The 15 best Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows, ranked

From his first collaboration with Christopher Nolan in "Batman Begins" to his first Oscar nomination for "Oppenheimer," here are the actor's finest turns.

<p>Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection; Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection; Universal Pictures</p>

Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection; Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection; Universal Pictures

Cillian Murphy's characters have survived zombie apocalypses, Nazi occupation, and British oppression; they've been everywhere from the beaches of Dunkirk to the surface of the sun. Now that he's earned his first Oscar nomination for his commanding work in the explosive biopic Oppenheimer, even more attention and acclaim is funneled Murphy's way. His characters are often haunted, contemplative, and always fascinating. Here's EW’s list of the 15 best Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows, ranked based on the strength of his performance.

15. Disco Pigs (2001)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

This offbeat indie was only Murphy's second starring role, reprising his character in the stage production as a young man with a close and unnerving relationship with his best friend and next-door neighbor (Elaine Cassidy). The pair, who grew up together and call each other "Pig" and "Runt," live in a world of their own and avoid other people. Their platonic fixation with one another is challenged when a teenage Runt develops feelings for a boy at school, and Pig's increasingly volatile behavior turns dangerous. Even at this early stage in his career, Murphy offers a multi-faceted performance that makes the film as compelling as it is unsettling.

Where to watch Disco Pigs: Tubi

14. Red Eye (2005)

<p>DreamWorks/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

DreamWorks/courtesy Everett Collection

Red Eye is one of Murphy's "handsome man turns terrifying" stories, here playing the villain in a tense game of cat-and-mouse at 30,000 feet. Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is a hotel executive on a red-eye flight to Miami who discovers that her seatmate (Murphy) is a terrorist who plans to use her job to help him assassinate a government official. EW's critic observed, "the movie’s most exciting passages take place in stillness and close-up, with the low-budget simplicity of two faces reacting to one another by the glow of the overhead reading light in a darkened cabin."

Where to watch Red Eye: Paramount+

13. The Party (2017)

<p>N Dove/Adventure Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock </p>

N Dove/Adventure Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock

Murphy plays a banker who's slowly falling to pieces in The Party, a dark comedy with a stellar ensemble cast including Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer. A group of friends and colleagues gather to celebrate a milestone in Janet's (Kristin Scott Thomas) political career, and things quickly deteriorate as the London intellectuals reveal devastating personal secrets. Murphy shakes with suppressed fury as he finally confronts a confidant who's wronged him, but his sudden outburst of rage is played for laughs — or, at least, wry smiles.

Where to watch The Party: Tubi

12. Anthropoid (2016)

<p>James Lisle/Bleecker Street Media/Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

James Lisle/Bleecker Street Media/Courtesy Everett Collection

In this World War II thriller based on true events, two resistance agents (Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan) parachute into occupied Czechoslovakia, determined to assassinate a high-ranking Nazi commander. Stern and straightforward, the movie thrusts its protagonists into charged encounters with fellow members of the resistance who understand the terrifying reprisals the Fascists will carry out if the mission is successful. Murphy offers a typically fierce commitment to the material as the story rattles towards a shattering climax, elevating a film that EW’s critic said “lacks narrative ambition” but still benefits from “a devastating final half-hour."

Where to watch Anthropoid: Max

11. Dunkirk (2017)

<p>Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

The first of four collaborations between Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan on this list, the World War II epic Dunkirk casts Murphy in a small but unforgettable role. Credited as "Shivering Soldier," he plays the traumatized survivor of a capsized ship who's horrified to discover that his rescue boat is heading back to the threatened beaches of Dunkirk. EW's critic praised the film as "a towering achievement, not just of the sort of drum-tight storytelling we’ve come to expect from the director of Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception, but also of old-school, handmade filmmaking."

Where to watch Dunkirk: Hulu

10. Sunshine (2007)

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection
Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

Eight astronauts are on a desperate suicide mission to reignite Earth's failing sun in  Danny Boyle's ambitious sci-fi disaster film Sunshine. The visuals are dazzling and the action is breathless as inevitable setbacks delay the project, and Murphy's character, a withdrawn physicist, carries the greatest responsibility: delivering the payload that he knows will consume their ship as well. In her review, EW's critic called out Murphy's "extraordinary peepers," continuing, "Even peering from a slit in a massive helmet, those blue orbs hold their own against anything the universe sends one lone space traveler’s way."

Where to watch Sunshine: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

9. Batman Begins (2005)

<p>Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Looking at his prestigious career now, you wouldn't think of Cillian Murphy as a superhero movie kind of guy, but Batman Begins was the film that introduced the actor to Christopher Nolan. Murphy auditioned for the title role but ended up a villain in the Christian Bale-led reboot, playing psychiatrist turned psychopath Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. the Scarecrow. Crane is a suitably complex character, a calculating manipulator who uses "fear gas" to bend people to his will. EW’s critic called the movie "a triumph — a confidently original, engrossing interpretation, with a seriously thought-through (but never self-serious) aesthetic point of view."

Where to watch Batman Begins: Max

8. Inception (2010)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Leonardo DiCaprio helms the fascinating and cerebral Inception as a corporate espionage agent with a squad that can enter a subject's dreams and steal their secrets. Murphy plays the target for the team's attack, the vulnerable heir to a business empire who proves more formidable than expected. Murphy's at his best when he portrays a character under pressure, and his unshowy performance anchors a movie that makes for a confounding viewing experience. EW’s critic warned, "Only repeated exposure can clarify for each spectator not only what’s going on, but also whether the emotional payoff deepens enough to warrant the arbitrary complexity of the game."

Where to watch Inception: Hulu

7. Free Fire (2016)

<p>A24/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

A24/courtesy Everett Collection

In an abandoned warehouse, a team of IRA rebels (led by Murphy) gather with a group of underground arms dealers to exchange money for merchandise. But when things go south, the meeting turns into a shootout that lasts the entire length of the film. Free Fire is a black comedy punctuated entirely with bullets, and Murphy manages to become one of the vanishingly small number of sympathetic characters. EW’s critic called it "an action movie that’s been stripped of distractions like plot, backstory, and character development and instead cuts right to an orgy of bullet-riddled mayhem and florid macho patter."

Where to watch Free Fire: Max

6. Breakfast on Pluto (2005)

<p>Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection

In the comedy-drama Breakfast on Pluto, Murphy plays Kitten, a young transgender woman coming of age in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. When her friend joins the IRA, Kitten dismisses politics with a casual wave: "Oh, serious, serious, serious!" Pushed out by an unloving foster family, our heroine bounces from one unhappy situation to another, blithely rising above a string of temporary jobs, unreliable boyfriends, and a stint of streetwalking. Pluto came out in the same year as Murphy's villainous turns in Red Eye and Batman Begins; it could hardly be more of a departure.

Where to watch Breakfast on Pluto: Amazon Prime Video

5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

<p>Joss Barratt/Oil Flick/Element/Pathe/Kobal/Shutterstock</p>

Joss Barratt/Oil Flick/Element/Pathe/Kobal/Shutterstock

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the third entry on this list that deals with the IRA, and it’s by far the bleakest one. Two County Cork brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) join the fight in the early 1920s during a turning point in the Irish resistance to British rule. A torture sequence at Teddy’s expense is difficult to watch, but the film delivers a sincere and thought-provoking view of the period. EW’s critic said that director Ken Loach "paints the film in dark, rain-on-the-emerald-moor colors, and he provides fascinating details of how the Irish guerrilla struggle developed."

Where to watch The Wind That Shakes the Barley: Amazon Prime Video (with a premium subscription)

4. A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

<p>Jonny Cournoyer / Paramount Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Jonny Cournoyer / Paramount Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

A Quiet Place Part II, John Krasinski's follow-up to his 2018 blockbuster, finds the Abbott family forced to leave their home and find safety elsewhere as they continue dodging the vicious, blind extraterrestrials who hunt down anything that makes a sound. Murphy joins the series as Emmett, a father who's given up hope after losing his own family to the beasts. His ability to hold the audience's attention even when he's not speaking is a tremendous advantage in this film, as Emmett finds inspiration in the Abbotts' determination to survive.

Where to watch A Quiet Place Part II: Hulu

3. 28 Days Later (2002)

<p>20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

28 Days Later was Murphy's breakthrough movie, a harrowing post-apocalyptic thriller that popularized "fast zombies" in the horror genre. Murphy plays a slender and soulful bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma to discover that the world has been upended by a virus that turns people into inhuman, ravenous monsters. When he's not being swept up in furious action scenes, Murphy has a quiet, watchful presence, portraying a man fully lost in an unfamiliar and savage world. To quote EW's critic, "What 28 Days Later had going for it was its horrific freshness — it earned every ounce of its dread."

Where to watch 28 Days Later: Sling

2. Peaky Blinders (2013–2022)

Robert Viglasky/Netflix
Robert Viglasky/Netflix

For six riveting seasons, Murphy ruled the streets of post-WWI Birmingham in the TV crime drama Peaky Blinders as the shrewd, cold-blooded crime boss Tommy Shelby. The show begins with the gang running a horse race gambling ring, and the relentlessly ambitious Tommy will stop at nothing to win. He expands his criminal organization with each passing season, battling new threats from rival gangs, cops, and politicians. Murphy's terse talk and thousand-yard stare are enough to intimidate all comers (not to mention the razor sewn into the peak of his newsboy cap).

Where to watch Peaky Blinders: Netflix

1. Oppenheimer (2023)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

Oppenheimer, the latest collaboration between Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan, is an awe-inspiring historical study. As J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, Murphy delivers a tightly controlled performance that embodies the weight of the physicist's responsibility to deliver the world's most powerful destructive force — and then to advocate against its use. The film is Murphy's finest, most carefully crafted work yet. As EW's Christian Holub writes, "The close-ups on Murphy's face as Oppenheimer thinks through the 20th century's thorniest problems are as compelling as the film's atomic explosions."

Where to watch Oppenheimer: Peacock

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