 1931 film that was based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd — the third novel to feature the detective.

The actor famously played the character as clean-shaven, despite the fact that Poirot is known for having (and meticulously maintaining) his moustache. Trevor went on to play Poirot in two more films: Black Coffee, which is based on the play of the same name, and Lord Edgware Dies.

Read more: A Haunting in Venice review: Kenneth Branagh flexes his little grey cells in chilling murder mystery

The idea that the Belgian detective could be played without a moustache feels like sacrilege, it is what makes him distinct, and, while he was undeniably the first, Trevor made Poirot more of a generic character rather than lean into the unique qualities that Christie had written.

Tony Randall (1 appearance in 1965)

THE ALPHABET MURDERS, Robert Morley, Tony Randall, 1965
Tony Randall (right) in The Alphabet Murders (Alamy)

Tony Randall portrayed Poirot just once in 1965, for a movie which was titled The Alphabet Murders and was inspired by The ABC Murders.

Unlike his predecessor, Randall did wear Poirot's famous moustache but he played the character for laughs more than anything else, seemingly to capitalise on the popularity of The Pink Panther at the time. It didn't quite work as well as Inspector Clouseau,

Albert Finney (1 appearance in 1974)

Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express (Alamy)

Albert Finney portrayed Poirot once for a film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, one of Christie's most beloved crime novels.

Finney gave one of the best depictions of the Belgian detective onscreen, he captured the character's mannerisms and outsider nature, and he also helped to define his signature look onscreen.

His performance was such a hit that it saw him be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in 1975, he is the only actor to play Poirot to have been given this accolade, and even if he didn't win it certainly proved his prowess in the role.

Peter Ustinov (6 appearances from 1978 to 1986)

UK. Peter Ustinov  in a scene from the ©Paramount Pictures movie: Death on the Nile (1978). Plot:  As Hercule Poirot enjoys a luxurious cruise down the Nile, a newlywed heiress is found murdered on board. Can Poirot identify the killer before the ship reaches the end of its journey? Ref: LMK110-J6509-150520 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile (Paramount Pictures)

Bar one actor, the person to have played Poirot the most onscreen is Peter Ustinov who portrayed the character six times in Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, Appointment with Death, Thirteen at Dinner, Dead Man's Folly, and Murder in Three Acts.

Ustinov made Poirot a comedic figure, something that was controversial for even Christie's family as her daughter Rosalind Hicks is said to have watched the actor in rehearsal and claimed the actor's iteration was "not Poirot" and told the actor "he isn't at all like that" to which Ustinov responded that he "is now".

However, for some Ustinov became the pinnacle of the role with Knives Out director Rian Johnson even saying the actor is his favourite to play Poirot because he "got the essential clownishness of the character" — others may not agree.

Ian Holm (1 appearance in 1986)

MURDER BY THE BOOK, Ian Holm, 1986, © A&E / Courtesy: Everett Collection
Ian Holm in Murder by the Book (A&E)

Before ITV made their iconic series Agatha Christie's Poirot, the channel released a drama titled Murder by the Book which starred Ian Holm as an imaginary version of the detective who met with Christie.

Holm may now be most well-known for his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, but he gave a memorable appearance as Poirot back in 1986.

The actor's portrayal of the character is intense as he tries to reckon with the author plotting his own murder (on paper), and why she feels the need to do so. Given his take on the character wasn't part of a proper adaptation of a Poirot novel it isn't one that many think of, but the performance speaks for itself.

Alfred Molina (1 appearance in 2001)

LONDON - APRIL 22: Alfred Molina stars as the dapper Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, in AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, a new television movie to be broadcast as the
Alfred Molina in Murder on the Orient Express (Getty Images)

One actor that fans might not realise has played Poirot before is Alfred Molina, who portrayed the character in a TV movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.

Read more: 'See How They Run' director says he was careful to avoid spoiling 'The Mousetrap'

The 2001 take on the story has all the makings of a made-for-TV film, in that it is okay but doesn't actually have much that makes it memorable for viewers.

David Suchet (70 appearances from 1989 to 2013)

David Suchet in Agatha Christie's Poirot (Carnival film and television)

When someone asks you to picture Poirot there really is only one actor who comes to mind, and that is David Suchet. He played the character 70 times between 1989 and 2013 for Agatha Christie's Poirot.

The ITV drama is the only onscreen adaptation to bring the entire Poirot bibliography to the small screen, and the show was a starting point for many actors who have since become household names like Damian Lewis and Michael Fassbender.

There is a reason that Suchet is widely considered the best actor to have played Poirot, the actor did meticulous research into the character and how Christie wrote him, expertly crafting his accent, his walk, and his mannerisms to truly bring the little Belgian to life.

He also injected humour into the role without making Poirot a caricature, and lended an empathy to him that made the detective more personable for those around him and for viewers at home. Suchet's skills as an actor is why he was able to portray the character for so long, and his performance will no doubt have as lasting a legacy as Christie's original work.

John Malkovich (1 appearance in 2018)

Prod DB © BBC - Agatha Christie Productions - Mammoth Screen / DR THE ABC MURDERS mini serie TV de Sarah Phelps et Alex Gabassi 2018 GB John Malkovich. Hercule Poirot; 1930's d'apres le roman de Agatha Christie based on the novel by Agatha Christie
John Malkovich in The ABC Murders (BBC)

The BBC adapted The ABC Murders as a drama in 2018, with American actor John Malkovich playing the Belgian detective for the small screen.

One thing that is noticeable from the get go is Malkovich's accent, which the actor announced he wouldn't be using before he even portrayed the character.

At the time he told Radio Times: "Poirot has lived in England for 20 years and has made a very long and laborious effort not to seem too much like a foreigner and to speak English like an Englishman."

Not only is the accent wrong but he also has a goatee, not a moustache, which is already two strikes against him. Even so, Malkovich was able to channel Poirot's intellectual nature at the very least.

Kenneth Branagh (3 appearances from 2017 to 2023)

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios' A Haunting In Venice (20th Century Studios)
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting In Venice (20th Century Studios)

The latest actor to play Poirot is, of course, Kenneth Branagh who has directed and starred in three adaptations of Christie's books so far: 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, 2021's Death on the Nile, and 2023's A Haunting in Venice.

Branagh has injected a bit of Hollywood glamour into Christie's Poirot, focusing on bringing the spectacle onscreen through stunning locations and a star-studded cast for each movie. He even has a gloriously ridiculous moustache.

The actor has been keen to bring his own unique take on the character, delving into his personal life more than any other adaptation has before, and also trying to examine the mental toll being a detective has had. But, even so, the actor doesn't quite capture the same magic of Christie's character like others have.

Watch the trailer for A Haunting in Venice: