Bill Murray is a bona-fide legend. Simply mentioning his name is enough to make anyone who has ever seen one of his films break out into an impassioned smile. Even the people who have seen Garfield.
While over the last few years Murray has turned himself into a refined, dramatic leading man with his turns in Lost In Translation, Broken Flowers, and Hyde Park On Hudson, it’s comedy where he originally won all of our hearts.
But when and where has Bill Murray been at his most amusing? Well, to celebrate the release of Rock The Kasbah, here’s a look at Bill Murray’s funniest roles.
10. Space Jam
Bill Murray just about steals Space Jam from Daffy Duck, Michael Jordan, and Babs and Bugs Bunny, popping up and providing laughs at every possible opportunity. The proud Chicagoan wasn’t going to miss the chance to star alongside the Windy City’s most famous sporting son, and it’s clear that he had a great time while doing so. Murray also gives Space Jam an edge of chic and cool, while the quip, "I didn’t know Dan Aykroyd was in this picture?" when Murray walks on court is still one of my favorite all time movie lines.
9. What About Bob?
Arguably Bill Murray’s most underrated film, What About Bob? sees the comedian pair up with the legendary Richard Dreyfuss, with Murray playing a patient to Dreyfuss’ psychiatrist. Dangerously unstable, Murray’s Bob Wiley decides to follow Dreyfuss’ Leo Martin on his family holiday and begins to push the good doctor over the edge. The key to What About Bob? is Murray and Dreyfuss’ chemistry, which felt so real because the pair genuinely did hate each other during production. In 2009, while speaking to The A.V. Club, Dreyfuss admitted that even though he still doesn’t like Murray, he still makes him "laugh even now."
Bill Murray’s breakout movie role proved that he could mix it with established comedy heavyweights like Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase. More impressively, though, he does this while also implementing his own style and voice. As Carl Spackler, the greenskeeper hell-bent on killing each and every gopher he confronts, Murray came across as deranged but is still nevertheless hilarious. Sure, he might be a little over the top, but there are so many quips and laugh out loud moments that people couldn't help but recognize that a new, huge comedic star was upon them.
While Scrooged is deeply flawed, there’s still something wonderfully charismatic about Billy Murray as the titular tyrant. Which is probably because of the fact that, as Scrooge, Murray is able to be as big a bastard as he possibly can be, but still get away with it because the audience knows redemption is just around the corner. It also benefits from its New York setting and sardonic tone, which gives the legendary Charles Dickens story a harsher edge that Murray is able to repeatedly sharpen with his tongue and wit. Sure, not every joke lands, and you can almost sense the on-set tension between Murray and director Richard Donner, but when it’s funny, it’s downright hysterical, and anything good with it is down to Murray.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson breathed new life into Bill Murray’s career after casting him in Rushmore. And while Murray excelled in Anderson’s sophomore film, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou where he gives his most heartfelt and hilarious performance. Murray brings Zissou’s eccentricities to life in compelling fashion, while his dry, deadpan responses provide the film’s loudest laughs. Sure, there were critics who found The Life Aquatic to be Anderson’s most underwhelming film, but it’s the one that brought the very best out of Murray.
Kingpin is a nasty and vulgar film. And that’s exactly why you can see Bill Murray having so much fun with it, even though he’s only its fourth lead. That doesn’t stop Murray from stealing every single frame he is in as Big Ern, though, whose enormous ego and rampant eye for the ladies gives him plenty of opportunities to be at his boisterous best. The fact that Kingpin came out in between both Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary means that it’s often overlooked when people discuss the Farrelly brothers’ mid-'90s comedies, but with Murray in fine form, and the film being so gloriously over the top, it’s one that still deserves your attention.
I’m going to put it out there: this is the greatest movie cameo in the history of movie cameos. Bill Murray’s appearance in Zombieland is only brief, which some of you might believe make its entry on this list a little too high, but it’s also surprising, self-deprecating, and packed with great jokes. While seeing Murray, Emma Stone, and Woody Harrelson replicating Ghostbusters was sublime, the true highlight of his performance comes in the shape of his final line. After being asked if he had any regrets, Murray, with nothing but sincerity in his eyes, admits, "Garfield, maybe."
Bill Murray’s first leading role is one that pretty much set up his on-screen presence for the remainder of his career. Murray is rebellious, anti-authority, and rambunctious as John Winger, a cab driver whose life falls apart within the space of a few hours, so he decides to join the Army. Up against Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka, and with Harold Ramis as his cohort, Murray is in his element, and the heavy dose of improvisation that is littered throughout Stripes allows him to shine. A critical and financial hit, Stripes launched Murray as a leading man, but most importantly it’s just a whole lot of fun.
His most iconic role, and the one that he will forever be remembered for, Bill Murray has probably never looked more at home on screen than as Dr. Peter Venkman. With all of New York City being ravaged by ghosts and spooky goings on, he remains completely deadpan and sarcastic. Murray leaves Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to provide the explanations and ramp up the drama, instead focusing on delivering quips and going after Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett. He’s so smooth and funny that you can imagine him holding onto a martini out of shot. Obviously Murray is only able to excel because of Aykroyd and Ramis’ script, but he's so damn charming and rowdy that Ghostbusters would simply fall flat without him.
Probably still his best film and his most complete performance, Groundhog Day deserves its place above Ghostbusters because this is Bill Murray earning and providing all of the laughs by himself. There is no one here for him to bounce off of. This is Bill Murray owning every single second of the film, and making each different incarnation of the same scene gloriously unique and always hilarious. It’s also here because of where the laughs come from. As Phil Connors, Murray goes from misanthropic, to confused, to deranged, to boisterous, to delirious, to nice, to happy, to depressed, to romantic, all while consistently bringing the funny. Groundhog Day is true cinematic marvel, as well as one of the greatest films of the last 25 years, and it’s all truly down to Bill Murray.
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