In the 1930s, Rathbone became famous for his villains in many swashbucklers, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Mark of Zorro (1940), Captain Blood, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Anna Karenina, and The Last Days of Pompeii.
Rathbone was admired for his athletic cinema swordsmanship, particularly as Sir Guy of Guisborne in the long fight scene in Robin Hood. Other noteworthy swordfights appear in The Mark of Zorro and The Court Jester (1955). The later duplicates a scene in the former in which Rathbone slices a candle in two and leaves it burning.
He earned an Oscar nomination for his role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet in 1936. It was in 1939 that he first starred as Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Unfortunately, the many sequels typecast Rathbone, and he was unable to break out of the stereotype, except in certain spoofs of his earlier swasbhuckling villains in such movies as Casanova's Big Night and The Court Jester. He continued to appear in several anthology series on television in the 1950s and 1960s.
He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star for movies is at 6549 Hollywood Blvd., and his star for television is at 6925 Hollywood Blvd.