Cillian Murphy’s best performances, ranking

Talented Irish actor Cillian Murphy was seized by performance fever early on. Murphy’s maiden voyage into the performing arts was in secondary school, where he took an acting class taught by Corcadorca Theater Company director Pat Kiernan. The thrill of the performance thrilled Murphy, who then pursued a music career. After some attempts at forming 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 recording contract, which they turned down, feeling the sum was not high enough to justify signing the writing rights to their creations.

In 1996, Murphy changed paths and began studying law at University College Cork, realizing immediately that his heart wasn’t in it. After seeing a stage production of A Clockwork Orange, Murphy began to focus his attention on acting. Over the next few years he starred in several theatrical productions as well as several independent and short films until his big break came with the role of Jim in Danny Boyle’s film 28 days later. While we await future projects from the versatile actor, here’s a look back at Cillian Murphy’s best performances.

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


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11 Sunshine (2007)

Fox Searchlight images

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 goes down and the earth freezes. However, on the way to the sun, the astronauts are unexpectedly thrown off course. Boyle cites his influences for sunshine like previous science fiction films 2001: A Space Odyssey, SolarisAnd Extraterrestrial. The underrated film received generally positive reviews but was not considered a box office success.

10 A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

Paramount Pictures

A Quiet Place Part II Starring Cillian Murphy as Emmett, a family friend of the Abbotts before the monsters invaded Earth. Emmett, grieving the loss of his own family, has taken refuge 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 leave home. On their journey, they come across Emmett and ask for his help. Murphy practically brought the internet to a halt when fans caught a glimpse of him in the trailer A Quiet Place Part II.

9 The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

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The wind that shakes the barley is a war film about 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 go to a prestigious London hospital to work. His plans change when he witnesses the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans. Instead, he joins the local IRA faction along with his brother Teddy. However, once a peace treaty is struck with British forces, the brothers are at odds and end up fighting each other. The wind that shakes the barley was a critical success and is considered by some to be Murphy’s finest performance.

Related Topics: Oppenheimer: Why Cillian Murphy is the Perfect Choice for the Lead Role

8th 28 Days Later (2002)

28 days later
Fox Searchlight images

In 28 days laterCillian Murphy plays Jim, a bike messenger who awakens from a coma to desolate Britain after a man-made “rage virus” swept the country. Jim encounters the infected at a church, where he also meets Selena, who fills him in on what he missed while in the coma. Danny Boyles 28 days later revitalized the zombie genre with his fresh take on the infected. Murphy has stated that he would return for a third part of the film 28 days later Franchise.

7 Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Harrowing epic from World War II Dunkirk tells the historic rescue mission of 330,000 Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk. Cillian Murphy reunites with director Christopher Nolan in the stunning film. While billed only as a “trembling soldier” Murphy gives an excellent portrayal of a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who was rescued from the rubble by British civilians.

6 Batman Begins (2005)

Scarecrow – Batman begins in 2005
Warner Bros. Pictures

With Christopher Nolan Batman begins, we see the captivating origin story of The Dark Knight. Cillian Murphy plays Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow. Crane is a seedy psychopharmacologist working at Arkham Asylum who is secretly making a fear-inducing poison that he intends to unleash on the city of Gotham. Murphy originally auditioned for the role of Batman, but the role ultimately went to Christian Bale.

5 Foundation (2010)

Foundation of Cilian
Warner Bros. Pictures

beginning reunites Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy in this dream-within-a-dream sci-fi film. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a thief who has the rare ability to enter people’s dreams and spy on their subconscious minds. Cobb is given a chance to have his criminal record wiped, but first he has to plant an idea in Robert Fischer’s (Murphy) subconscious. Cobb accepts the mission, but someone awaits his every move.

4 Peaky Blinders (2013-2022)

Peaky Blinders Cilian

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

Peaky Blinders captivates the viewer from start to finish and Murphy delivers the performance of his life. It is loosely based on a real life gang of the same name active in Birmingham from the late 1890s to the 1910s. In January 2021, series creator Steven Knight confirmed that season six will be the final season of the series, albeit not the end, but rather a movie.

3 Anthropoid (2016)

The film anthropoid
Icon film distribution

Anthropoid based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid. It tells the true 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 Scarecrow Moments

It tells the incredible story of heroism, bravery and resilience it took to fight the Nazis, an operation that would change Europe forever. Anthropoid conveys enlightenment through its haunting story of resistance that needed to be told. Cillian Murphy delivers a captivating performance with his mastery of facial expressions and emotions, and as a Czech citizen, he’s a real hit.

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, following a story about the American whaling ship Essex, which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific. The same story also inspired Herman’s Melville novel Moby Dick.

Set in the winter of 1820, the film follows the ship’s crew trying to survive against all odds in the face of mortality. The crew must cope with storms, famines, contact with open water, nervous breakdowns and grueling decisions that will show humans at both their weakest and strongest states as they fight for their lives. Cillian Murphy played Matthew Joy, one of the crew members on the ship on which he had to starve to lose 20 pounds in just six weeks to take on 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 find wide distribution. It examines the behavior of people who have attempted suicide. Jonathan Breech (Cillian Murphy) feels unstable and reacts violently to the death of his alcoholic father by attempting suicide. However, he fails and accepts a three-month therapy sentence in a mental hospital, where he is also joined by people struggling with their mental health. Their union brings about a change in the way they look at and deal with life.

on the edge beautifully portrays the struggle to deal with one’s pain and demons, but does so with realism and the right dose of unassuming optimism. Cillian Murphy brings his complex character to his best in this performance, which adds a lot of depth to the story. The candid film also boasts captivating and personal camerawork and a deeply moving score that perfectly complements each scene.

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