Cillian Murphy Best Movies

IF CILLIAN MURPHY isn’t already on top of the world, he can’t be far from it. Over the last month, the Irishman has taken home hardware from the BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and the SAG Awards as recompense for his role in Oppenheimer. Now he’s the odds-on favourite to win the Oscar for Best Actor. Irrespective of whether or not Murphy wins the Oscar, his recent exploits have guaranteed his trophy case will need an expansion.

Murphy isn’t some young, rising actor who’s flown under the radar for years before catching his big break in Oppenheimer. As a quick glance at his filmography will tell you, Murphy has been plying his trade for years, establishing himself as one of the most respected actors in the industry—which makes it all the more shocking that this is his first ever Oscar nomination.

More on Murphy’s illustrious filmography though, as we prefer not to dwell on past snubs. Over the years, Murphy has fronted everything from box-office blockbusters to little-known indie classics, earning near-universal praise for his performances along the way. Capable as a lead or supporting actor, he’s played heroes, villains and a handful of complicated characters that exist in the grey area between. With a reputation for particular adeptness in portraying cerebral men with complex philosophies and dubious morals, Murphy has more than earned his more recent recognition.

At the risk of celebrating prematurely, we’re taking a look at Cillian Murphy’s best works less than two weeks out from his presumptive Oscars victory. Although, we take no accountability if a sudden shift in voting attitudes derails Murphy’s awards campaign—but that possibility is looking less likely by the day.

What are Cillian Murphy’s best movies and TV shows?

10. In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

Where to watch: Stan

Inspired by the events that inspired a book, In the Heart of the Sea tells the story that gave Herman Melville the idea for Moby Dick. The film follows the ill-fated voyage of the whaling ship Essex as it encounters a monstrous sperm whale, leaving the crew stranded at sea for months. Murphy portrays Matthew Joy, a seasoned sailor and the second mate of the Essex.

Murphy may only be the supporting actor to Chris Hemsworth’s lead, but he steals the show in his time on screen, imbuing considerable emotional depth and subtlety to a character he could’ve played as the archetypal steadfast sailor with few complaints.

9. Breakfast on Pluto

Breakfast on Pluto

Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon Prime

One of the more underrated—dare we say unknown—of Murphy’s films is Breakfast on Pluto, which landed the actor his first Golden Globes nomination back in 2006, when he was still a relative newcomer. Set in the 1970s across various locations in the British Isles, Breakfast on Pluto follows the tumultuous life of Patrick “Kitten” Braden, portrayed in good taste by Murphy. Born a boy in a small Irish town, Kitten’s sense of self is at odds with societal norms and those around her, leading her to embark on a journey of self-discovery as she comes to embrace her true identity as a transgender woman. Murphy’s nuanced take on the character could have gone horribly wrong, but he stuck the landing.

8. Sunshine


Where to watch: Disney+

Set in the not-so-distant future, Sunshine follows the crew of the spacecraft Icarus II on a perilous mission to reignite the dying sun and save humanity from an impending ice age. As the crew ventures further into the abyss of space, they confront both the vastness of the cosmos and the fragility of their own existence.

At the heart of the story is Cillian Murphy, who plays an introspective, troubled physicist—that’s right, Oppenheimer wasn’t his first. Murphy’s performance is layered with quiet intensity and as far as sci-fi B-movies go, Sunshine is about as well-received as they come, no doubt thanks to Murphy’s work.

7. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Where to watch: ABC iview

Set against the backdrop of the Irish war of independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War, The Wind That Shakes the Barley follows the journey of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O’Donovan. Murphy plays the former, a young doctor who initially plans to leave Ireland to pursue a career in London but is drawn into the fight for his nation’s freedom. As the conflict intensifies, the brothers find themselves on opposite sides, torn between loyalty to their cause and their familial bond.

Murphy’s efforts landed him a nomination for the BAFTA’s Rising Star award. Sure, Murphy was already 30 at the time (by comparison, last year’s winner was only 25), but his nomination proves that in the eyes of the industry, Murphy was still an unknown quantity, if not a late bloomer.

6. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Where to watch: Stan, Binge

The first of a few Christopher Nolan films to appear on this list—the Nolan-Murphy combination being one of the best duos of 21st century film—Batman Begins is credited with reviving the Batman franchise and setting a new standard for character-driven narratives in the superhero genre.

Murphy plays the villain, the cunning and sadistic psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane, better known as Scarecrow. At the time, the villains in superhero movies were essentially caricatures of human beings, with over-the-top evil personalities that were funnier than they were intimidating. Murphy’s performance transcended the traditional boundaries that hemmed in portrayals of comic book villains, paving the way for the villain in the film’s sequel, Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker.

5. Dunkirk


Where to watch: Binge

In Christopher Nolan’s epic war drama Dunkirk, Cillian Murphy delivers a performance that underscores his versatility and depth as an actor as well as his power to control every scene he’s in. Set during World War II, Dunkirk recounts the harrowing evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of North-Western France in 1940. Murphy doesn’t have the biggest role—in fact, his character isn’t even named and is known simply as the “Shivering Soldier”—but in his brief moments on screen, he conveys a whirlwind of emotions that perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of all involved in those fateful days.  

4. Inception


Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+

In Inception, Murphy steps into the shoes of Robert Fischer Jr., a pivotal character whose emotional journey serves as the linchpin of the film’s narrative. As the heir to a vast empire, Fischer grapples with the weight of his father’s expectations and the spectre of unresolved grief. Amidst the surrealist landscape of dreams within dreams within dreams and a high-stakes heist, Murphy infuses Fischer with emotional depth that resonates long after the credits roll.

3. 28 Days Later

Cillian Murphy Best Movies
28 Days Later

Where to watch: Nowhere right now, unless you have it on Blu-Ray

28 Days Later is what Murphy would likely call his “big break”. Released in 2002, the post-apocalyptic thriller stars Murphy as a bicycle courier who awakens from a coma to find himself in a desolate, plague-ridden, zombie-filled London. It’s still considered one of the best zombie films ever made, and Murphy’s breakthrough performance is a big reason why.

2. Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy Best Movies
Peaky Blinders

Where to watch: Netflix

Peaky Blinders is really what elevated Murphy from his status as a capable actor beloved in his home nation of Ireland to a world-renowned talent whose every film is awaited with eager anticipation. Set against the backdrop of post-World War I England, Peaky Blinders follows the less-than-legal exploits of the eponymous gang. At the helm of the Shelby empire is Thomas Shelby, played by Murphy. Every one of Murphy’s steely gazes and whispered threats carry a palpable sense of menace and magnetism, courtesy of a Murphy masterclass. This is the point where people started realising that Murphy was legit, and that he could be an Oscar winner someday.

1. Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy Best Movies

Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+

Come on, what else was going to top this list? Oppenheimer broke the box office last year and will almost certainly win the Oscar for Best Picture. The films owes a great debt of gratitude to Murphy, for it is his proficiency in playing the brilliant yet morally complex physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer that made it click with audiences and critics alike.

Murphy deftly tackles the complicated, multifaceted figure, spotlighting his professional struggles in creating the atomic bomb and later coping with the consequences, as well as his personal troubles. It is because of Murphy that an entire generation knows the story of Oppenheimer. His performance will long be remembered, and barring a supreme jinxing on our part, it will be rewarded with a Best Actor win come March 11th.


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