“He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”
So goes Agatha Christie’s description Hercule Poirot, arguably one of her most popular and beloved characters (even though the author herself famously grew to loath him). The first handful of stage and screen adaptations of Poirot were created contemporaneously to the years the books were set in, so they’re not technically “frock flicks,” but there is always something eternally ageless and at the same time, antiquated, about Poirot. Even to people in the 1920s and 1930s, he seemed to stand out like a relic of another time.
Perhaps this is also what makes Poirot so ripe for parody, because there have been quite a few humorous reworkings over the decades, in addition to more serious and faithful adaptations.
So, today let’s take a look at the various iterations of Hercule Poirot on film and television!
Austin Trevor played the earliest on-screen Poirot in Lord Edgeware Dies (1934). He’s lacking Poirot’s trademark moustache and is far more Hollywood handsome in this iteration.
Francis L. Sullivan
Sullivan’s portrayal of the gentleman detective in the 1937 teleplay adaptation of Wasp’s Nest was a little more true to Agatha Christie’s description than Trevor’s.
Aside from a German production of Murder on the Orient Express in 1955, there wasn’t another Poirot adaptation until 1962, when Martin Gabel donned the velvet smoking jacket in The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim.
A parody TV show episode of Burke’s Law with Begley playing “Bascule Doirot”, it’s … well … terrible. God, it’s so bad. Just do yourself a favor and forget I mentioned it. Then again, if I didn’t mention it, I know someone reading this would have gotten mad at me for not including it…
An early comedic take on the classic Christie novel, The ABC Murders, which was released in 1965. The role of Poirot was originally supposed to go to Zero Mostel (if you’re making a horrified face right now, I don’t blame you), but was recast with Tony Randall in the lead after objections from Agatha Christie forced a rewrite of the screenplay.
Horst Bollmann played Poirot in the German adaptation of Black Coffee (1973). I haven’t watched it, but it looks like it has good costumes.
You can draw a pretty clear line between Albert Finney’s portrayal of Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and David Suchet’s. Finney’s Poirot was so iconic that he was the only actor who was ever nominated for an Academy Award for the role of the little Belgian detective.
James Coco plays Poirot in Murder by Death (1976), which lampoons the “locked room” mystery trope years before Clue (1985). It’s replete with all the usual 20th-century cinematic faux pas that don’t hold up, like thinly veiled homophobia and Peter Sellers in yellowface.
Another parody version of Poirot, this time played by Dudley Jones in The Strange Case of Civilization as We Know It (1977).
Before David Suchet, there was Peter Ustinov. He portrayed Poirot in six film adaptations of various Agatha Christie novels: Death on the Nile (1978) (seen above), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man’s Folly (1986), Murder in Three Acts (1986), and Appointment with Death (1988). For many of a certain generation, he remains the “definitive” Poirot.
Ian Holm plays Poirot in Murder by the Book (1986), who comes back to haunt Agatha Christie (played by Peggy Ashcroft) after he is killed off by the author some 35 years earlier. An interesting idea and imaginative take on the typical Christie murder mystery.
I don’t know about you, but for ME, David Suchet is THE Poirot. Given the popularity and longevity of Poirot (1989-2013), there’s almost no contest. Plus the sets and the costumes are just *chef’s kiss* perfect.
Why, no, we aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to include a Muppet film. Jason Alexander’s take on the Belgian detective in an episode of Muppets Tonight: Murder on the Disoriented Express (1996), has a straight mustache but curly everything else.
Hugh Laurie turns up as Poirot in the iconic cultural masterpiece, Spice World (1997).
I figured I had to include this one because, well, you guys would be mad if I didn’t. It’s yet another adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2001), but it’s set in the modern day. Alfred Molina plays Poirot, and I’ve heard people say he’s not terrible … But I think I’ll pass.
A Japanese adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, starring Mansai Nomura as world famous detective Suguro Takeru. It came out in 2015.
I have mixed feelings about the facial hair decisions being made here, but Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2017) was enough of a hit that he’s reprising Poirot in 2022’s Death on the Nile.
I will preface this by saying that I have not yet watched John Malkovich’s Poirot in The ABC Murders (2018), so I am reserving judgment on his portrayal. That said, the stills I’ve seen of the costumes from this show look amazing.
Who is your favorite Poirot? Tell us in the comments!
Suchet, hands down. Not to mention longevity. He played Poirot for about 25 years.
David Suchet hands down
Christie’s grandson once said Suchet was the only Poirot who really got it right.
Suchet all the way! Thanks for the list. Branagh’s intrepretation is too “super hero” for my taste.
David Suchet is the iconic Poirot.
Well now I need to rewatch Spice World, because I have no memory of Hugh Laurie as Poirot in that movie.
Suchet and Finney all the way. Ustinov was my first Poirot, but I have great affection for him.
Suchet. There’s nothing else to say.
Suchet for the win, and forever. And not just Suchet himself – every character is dressed to period perfection, and the interiors! His Death on the Nile is one of my comfort shows.
I love the Ustinov “Death on the Nile” and “Evil Under the Sun”. (The other Ustinov films aren’t as good) They are two of my fave movies in any genre. They have great casts, clever scripts and the costumes are the best!
The Finney “Murder on the Orient Express” is hard to beat in those categories too.
I don’t like Branagh’s very much. I dunno… he annoys me in just about all his films. Finney’s is hard to beat.
The Suchet TV episodes are so good too.
David Suchet, for me, is the iconic Hercule Poirot, as much as Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
Seconded! I grew up watching these (thanks, Mystery!) and when I read the books in my mind’s ear it’s David Suchet.
I have literally never agreed with anyone more.
I’ve never seen the other Poirot films, but I loved the costumes in Murder on the Orient Express.
I could not get into the newest adaptation of The ABC Murders, even with Malkovich. I tapped out after 2 episodes. Suchet will always be Poirot for me.
Same here. I love John Malkovich….but it didn’t “work” for me.
The ABC Murders with Malkovich was good, but it wasn’t Poirot. Suchet is the definitive Poirot.
Gotta be Suchet. But I also liked Ustinov in his Orient Express, and appreciated the Branagh one as well. But Suchet is un-toppable.
Finally, an article on the internet that is well written & erudite! Thank you for that! David Suchet is the penultimate Poirot. Second choices are Ustinov & Finney in my book.
I have read all the Poirot’s novels. David Suchet is the Poirot! No one else comes any closer
Another delegate heard from for Suchet! Superb costumes and hairdos (chiefly Miss Lemon’s less than flattering 1930s kiss-curls), as well as distractingly wonderful interiors!
Suchet. Absolutely. Although Peter Ustinov was my first love; from a small child I loved his ability to do accents. I found the Albert Finney interpretation a little difficult because he looked like he had a crick in his neck. Always though, I watch Agatha Christie adaptations because of the great care so often taken with costumes and sets.
Only way – David Suchet! (Forgive me.)
David Suchet is the ONLY Poirot!
David Suchet plays Poirot to perfection
Suchet was a great Poirot.
Ustinov played a more loose version of Poirot.
It’s exciting to compare all of them.
While Suchet looks the part, I’ve never much cared for his portrayal. Ustinov and Finney are my favorites
David Suchet is THE Poirot, forever. I have read all the novels like 100 times and his characterization is perfect, not to mention the series is highly enjoyable. The tone & atmosphere are so right, the sets and costumes are beautiful, the music is memorable, and all the actors deliver great performances. There is a touch of humour, but never a parody.
I did enjoy other adaptations like The Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), but not the detective’s character. Say, Albert Finney’s portrayal is just wrong. Poirot never yells at people or has hysterical fits. He is very calm and gentle and treats every kitchen maid like a fine lady, with care and respect. I must mention that poor actors often have to carry the blame, while it is actually a film director who is responsible for characterization.
Poirot can be excitable, and he’s sometimes short with Hastings but you’re right, he not a shouter or a bully and he invariably polite to women, even ones he disapproves of or suspects and invariably gentle and supportive of real distress.
Still Ustinov for me. Just couldn’t really latch onto Suchet. I think a lot of it has to do with how much I love a lot of Ustinov’s other work. Branagh’s version was a little too theatrical for me.
Possibly Albert Finney. None of them quite get the Poirot that I get from the books, and I’m always distracted by the bald ones because of [spoiler for a book where Poirot’s having a full head of hair is an important plot point].
David Suchet will always be Poirot to me!