As talented as he is hilarious, Bill Murray is one of the most adored actors of all time. He rose to fame on SNL before landing roles in a number of brilliant comedies in the ’80s, and later in his career he established himself as a versatile award-winning actor who appears to get better with age. Although he is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Murray has proven that he is passionate about acting and will frequently appear in independent films. This makes him highly respected, and today we are celebrating his phenomenal career by taking a look at his greatest performances.
10. Scrooged (1988)
There are few people who can make being a sarcastic jerk as hilarious as Bill Murray, which is essentially his role for 90 odd minutes in Richard Donner’s 1988 Christmas comedy, Scrooged. It is a modernization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and there is nobody better in show business to play Scrooge than Murray. In the adaptation, the character of Scrooge is Frank Cross, a very cynical TV programming executive who makes his team work over the holidays and does not hesitate to fire employees. Although very predictable and sugar-coated, it is a fine performance from Murray whose character learns the error of his ways via ghosts (but not from Ghostbusters), and delivers a sentimental and ever so cheesy monologue which makes for fine Christmas viewing. This is a prime example of Murray excelling in the role of comedy villain, a role he is very well suited to.
9. Broken Flowers (2005)
Later on in his career, Murray moved away from his wild comedic roles and instead proved his abilities as a skilled actor. This is evident with 2005’s Broken Flowers, a comedy-drama written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Murray plays the lead role of Don Johnson, a middle-aged businessman who receives an anonymous letter stating that he has a son. He goes on a cross-country journey to track down his former lovers, with each encounter being worse than the last. It is both a funny and moving film, and a subtle and understated performance from Murray works well with the tone of the film. Also, due to Murray’s charm, you can’t help but feel for the character in one of his less comedic but most touching performances to-date. Now a classic performance, this shows how Murray has grown into a skilled, versatile and charming actor over the years.
8. Kingpin (1996)
There was only one person that could play Ernie McCracken in the hilarious 1996 bowling comedy Kingpin, and that was Bill Murray. The film stars Woody Harrelson as Roy Munso, a bowling prodigy who defeats Ernie (an established pro) on the Professional Bowlers Tour. Ernie exacts revenge, which leaves Roy without his bowling hand, ending his promising career. In present day, Munso convinces a promising bowler to enter a $1 million winner-takes-all tournament. Of course, Ernie is also in the tournament and Roy has to end up bowling himself, facing his nemesis in the final. Murray is fantastic as the obnoxious and arrogant bad guy (complete with a shocking haircut), and his performance adds a tremendous amount of comedy, much like many of his roles whether he is the good guy or the bad guy. It may be a silly film, but it was well-received and a brilliant Murray performance.
7. Stripes (1981)
One of his early roles, this is a classic Bill Murray performance and a great example of what makes him one of the world’s most loved comedians. In the 1981 military comedy, Murray plays the role of Private John Winger, who joins the U.S. Army after realizing that his life is a complete failure. However, Winger is lazy, sarcastic and has little respect for authority, and only joined to get in shape and to meet women. Together with his best friend, Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis), they get into all kinds of brilliant shenanigans, making them an excellent comedy duo. The director, Ivan Reitman, first had the idea on the way to the premiere of Meatballs, and originally thought of it being Cheech and Chong in the army. He later decided to switch it to Murray and Ramis, who formed a very successful comedy team.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2005)
Following his unforgettable performance in Rushmore (more on this to come), Murray has appeared in every single Wes Anderson film. There are a few that could appear in this list, but to keep things interesting we will narrow it down to just two. 2005’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (a parody and homage to diving pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau) sees Murray star in the title role as a melancholy oceanographer who is out for revenge on the “jaguar shark” that ate his partner. It is a classic Anderson film and features many of his regulars; however, the film has divided many critics. Despite this, there is no denying that Murray is fantastic as a character that is typically deadpan and very funny, but there is also a fragility about him which evokes sympathy from the audience. One of the many great Anderson and Murray collaborations.
5. Caddyshack (1980)
Without a doubt one of the most quotable comedies of all time, Caddyshack is one of Murray’s earliest and greatest roles. The film has a cult following, and this is helped by the cast of Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Since all three are great comedians, much of the film was improvised and they completely stole the show. The film follows a young and ambitious caddie, Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), who works at an upscale golf club where he encounters all kinds of strange characters. This includes Carl Spackler (Murray), a groundskeeper who is in a constant battle with a gopher that is causing havoc on the golf course. This was initially supposed to be a minor role, but it ended up being one of the key characters and Murray got to showcase his brilliant improvisational skills. The film helped to launch his, and Chase and Dangerfield’s, film career.
4. Groundhog Day (1993)
A classic comedy which spawned a popular phrase and led the entire world to consider what they would do in the same position, Groundhog Day has been added to the United States National Film Registry and is deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” The film follows an arrogant TV meteorologist, Phil Connors (Murray), who is sent with his team to cover the annual Groundhog Day. Upon awakening, Connors finds that he is reliving the day and it plays out exactly as it did before, and only he is aware that he is in a time-loop. This continues, and like we all would, he at first has some fun with it, but then becomes depressed before re-examining his life and helping others. It is a typically sarcastic role for Murray in hilarious circumstances, but we also see the character undertake a huge transformation for a moving, balanced and impressive performance.
3. Rushmore (1998)
The greatest collaboration between Wes Anderson and Bill Murray is without a doubt their first, which saw Murray play the unforgettable role of Herman Blume in 1998’s Rushmore. Not only is this one of Murray’s finest performances, but it is also one of the best films of the ’90s. For Murray, it helped to launch a “second career” where he became a respected actor in independent features, which demonstrated his passion. The plot sees Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) as a mature and eccentric 15-year-old scholarship student who develops a friendship with a rich yet cynical industrialist named Herman Blume (Murray). They both develop feelings for Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), a widowed teacher who arrives at the school. It is a complex and entertaining character with a hint of sadness, masterfully portrayed by Murray who agreed to work for scale because he loved the script so much.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
There is no doubt that Bill Murray is Peter Venkman, and it is likely to be the role that first springs to mind for many fans of the actors. Ghostbusters is what it is because of Murray’s performance as the cynical and sarcastic hero, and although he has played more complex and intriguing characters, it is unquestionably one of his most famous portrayals. The classic first film sees Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) as three parapsychology professors who lose their jobs and launch a paranormal extermination/investigations service named “Ghostbusters,” and they soon add a fourth member in Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Unlike most films from the ’80s, Ghostbusters seems to have lasted the test of time and is still highly enjoyable, largely thanks to the performances and the writing of Aykroyd and Ramis. Murray’s famous dry wit and one-liners are at their best in this role.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
His most highly acclaimed role, Murray would earn a Golden Globe and BAFTA for his stunning performance, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Written and directed by Sophia Coppola, Lost in Translation sees an aging movie star going through a mid-life crisis, Bob Harris (Murray), who arrives in Tokyo to film a whisky advert. In the hotel he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who is unsure of her relationship with her husband. The two become friends and explore Tokyo together, and they develop emotional feelings for each other as Bob is set to return home. Although there are hints of his comedic talents, it is a different role for Murray and it showed the scope of his talents, as he perfectly portrayed the lonely and subdued middle-aged man. This cemented him as much more than just a comedic actor.