Some have speculated that Cillian Murphy’s personal, multifaceted depiction of J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” may win him an Oscar nod, given the film’s critical praise and hype. While Murphy’s performance in the biopic is undeniably great, the Irish actor has spent the better part of the last quarter century preparing for the role.
Like many other performers, Murphy got his start on stage. Murphy’s cinematic debut was in 2001, although he first appeared on stage in 1996 in “Disco Pigs,” a play by Enda Walsh. His breakout performance as Jim in the post-apocalyptic horror film “28 Days Later” came in the early 2000s, after he had already been in a number of films.
Starring in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” in 2005 marked the beginning of a fruitful working relationship that has lasted for the better part of two decades. A Chris Nolan supporter is here! That’s how I felt when I first met him, having watched movies like “The Following,” “Memento,” and “Insomnia.” The fact that I was a fan led to my meeting him at the ‘Batman Begins premiere. For that reason, Murphy told Rolling Stone in 2023, “The fact that I’ve been in six of his films seems ridiculous.
Murphy has come a long way from his early acting days to become a highly regarded, internationally recognizable actor noted for the depth, passion, and complexity he gives to each part, whether it’s a shell-shocked soldier in “Dunkirk” or the clever criminal lord Thomas Shelby in “Peaky Blinders.” Here are Murphy’s most memorable acting roles in film and television.
“Batman Begins” (2005)
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After a night at the opera, young Bruce Wayne witnesses the death of his parents in the first film of Nolan’s Batman film series. Now an adult, Wayne (Christian Bale) adopts the guise of Batman to fight crime in Gotham City and restore law and order. Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and the Scarecrow (Curtis “50 Cent” Murphy) are causing havoc in Gotham City, and Batman must intervene.
“Red Eye” (2005)
Before Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) boards a red-eye flight to Miami, she meets the dashing Jackson Rippner (Murphy). After takeoff, Jackson reveals that he works for a domestic terrorist group that plans to murder Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, since he and the woman get along so well. Lisa’s father’s life is in danger; thus, she and Jackson must work together to carry out the plan, or else Jackson will murder her.
The Dark Knight” (2008)
In the second installment of Nolan’s Batman films, “The Dark Knight,” Batman works alongside Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to bring down Gotham City’s criminal underworld. Joker (Heath Ledger), whose destructive and nasty actions have no bounds, complicates and thwarts their endeavors. One of them falls under the Joker’s influence as they battle to keep Gotham safe from his criminal activities. Murphy makes a brief appearance as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow and reprises his role from the first film.
“28 Days Later” (2007)
After a chimpanzee infected with the “Rage” virus is let loose from a Cambridge facility, the infection quickly spreads across the UK. Jim (Murphy), a bicycle courier, is in a coma when the viral outbreak begins; thus, he has no idea how many people will die as a result. Jim is in a life-or-death struggle as one of the few uninfected members of society.
The film “Dunkirk” takes a close look at the events that led to the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, a beach in Northern France, during World War II. In the aftermath of the Battle of France in 1940, approximately 400,000 British soldiers, including a young man called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), had to be evacuated before the Germans reached the shore. Murphy plays a shell-shocked soldier who escapes a U-boat assault, and the tale is delivered in the typical Nolan method, from numerous viewpoints, and over several timeframes.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wanted criminal on the run throughout the world, can enter people’s dreams and glean information from them. Cobb’s job has earned him respect from some of the world’s most powerful businesspeople but at a high personal cost. Cobb is given a chance at redemption when he is charged with planting an idea in the head of Robert Fischer (Murphy), heir to a prosperous corporate enterprise.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is so taken with the concept of AI and the nature of intelligence that he builds an AI computer that he thinks will drastically alter human civilization. FBI Agent Donald Buchanan (Murphy) and scientist Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) collaborate to stop Will’s ambitions before they do irreparable harm to civilization.
“A Quiet Place Part II” (2020)
The events of “A Quiet Place Part II” continue on from those of the first film, with the addition of several new faces. On a planet where blind aliens with enhanced hearing abilities live, those who have managed to escape the aliens’ wrath must exercise caution. Now a widow with three children, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) urgently seeks civilization with the aid of Emmett (Murphy), a friend of her late husband’s.
“In the Heart of the Sea” (2015)
Murphy plays Matthew Joy, a passenger on the whaling ship Essex in 1820, in the Ron Howard-directed movie from 2015. The narrative is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s factual book of the same name from 2000, which investigates the 1820 assault on the Essex whaling ship by a sperm whale and her subsequent sinking. Herman Melville used the sad events as the basis for his best-selling book, “Moby-Dick.”
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Bruce Wayne has been away from his batcave for quite some time following the events of “The Dark Knight,” which took place eight years before. It would seem that Gotham City is fully under control, with organized crime practically eradicated until a new villain called Bane (Tom Hardy) threatens to destroy the city once again. Murphy returns as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, as he did in the first film.
“Disco Pigs” (2001)
Murphy’s breakthrough role in a film came in 2001’s “Disco Pigs.” Murphy also appeared in the 1996 play of the same name, from which this film is adapted. The plot of “Disco Pigs” centers on two high school students named Pig (Murphy) and Runt (Elaine Cassidy), who share a bedroom and were born on the same day at the same hospital. Runt starts having affection for a guy at school, and their tight but toxic relationship through the years comes to a climax.
In their latest film together, “Oppenheimer,” Murphy and Nolan explore the efforts of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy), military leader Lieutenant General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), and nuclear weapons expert Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). The Manhattan Project gained notoriety as the government initiative responsible for the development of the first atomic weapons. Murphy plays Oppenheimer, who underwent a thorough government investigation during the Second Red Scare of the 1950s because of his involvement in the creation of the atomic weapon and was extremely troubled by it.
“Breakfast on Pluto” (2005)
The performance of Patricia “Kitten” Braden in “Breakfast on Pluto” got Murphy a nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. The story of young trans woman Patricia “Kitten” Braden in 1970s Ireland during the Troubles is at the heart of this cinematic adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s 1998 book of the same name. She is bored with life in her little Irish village and decides to go to London in search of herself and her biological mother.
“The Way We Live Now” (2001)
As Paul Montague, Murphy made his television debut in the four-part BBC One series “The Way We Live Now.” This 2001 miniseries, which takes its title from Anthony Trollope’s 1875 book of the same name, centers on Augustus Melmotte (David Suchet), a shady foreign banker who arrives in London with lofty intentions to found a new corporation and promises of great fortune for those who join him. A group of greedy nobles and merchants surround him as his plans take shape, but an ambitious train proposal from a young engineer called Paul Montague adds some spice.
“Peaky Blinders” (2013-2022)
Murphy is recognized not just for his many cinematic roles but also for his starring turn as Tommy Shelby on the BBC’s “Peaky Blinders.” The series follows the criminal activities of the Peaky Blinders gang in early 20th-century Birmingham, England. Tommy Shelby, a combat veteran and shrewd criminal leader, is one of the Peaky Blinders. After six seasons, the show was critically acclaimed for its excellence.