Cillian Murphy is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood right now, a star of both the big screen and the small screen. Whether he’s playing the leader of the Shelby family in Peaky Blinders or using mind games to battle against Batman, he brings a high-quality performance to every character he embodies.
Over the last decade, Cillian Murphy has established himself as one of the most sought-after actors, one who has the ability to play all manner of roles. His acting style imbues each character with an intense sense of realism and relatability. Fans may disagree over what his best role is, but IMDb takes the average score, as rated by viewers, to come to a general consensus.
Updated on July 30th, 2021 by Svetlana Sterlin: Cillian Murphy recently appeared in John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II, which was received by fans just as positively as its predecessor. Along with this sci-fi horror, Murphy has starred in a number of diverse projects, from blockbusters like Batman to subtle historical dramas and independent films. These are his best roles across film and television, as rated by viewers.
15 On The Edge (2001) – 7.0
In this Irish dark comedy movie, Cillian Murphy plays Jonathan Breech, a young man struggling with his mental health. The film begins as Jonathan makes a string of reckless decisions, which put him – and others – in danger. When the authorities catch up to him, Jonathan must choose either imprisonment or a stay at a psychiatric facility.
This role stands out from many others Murphy has taken on. The meat of it lays in the character’s unstable mental state, but the comedic elements give it more nuance. Jonathan keeps trying to convince everyone – especially himself – that he’s doing fine and doesn’t really need to stay in the hospital. Murphy’s turn in this film also showcases his broad acting range.
14 Anthropoid (2016) – 7.2
This thriller takes place during World War II when two Czech soldiers attempt to assassinate a Nazi officer. Cillian Murphy plays Josef Gabcík, one of these soldiers. The film is named so after Operation Anthropoid, the real-life assassination of the Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich.
Cillian Murphy was nominated for a Czech Lion Award for Best Actor, which may not be the most prestigious acting award in the industry, but indicates that his portrayal of a Czech character was perceived as authentic by Czech film critics. This film documents an important slice of modern history, but still makes for an engaging viewing experience, thanks largely to the performances.
13 Breakfast On Pluto (2005) – 7.2
Murphy plays Patrick, who was abandoned as a baby and left for a local priest to find outside of the church. Coincidentally, the priest is Patrick’s biological father, but he places Patrick into foster care. As a teen, Patrick identifies himself as transgender. Now known as Kitten, she embarks on a quest to find her mother, working a string of jobs along the way, most of them in the entertainment field.
Today, a cis man playing a transgender woman would not be praised in the same way Murphy’s performance was in 2005, just six years after Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning turn in Boys Don’t Cry. Murphy’s skill can’t be denied, but for this reason alone, it’s not his best role – at least, according to audiences.
12 Cold Mountain (2003) – 7.2
The plot of Cold Mountain is deceptively simple, but the film’s execution, its nuanced characters, and the actors’ performances make this a memorable film. Cillian Murphy’s role in the film is minor, especially when compared with the story’s epic, sweeping scale.
In the extensive ensemble cast, Murphy portrays Bardolph, a scruffy soldier who appears only briefly in the film. The film is rated highly because of its simple concept: in 1861, a Confederate soldier vows to return to Cold Mountain, his home, and the woman he loves who awaits him there. Along his journey, the soldier’s experiences touch viewers as the horrors of war are made painfully clear.
11 Sunshine (2007) – 7.2
Sunshine is Cillian Murphy’s second collaboration with 28 Days Later director Danny Boyle. Here, Murphy plays Robert Capas, one of several physicists on a mission to revive a dying star in the year 2057.
Cillian Murphy was nominated for two acting awards – a British Independent Film Award and an Irish Film & Television Award – but otherwise, the indie film didn’t receive too much attention from critics after a poor commercial performance in theatres. Nevertheless, those who did see the film appreciated its beauty and its contribution to the sci-fi genre.
10 Broken (2012) – 7.
This coming-of-age drama follows a young girl’s involvement in and observation of several violent attacks in a British housing estate. Murphy plays her favorite teacher at school, Mike, who is falsely accused of impregnating one of her neighbor’s daughters.
Though the film features a lot of physical conflicts, internal conflicts are more important. Murphy’s character faces a lot of external turmoil, but the performance requires a lot of complexity. He finds his personal and professional relationships overlapping, his life going off the rails, and his reputation ruined, and Murphy gives a dedicated performance.ADVERTISEMENT
9 A Quiet Place Part II (2020) – 7.4
Cillian Murphy joins the cast of John Krasinski’s successful sequel to his sci-fi film, A Quiet Place as a hardened recluse. His character Emmett was a friend of Lee’s. Without Lee, the Abbott family continues their journey through the outside world, learning to fight off the aliens who hunt by sound.
This is a very meaty role for Murphy, and the character is one who may resonate with many viewers in today’s climate. He represents a certain demographic of people who may choose to sit back or fend for themselves because of their cynicism and past experiences. The film itself is exciting, suspenseful, and surprisingly relevant to the timeframe of release.
8 The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) – 7.5
This movie is set against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence where two brothers, one of whom is played by Cillian Murphy, must fight a guerrilla war against the British forces. It’s a gripping story from start to finish, and one that is full of twists and turns that keep the audience engaged all the way.
The film was widely praised and won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Commercially, the film set the then-record for the highest-grossing Irish independent film. Murphy’s role in this film is an emotionally demanding one, and close to his own Irish heritage, so it makes sense that this is one of his best movies.
7 28 Days Later (2002) – 7.6
28 Days Later is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has wiped out the majority of the UK’s population. Only a small group of people manage to survive, one of whom is played by Murphy in a tense, emotional act.
This film is about survival and making hard decisions. Murphy’s lead role as Jim is arguably the breakout performance of his career. The film did well at the box office, earning $82.7 million against a budget of $8 million. Since its release, the film has remained popular.
6 Dunkirk (2017) – 7.
Christopher Nolan often casts actors he’s worked with before, including Cillian Murphy. He plays a relatively small role in Dunkirk, which is based on a series of events from one of the most famous battles of World War II. The film follows several different characters’ stories, which come together in the film’s third act.
Cillian Murphy plays a soldier who is shell-shocked and rescued on a civilian ship. Realizing they’re headed back to Dunkirk, he demands they turn back, ending up in a scuffle with the young man who helps rescue him. Murphy’s character has to deal with severe post-traumatic stress, and his performance is convincing and captivating.
5Batman Begins (2005) – 8.2
Batman Begins is another collaboration between Cillian Murphy and director Christopher Nolan. Murphy plays the role of Scarecrow, one of Batman’s biggest enemies – and his performance is mesmerizing.
Murphy’s character is a corrupt psychologist who smuggles drugs into Gotham City. This twisted man can’t have been easy to embody, but the believable performance makes the movie that much more enjoyable for fans.
4 The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – 8.4
Cillian Murphy has a role in all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, as he once again pops up in the final installment, The Dark Knight Rises. This is the movie that wraps up this story, and Murphy appears when Gotham City is at its absolute worst.
He returns and works as a judge presiding over the lives of Gotham’s citizens. He decides whether people are guilty or not, with some being forced to walk out to their possible ɗᥱαꚍɧs. This minor, subtle appearance doesn’t see the Scarecrow persona come out to play, but it’s another great performance from the actor nonetheless.
3 Inception (2010) – 8.8
Another Christopher Nolan project that Cillian Murphy is involved in is Inception, which is often praised as being one of Nolan’s greatest movies. The film features an ensemble cast of well-known actors who play a group of people who are able to create dream sequences and trap others inside them.
This mind-bending film has a unique and unexpected cliffhanger ending, one that leaves audiences guessing as to how the story actually concludes. Murphy’s performance complements the other actors’ without taking away from anyone else’s spotlight, and this is what helps each character stand on their own in the audience’s memory.
2 Peaky Blinders (2013-) – 8.8
While Cillian Murphy has been more involved in film than television, there’s no doubt that he is now best known for his role as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders. The popular BBC show follows the exploits of the Shelby family gang in 1920s Birmingham.
Though the series features many characters, it always returns to Thomas’s struggles, particularly with his own identity. While he builds his own empire in the wake of WWI, he faces a lot of inner turmoil, both from his time as a soldier and as a result of the heinous crimes he and the Peaky Blinders have committed under his direction. No matter what else is going on, the show is a deep character study and gives Murphy a lot more time to shine and showcase his incredible range as an actor
1 The Dark Knight (2008) – 9.0
Cillian Murphy has a more significant role in this movie than he does in The Dark Knight Rises. While he isn’t as important here as in Batman Begins, his character develops between these two films, which makes the role slightly different here.
In The Dark Knight, the Scarecrow is the leader of his own gang that distributes drugs to the mobs. This gives Murphy the chance to play, essentially, a maniac. Though he’s not a good person, the character is very watchable, and viewers might almost wish he had more screen time in The Dark Knight Rises.