Cillian Murphy is an Irish actor who first started appearing on-screen in 1997, and his filmography is filled with critically acclaimed TV and movie performances. Although Murphy is often reserved and private about his life, the actor is quite popular after he took on series of impressive roles – ranging from horrible, evil characters to heroic figures. Murphy can shout and be bombastic and then shrink down and produce internal acting moments that see him using just his facial expressions and mannerisms to express an array of emotions.
Since 1997 Murphy has been working steadily, playing parts in movies, television, and even some music videos. He has struck up lasting relationships with some of the most talented directors in Hollywood, including Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan. Murphy’s filmography includes sci-fi, influential horror, mind-bending blockbuster fare, and historical television. Despite the critical acclaim of many of his movies, Murphy only has one major award nomination to his name, a Golden Globe for Best Actor early in his career. However, the movies he appears in tend to rake in awards and even the less acclaimed ones still garner some plaudits.
Perrier’s Bounty (2009)
Perrier’s Bounty is an Irish independent movie by Ian Fitzgibbon, a well-known director of English and Irish black comedy crime dramas. Murphy stars alongside Brendan Gleeson and Jim Broadbent in a wacky and surprisingly violent movie about a young man, Michael McCrea (Murphy), who must pay back a crime boss Darren Perrier (Gleeson) in a set amount of time or have two bones broken. Domhnall Gleeson also appears in Perrier’s Bounty alongside the strong supporting cast, which helps to make the unoriginal story an enjoyable watch. Unlike his Peaky Blinders role, Murphy is almost ashamed to be beating up people and his dour, sad delivery makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
Murphy earned his only Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Patrick/Patricia “Kitten” Braden in Breakfast on Pluto. In the film, Kitten is a transwoman living in Dublin during the 1970s. After experiencing foster care, Kitten goes on a journey of self-discovery as she tries to find her birth parents while also dealing with the Troubles in Northern Ireland (a tumultuous era, which takes place in the background). It is certainly an emotional movie as Murphy fills Kitten with a lot of pathos and hope. However, since it’s initial release, Breakfast on Pluto has come under scrutiny for casting a cisgender actor in the lead role.
Adapting the little-known historical story of Reinhard Heydrich, Anthropoid stars Murphy, who is brilliantly cast alongside Jamie Dornan as one of the two lead assassins of “Operation Anthropoid”, Jozef Gabčík. While half the movie is taken up by the planning (which tends to drag some), once the attack begins, the movie becomes far more interesting as there are several mounting conspiracies forming. There’s also a sense of fear and dread present, especially when the small Czech town of Lidice is targeted by the Nazi regime. It’s a movie that is completely thrilling, and Murphy and Dornan are excellently cast as spies planning the most meaningful effort of their lives.
Red Eye (2005)
Wes Craven’s Red Eye is a tight thriller bolstered by Rachel McAdams in one of her best movies and Murphy. Hotel manager Lisa Reisert (McAdams) takes a plane ride with a charming man, Jackson Rippner (Murphy), who turns out to be a leader of a terrorist organization; he forces Lisa to switch the rooms of a US politician to put him in a position to be assassinated. Similar to his role in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Murphy is suitably sinister as he provides a false sense of security before dropping the facade and revealing his terrifying nature. It’s tense and suspenseful, but widely entertaining.
In Sunshine, Boyle’s sci-fi psychological horror stars Murphy as Robert Capa, a quiet scientist type who is more keenly aware of the mission’s danger than anyone else. Murphy isn’t a conventional hero and he plays Capa as if he is constantly debating what is the correct decision. Boyle’s Sunshine offers a surprising amount of detail in the story about Robert, a physicist on the spaceship Icarus II in the year 2057. The crew has been tasked with jump-starting the fading sun, but the operation becomes a terrifying fight when the spaceship runs into the lost Icarus I. Sunshine devolves into a slasher at the end, but the build-up is gripping.
Murphy is a frequent Nolan collaborator and has appeared in five of his movies. His role is that of a spoiled son desperate for his father’s approval is far removed from the usual self-confident characterization Murphy often portrays. Inception follows a group of con artists led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who specialize in planting ideas in others’ minds. For the latest “heist”, Cobb and the rest of the characters in Inception steal into the mind of Robert Fischer (Murphy). Inception was nominated for eight Academy Awards and earned $826 million worldwide (according to Box Office Mojo). Its blockbuster success and his weak characterization make this a unique role for Murphy.
Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)
Nolan’s Batman trilogy with Christian Bale is one of the more critically acclaimed superhero franchises, (according to Rotten Tomatoes). It all began with Batman Begins, where Murphy starred as the villain Scarecrow. Murphy’s Scarecrow uses a fear toxin to psychologically manipulate the citizens of Gotham and when the same concoction is used on him, Murphy gets to play up a terrifying version of Dr. Crane. The constant reappearances of the Scarecrow are welcome comic-book moments in movies defined by their realism. It makes the series feel more true to the source to see how Nolan’s Batman villains continue being a threat even after they’re “defeated”.
A Quiet Place Part 2 (2021)
A Quiet Place Part II is the follow-up to the highly acclaimed A Quiet Place starring and directed by John Krasinski. The second time around starts with Emily Blunt and her children escaping their home and looking for somewhere new to be safe. They encounter a friend from before the creature’s arrival, Emmett (Murphy), and together, they try to find a way to destroy the monsters and survive dangerous groups of humans at the same time. Murphy slides easily into the lead role previously occupied by Krasinski. The movie doesn’t have all the same thrills and unique scares from the first, but Murphy’s reluctant hero is the best part.
Nolan eschews his mind-bending story-telling for a real-life event in Dunkirk. It depicts the British Army evacuation from Dunkirk Beach at the outset of World War II. The epic Dunkirk, directed with all Nolan’s trademarks, covers the events over a single hour, day, and week and interweaves the tense story. Character is secondary to the story in Dunkirk, but Murphy has the notable role of a British officer with PTSD who is found by a passing civilian boat. His ability to portray a man in shock is especially heartbreaking, as it highlights the effects and the trauma these soldiers experienced on the battlefield
28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later was an early role for Murphy and a signal that he was going to be a star actor. It was also his first collaboration with Boyle and the movie’s low budget belies its importance important to the horror genre. 28 Days Later reinvigorated the zombie genre after it fell off in the ’80s and ’90s. Murphy stars as Jim, a man who wakes from a coma to find London completely empty. Jim quickly learns that a “Rage” virus has turned people into bloodthirsty and fast zombies (which was unusual for the time). Murphy’s physicality is put to great use in the harrowing journey.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
Murphy was born in Cork, Ireland and so his role in The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a personal one. The historical fiction movie depicts the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that followed. Damien O’Donovan (Murphy) from County Cork gets involved with the IRA and fights alongside his brother and then against him during the Civil War. The movie doesn’t follow one single individual and instead chooses to examine a time to show how the wars and revolutions of Ireland affected normal people. The movie won the Palme d’Or and Murphy is the major reason why giving a moving and impressive performance.
Peaky Blinders (2013-2022)
Peaky Blinders was picked up by Netflix after first appearing on the BBC. Murphy stars as Thomas “Tommy” Shelby, the leader of the “Peaky Blinders” criminal gang who starts off as a small-time bookmaker in the 1920s Birmingham and ends up with Tommy as Labour MP in England. The series weaves real-life figures and events into Tommy’s and the Shelby’s story. Over six seasons, Murphy completely inhabits Tommy in the greatest and darkest moments of his life, finding a way to make the character completely his own. People on Peaky Blinders call Tommy Shelby “The Devil” and Cillian Murphy’s acting makes the accusation seem more literal than an insult.