As Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Benedict Cumberbatch has become a huge movie star. While he was previously best known for his stellar performance as legendary detective Sherlock Holmes on the BBC/PBS hit Sherlock, which has been playing since 2010, his resume beyond those two roles is mighty impressive.
So if you know Benedict Cumberbatch from those two roles, but are unfamiliar with some of his other wonderful work, we’ve put together a nice little list of where to see him in other excellent performances, including a couple of very well-known franchises you might not have known he was a part of.
The Imitation Game (Alan Turing)
The Imitation Game, released in 2014, is the wonderful and tragic true story of a World War II code-breaker named Alan Turing, who was the leader of the team that cracked the German Enigma code. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, who, in addition to being a genius codebreaker and inventor of an early prototype computer, was also gay.
Being gay in the 1950s in England was illegal, and Alan Turing was arrested and convicted of “gross indecency.” His punishment was, in lieu of prison, chemical castration. Within two years of the sentence, he would be dead by cyanide poisoning that was ruled a suicide, though this has been disputed by his family and some historians, as has the historical accuracy of the film.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the brilliant and troubled Alan Turing is phenomenal, and he was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for it. The film and Cumberbatch’s performance brought a bright spotlight on Turing and all the other men convicted of similar crimes in the same era, and eventually inspired a new law granting amnesty to all those convicted of violating those barbaric laws at the time.
Black Mass (William “Billy” Bulger)
Showing his true versatility, in 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch starred as Billy Bulger, the long-time President of the Massachusetts State Senate and brother of the notorious Boston mobster, James “Whitey” Bulger, who is played terrifyingly by Johnny Depp in the film.
Playing a very famous person can always be dicey for an actor, but it’s something that Benedict Cumberbatch does well. His turn as a politician from South Boston with a distinctive Boston accent can be even trickier. Just look at all the bad Boston accents in movies over the years. Cumberbatch pulls off the role with aplomb and displays a fantastic ability to become the character. The acting doesn’t get bogged down by the accent, it is simply a part of the role, allowing Cumberbatch to be completely natural in his performance.
Star Trek Into Darkness (Khan)
The villain with the British accent has become a bit of an overused trope in Hollywood recently, but with Benedict Cumberbatch, he proves in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness why it works so well. Or maybe it’s just that his acting chops were perfect for the most notorious villain in the Star Trek universe, Khan.
This version of Khan is a genetically engineered human hiding behind the alias “John Harrison,” a Starfleet member who becomes a terrorist that is eventually caught by Captain Kirk on the Enterprise and becomes Kirk’s prisoner. These scenes, after he reveals his true identity in the brig of the Enterprise, are when Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance soars. His character’s intelligence and his manipulation of the Enterprise’s crew with an underlining evilness is the highlight of the movie.
The Fifth Estate (Julian Assange)
This is yet another example of Benedict Cumberbatch’s uncanny ability to play real people, as he does in The Fifth Estate, playing the journalist-turned-cyber-outlaw Julian Assange. Like so often as other historical figures, he transforms into Assange — and despite the unevenness of the film, there is nothing uneven about his performance.
Amazingly, it was released in 2013, the same year as three other movies on this list. It was an incredible year for Benedict Cumberbatch and this underrated role was overshadowed by the others — in Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, and 12 Years A Slave — but for fans of the actor, it is a must-see performance.
12 Years A Slave (William Ford)
Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t play a leading role in the nightmarishly difficult to watch 12 Years A Slave, instead having a supporting part as plantation owner William Ford (yet another real historical person). Ford was not a brutal slave-owner, though he was the owner of Solomon Northrup, played by the amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film. Ford’s compassion comes through in Cumberbatch’s performance as he tries to be as benevolent as possible for a slave owner of the day.
Benedict Cumberbatch walks a fine line between good and bad in the film brilliantly. On one hand, he is a slave owner and has little remorse for it, on the other, Ford was clearly more compassionate than most others of the day. Threading that needle in the performance is easily one of the best things Cumberbatch has done in his career.
Brexit: The Uncivil War (Dominic Cummings)
For those of us who live in the U.S., Brexit can be a little confusing. That’s where Brexit: The Uncivil War can help immensely. Benedict Cumberbatch plays yet another real person, political strategist Dominic Cummings, who led the “Vote Leave” campaign. Think of him as the Karl Rove of the United Kingdom. In Cuberbatch’s true chameleon-like ability to become another person, he completely transforms in Cummings, totally changing his look and his mannerisms.
This, like so many of Benedict Cumberbatch’s roles, is not a case of an actor playing someone else, but doing little more than simply being their usual self and calling it someone else. Cumberbatch IS Cummings. Cummings is actually a lot like an Alan Turing-lite. A self-centered man whose disdain for social norms overshadows his intellectual genius. Cumberbatch was the perfect actor for the job.
The Hobbit (Smaug and Necromancer)
It would be easy to not recognize Benedict Cumberbatch’s roles in The Hobbit film series, as his acting is all motion-capture, but his voice is unmistakable. His performance — both as villains in the series — is, of course, excellent. It also marks his inclusion in a third massive franchise (along with Star Trek and the MCU) and makes one wonder how he never ended up in a Harry Potter movie. He is British, after all.
Benedict Cumberbatch has become one of the premiere actors of his generation. He’s not afraid to play difficult roles that challenge his craft and the audiences that have the pleasure of watching an actor at the top of his game. He may be best known for Dr. Stephen Strange and Sherlock Holmes but there are many, many more performances worth checking out and more to come, with the new Sam Mendes-directed 1917 due out later this year and the long-awaited release of The Current War, also due later this year.