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Cillian Murphy’s Best Performances, Ranked

Talented Irish actor Cillian Murphy was bitten by the performance bug at an early age. Murphy’s maiden voyage into the performing arts was in secondary school where he partook in a drama course facilitated by Corcadorca Theater Company director Pat Kiernan. The thrill of performing excited Murphy, who subsequently began pursuing a music career. After a few attempts at starting a band, Murphy and his brother Paidi found success with The Sons of Mr. Green Genes, in which Murphy sang and played guitar. Murphy and his brother were offered a five-album record deal which they turned down, as they did not think the sum was high enough to justify signing over the writes to their creations.

In 1996, Murphy changed paths and began studying law at University College Cork, realizing right away his heart wasn’t in it. After watching a stage production of A Clockwork Orange, Murphy began to focus his attention on acting. He starred in several theater productions as well as some independent and short films for the next few years until he got his big break playing Jim in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. While we wait for the versatile’s actor future projects to come, here’s a look back at Cillian Murphy’s best performances.

Updated May 2023: To keep the article fresh and relevant by adding more information and entries, this article has been updated by Amira Abdel-Fadil.



11 Sunshine (2007)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

In Sunshine, Cillian Murphy reunites with director Danny Boyle, for this futuristic sci-fi film about a group of international astronauts on a mission to save a dying star. It is set in the year 2057 when the sun is dying, and the earth is subsequently freezing. En route to the sun, however, the astronauts unexpectedly stray off course. Boyle cites his influences for Sunshine as previous sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, and Alien. The underrated film was met with generally positive reviews, however, was not considered a box office success.

10 A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

Paramount Pictures

A Quiet Place Part II features Cillian Murphy as Emmett, a family friend of the Abbotts before the monsters invaded Earth. Emmett, who is grieving the loss of his own family, has taken cover in an abandoned warehouse. Following the events of the first film, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her two children face the horrors of the outside world as they move on from their family home. On their journey, they stumble upon Emmett and plead for his help. Murphy practically broke the internet when fans caught a glimpse of him in the trailer for A Quiet Place Part II.

9 The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

Element Pictures

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a war movie centered on the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy plays Damien O’Donovan, a medical student about to leave for a job at a reputable London Hospital. His plans change when he witnesses atrocities committed by the Black and Tans. He instead joins the local IRA faction with his brother Teddy. Once a peace treaty is reached with British forces, however, the brothers are divided in mind and end up fighting opposite one another. The Wind That Shakes The Barley was a critical success and is regarded by some as Murphy’s best performance.

Related: Oppenheimer: Why Cillian Murphy Is a Pitch-Perfect Choice for the Lead Role

8 28 Days Later (2002)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

In 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy stars as Jim, a bicycle courier who wakes from a coma to a desolate Britain after a human-made “rage virus” has swept through the country. Jim stumbles upon the infected in a church, which is also where he meets Selena, who brings him up to speed on what he missed while he was comatose. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later revitalized the zombie genre with its fresh take on the infected. Murphy has stated he would return for a third installment of the 28 Days Later franchise.

7 Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Harrowing World War II epic Dunkirk chronicles the historic rescue mission of 330 000 allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. Cillian Murphy reunites with director Christopher Nolan once more in the jaw-dropping film. While billed only as a “Shivering Soldier,” Murphy gives an excellent performance portraying a soldier with PTSD rescued from the wreckage by British civilians.

6 Batman Begins (2005)

Scarecrow - Batman Begins 2005
Warner Bros. Pictures

In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we see the compelling origin story of The Dark Knight. Cillian Murphy stars as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow. Crane is a shady psychopharmacologist working at Arkham Asylum, who secretly creates a fear-inducing toxin, which he plans to unleash on the city of Gotham. Murphy had originally auditioned for the role of Batman, but ultimately the role went to Christian Bale.

5 Inception (2010)

inception cillian
Warner Bros. Pictures

Inception reunites Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy in this dream-within-a-dream science fiction film. The film co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a thief who has the rare ability to infiltrate people’s dreams and spy on their subconscious thoughts. Cobb is offered a chance at having his criminal record expunged, but first, he must plant an idea into Robert Fischer’s (Murphy) subconscious. Cobb accepts the mission, however, someone anticipates his every move.

4 Peaky Blinders (2013-2022)

peaky-blinders cillian

Peaky Blinders is a British crime drama set in Birmingham, England, that chronicles the misadventures of the Peaky Blinders gang in the aftermath of World War I. In Cillian Murphy’s best performance, he plays Thomas Shelby, the ruthless leader of the Birmingham gang.

Peaky Blinders keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end, and Murphy gives the performance of a lifetime. It is loosely based on a real gang of the same name who was active in Birmingham from the late 1890s to the 1910s. In January 2021, show creator Steven Knight confirmed that season six will be the final season of the series, however, it will not be the end but rather will be wrapped up with a film.

3 Anthropoid (2016)

The Movie Anthropoid
Icon Film Distribution

Anthropoid is based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid. It tells the real accounts of the World War II mission where two Czech soldiers played by Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, parachute into their Nazi-occupied homeland to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the man behind the Final Solution, a plan for the genocide of Jews in Europe.

Related: Cillian Murphy’s Best Moments as Scarecrow

It depicts the incredible tale of heroism, bravery, and resilience it took to fight the Nazis, an operation that would forever change Europe. Anthropoid educates through its haunting tale of resistance, one that needed to be told. Cillian Murphy gives a gripping performance with his masterful control over his facial expression and emotional state and becomes completely convincing as a Czech citizen.

2 In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

In the Heart of the Sea
Warner. Bros Pictures

In the Heart of the Sea is a historical adventure-drama loosely based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s tragic book of the same name that follows a story about the American whaling ship Essex that was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The very same story also inspired Herman’s Melville novel Moby-Dick.

Set in the winter of 1820, the film zooms in on the ship’s crew attempting to survive against all odds when faced with mortality. The crew has to handle storms, starvation, exposure to the open water, mental breakdowns, and grueling choices which shows humans in both their weakest state and their strongest as they fight for their life. Cillian Murphy played Matthew Joy, one of the crew members on the ship where he had to starve himself in order to lose 20 pounds in just six weeks to fit the role of the starving officer which was a grueling experience for the actor.

1 On the Edge (2001)

On the Edge Movie
Universal Pictures, United International Pictures

On the Edge is a drama film that unfortunately did not get a wide release. It explores the behavior of individuals who have attempted suicide. Jonathan Breech (Cillian Murphy) feels unstable and reacts strongly to his alcoholic father’s death by attempting suicide. However, he fails and accepts a three-month sentence of therapy in a psychiatric hospital where he is joined by individuals struggling with their mental health as well. Their union brings forth a change in how they look at life and deal with it.

On the Edge beautifully portrays the struggle of handling one’s pain and demons but does it with realism and the right dose of non-forceful optimism. Cillian Murphy gives his complex character his absolute best in this performance which adds so much to the depth of the story. The honest film is also jeweled by captivating and personal cinematography as well as a deeply moving score that fits every scene perfectly.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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