12 Best Cillian Murphy Movies You Must See

Updated April 8, 2018
9 min read

“I’m Irish and very proud of being Irish, but as an actor, your extraction should be secondary, really. You should be able to embody whatever character it is, wherever the character comes from. That’s always been important, for me. I’m an actor who’s Irish, not an Irish actor.”

Cillian Murphy is one of those rare examples who have been successful in emerging out of being perennially underrated to being considered as one of the finest actors currently working in Tinseltown. He is Irish, as his above quote explains, and was born in Douglas, Ireland, in 1976.

Murphy has exhibited a tremendous versatility in his body of work, portraying characters who are variously denigrated, lauded, and even feared. His formidable filmography has him playing a fear-inducing psychopath, an indomitable trans woman, a business tycoon having a complex relationship with his father, and a brave Irish soldier laying his life down for his country, among several other memorable roles. Here is the list of top 12 Cillian Murphy movie performances.


12. Red Eye (2005)

Murphy delivers a brilliantly unsettling performance as Jackson Rippner, a cold-blooded terrorist, who coerces Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), his co-passenger on a red-eye flight, into assisting him with his dangerous mission.

Wes Craven’s firm direction coaxes a brilliant performance from Murphy, who keeps playing with the many inflections of danger through his portrayal of a determined but deranged killer. McAdams is an impressive supporting act, subtly presenting the many ways through which primal fear can be represented. The two leads have a breathtaking chemistry in this taut psychological action thriller.


11. Broken (2012)

‘Broken’, directed by Rufus Norris in his full-length mainstream directorial debut, is based on the eponymous novel by Michael Clay, which was itself based on Harper Lee’s seminal work ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

Murphy stars as Mike, a dedicated teacher, who is a much-needed role model for Emily ‘Skunk’ Cunningham (Eloise Laurence). Skunk is a diabetic, and has had a tough life without her mother. She witnesses violence in her neighbourhood on an almost daily basis.

Mike’s role in shaping her self-esteem is paramount, and Murphy portrays the other sides of his character quite impressively as well, especially his brief romantic liaison with Kasia (Zana Marjanović) that highlights his aversion to commitment. This undoubtedly imparts a three-dimensional quality to his character.


10. Disco Pigs (2001)

‘Disco Pigs’ marks one of Murphy’s early performances, and counts among his most painstaking ones as well. He carries the role of Darren/Pig over from the stage seamlessly, and conveys his deep bond with his lifelong companion Sinéad (Elaine Cassidy) impressively. Murphy’s evocative portrayal throws Darren’s tortured, volatile self into sharper relief, as he cannot bear to stay away from Sinéad, willing to do whatever it takes to be with her.

Kirsten Sheridan employs a sensitive touch to Enda Walsh’ riveting source material, which was adapted from the stage. Cassidy is wonderful to watch alongside Murphy, making this a cult classic of Irish cinema.


9. Intermission (2003)

Director John Crowley utilises an unusual but effective technique of interlinking storylines in this documentary-styled crime film. His direction is confident as he makes his myriad characters relatable to his viewers.

Murphy plays John, a quintessential example of inconstant 21st-century society, wracked by financial instability and a lack of self-awareness. He wants more from his relationship with Deidre (Kelly Macdonald) so he tells her that he wants a break from her, an intermission, giving the film its name. His plan backfires, which gives rise to the contemporary frailties he harbours, coupled with this generation’s cultural, social, and financial precariousness.


8. On the Edge (2001)

‘On the Edge’ is a far cry from the run-of-the-mill films on touchy subjects such as depression and suicide. Director John Carney betrays his masterful handling of the film through his balancing of the black and white emotional responses to such delicate issues.

Murphy shows an unbelievable maturity in enacting Jonathan, a hyperactive, reckless man teetering on the edge of psychotic breakdown. He is initially uncouth, rash, and wantonly self-destructive. However, it is his time at the psychiatric institution that changes him drastically for the better.

Jonathan’s nuanced character development reeks of Murphy’s acting prowess, as he subtly transforms into someone friendly, patient, and understanding. He is ably supported by Tricia Vessey, as Rachel, and Stephen Rea as Dr. Figure, the two characters crucial in redeeming him from the depths of chaos.


7. Inception (2010)

Murphy has been one of a select list of actors that have been chosen by Christopher Nolan to act in his films, time and again. His assured, and vulnerable performance as Robert Fischer in this utterly unique science fiction heist thriller shows why that is so.

Fischer is the target of the elaborate heist demanded by Saito, Fischer’s business rival, and planned out by Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his ragtag crew (Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) in Fischer’s mind. Murphy plays out Fischer’s insecurities to perfection. His fractured relationship with his ailing father (Pete Postlethwaite) is gradually broken down to fulfil the team’s unprecedented mission.


 6. Sunshine (2007)

Danny Boyle crafts an astoundingly ambitious film in his science fiction thriller ‘Sunshine’. The film boasts of an ensemble cast, with Boyle’s idiosyncratic methods calling for an organic chemistry between all of them.

‘Sunshine’ is a narrative grand in its scope and frighteningly terrific in its execution. It brings up questions of divine will, and of human endeavour to oppose it. It pits science against religion, or more accurately, our idea of it.The plot of human survival under semi-apocalyptic conditions might seem facile, but it ultimately supplies a desolate yet hopeful picture of the human condition.

Cillian Murphy is brilliant in the lead as Robert Capa, the lead physicist on the shuttle Icarus II. He is rendered a silent outsider, owing to him being the only one who can operate the nuclear device responsible for reigniting the Sun. Murphy worked extensively with Brian Cox of the University of Manchester, and even travelled to CERN to emulate physicists’ peculiarities. Taking inspiration from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘The Wages of Fear’, Murphy himself became an atheist after he was done with the film, proof of his intricate involvement with the heartrending narrative.

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