Bill Murray’s 20 best performances – ranked!

<span>Photograph: AJ Pics/Alamy</span>
Photograph: AJ Pics/Alamy

20. St Vincent (2014)

The film’s premise – crotchety single man learns from a child how to be a better person – reeks of cliche. But Murray, along with Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts, lift the film to something more, and Murray in particularly is deliciously enjoyable as the alcoholic military veteran next door.

19. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

A small but delightful turn as the gloriously mustachioed Monsieur Ivan, who swoops in to help Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, of course) and Zero (Tony Revolori). As with The Life Aquatic, there is an enjoyable cartoonishness to his performance, which he and Wes Anderson keep on just the right side of camp.

18. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

It’s near impossible to choose between Murray’s many great cameos, from serving coffee to RZA and GZA in Coffee and Cigarettes to his walk-on role in Zombieland. But his performance as the masochistic patient of Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist is an eternal classic.

17. Meatballs (1979)

No one will give Meatballs plaudits for its sexual politics, but Murray’s kamikaze comedic energy still melts the screen. This early collaboration between Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Murray has all the jokes and joy you want from that trio, with Murray playing the summer-camp counsellor whose motto is: “It just doesn’t matter.”

16. Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Not the Oscars bait its makers probably hoped for, but still definitely worth your time, with Murray playing FDR, paralysed but still full of patrician Waspiness. You probably won’t feel you know Roosevelt better by the end, but you will be impressed by Murray’s bravery in the role.

15. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

Well, if you needed someone to voice a badger, why wouldn’t you call Murray? With his laconic low voice, he provides the perfect foil to George Clooney’s skittery and snappy Mr Fox. Probably the best of all Murray’s animated performances, beating even – dare I say it? – Garfield.

14. Ed Wood (1994)

It’s a shame that Tim Burton and Murray haven’t worked together more, given their similarly left-field sensibility. Murray is very sweet in this, playing Bunny Breckinridge, Ed’s drag queen friend. His show-stopping performance of Que Sera Sera in a meat locker needs to be seen to be believed.

13. What About Bob? (1991)

Murray and Richard Dreyfuss notoriously got along about as well as their warring characters in this movie. But perhaps the offscreen fights worked to the film’s advantage, as Murray is extremely funny in this film, as the neurotic patient who is stalking (or is he?) his therapist.

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12. Stripes (1981)

A classic early Murray role and clearly the rehearsal for Peter Venkman, not least because he was working alongside future Ghostbuster mastercrafters Reitman and Ramis. “Bill Murray joins the army” is pretty much the film’s entire plot, and his laconic sarcasm and carefully deployed eyebrows keep the non-stop jokes afloat.

11. Kingpin (1996)

For many, Mean Murray is Best Murray and he was never meaner than in Kingpin, cruelly bullying poor Woody Harrelson. Murray, bewigged to the max, camps it up with relish, and his character never really gets his comeuppance. Maybe the Farrelly brothers knew that, even at his worst, audiences just like Murray too much.

10. Tootsie (1982)

Some of Murray’s best performances are in his tiniest roles, because he shows that he can do so much with so little. As Dustin Hoffman’s pretentious roommate, Jeff, Murray has some of the funniest moments in this still peerlessly funny film, more than holding his own against perennial scene-chewers such as Hoffman and George Gaynes.

9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Frequently described as a love letter to Jacques Cousteau, this is really Anderson’s paean to Murray and his inimitable charisma, and the actor gives a performance that is caperish, operatic and devastating. In the last scene, Murray re-enacts Francis Ford Coppola carrying a young Sofia on his shoulders at the 1979 Cannes film festival.

8. Broken Flowers (2005)

I find this movie more of a slog than others seemed to: a bit too gloomy, a bit too one note. But Murray’s subtle performance as an aged Don Juan tracking down his exes elevates it from being simply a miserable High Fidelity. He skates – as only Murray can – from cynical to heartbroken to hopeful in just a glance.

7. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

A performance so beautifully understated that it’s easy to forget you are watching Bill Murray. In his second collaboration with Wes Anderson, he plays pitiful Raleigh St Clair, forced to watch the weird doomed romance between his wife, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her brother-by-adoption, Richie (Luke Wilson).

6. Scrooged (1998)

Murray famously hates this film, which is a shame, because Scrooged is great and he’s great in it. He plays the modern-day Ebenezer as an evil TV exec, Frank Cross, in full Murricane mode. Scrooged remains the Christmas movie for people who like a twist of lemon in their eggnog.

5. Caddyshack (1980)

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Despite being stuck in a role that’s barely bigger than a gopher’s hole, Murray steals the film from under the nose of fellow SNL-er Chevy Chase. His oversized performance as deranged gopher killer Carl hinted that it would be Murray, rather than the more hotly tipped John Belushi, who would become the comedic star of the decade.

4. Groundhog Day (1993)

It is impossible to imagine anyone else playing Phil Connors, the weatherman who isn’t sure if he’s stuck in a comedy or tragedy. Sadly, Murray’s behaviour on set caused him to fall out with director Harold Ramis, which lasted almost until Ramis’ death. Happily, like Phil, Murray found redemption just in time.

3. Lost in Translation (2003)

Not a film that has stood the test of time (Japanese people! Aren’t they hilarious?!). But Murray as the jet-lagged and dissipated Hollywood actor is irresistible, and he was rightly furious when he lost his deserved Oscar (to Sean Penn for Mystic River). According to the long-running, never-confirmed rumour, Sofia Coppola based Murray’s character on Harrison Ford.

2. Rushmore (1998)

The true beginning of the Murraynaissance and still probably Murray’s greatest performance. Most other actors would have made Herman Blume repulsive, even cruel, but Murray gives him a sweet majesty, even when he’s bullying young Max (Jason Schwartzman). The moment when he realises what Max’s father really does for a living remains a masterclass in acting.

1. Ghostbusters (1984)

No matter how many Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola movies Murray makes, this Ivan Reitman comedy will always be his greatest film, and Peter Venkman the ultimate Murray character. “Back off, man. I’m a scientist”; “The flowers are still standing”; “Yes, it’s true, this man has no dick” – every line Murray utters here became legendary because few actors have better embodied a role.