Five Great Bill Murray Performances

St. Vincent Movie Review

Bill Murray’s latest film, “St. Vincent,” isn’t exactly one of his greatest. It’s actually kind of mawkish and cringe-inducing. But we’re glass-half-full around here, so we’re going to seize the chance to turn this into a positive.

Murray stars as Vincent, an alcoholic, misanthropic veteran living in a run-down Brooklyn home. He finds his anti-social routine interrupted when a single mom (Melissa McCarthy) and her shy, bullied son (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door. Vincent ends up serving as de factor babysitter, which means taking the kid to the dive bar and the race track — and teaching him life lessons along the way, naturally.

It’s classic Murray curmudgeon mode. It’s also reminiscent of some of his better performances, which I pondered back in 2012 when Murray starred as FDR in “Hyde Park on Hudson.” This was one of the tougher lists to narrow down to five, so I’d love to hear what you guys would pick. Enjoy.

Five Great Bill Murray Performances


This week, with the opening of the historical romance “Hyde Park on Hudson,” I finally get to do a Five Most list I’ve been thinking about for a while now: my favorite Bill Murray performances.

His take on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not be some of his best work, but it’s an unexpected bit of casting, and it provides a great opportunity to reflect on the fantastically eclectic career he’s put together over the past three-plus decades.

So here are my picks in chronological order. Honorable mention goes to his supporting turn as trash-talking bowling champ Ernie McCracken in the underappreciated Farrelly brothers comedy “Kingpin” (1996), for the sweet hairpiece, if nothing else.

“Caddyshack” (1980): Murray was at the height of his “Saturday Night Live” cult stardom when he gave his enduring portrayal of oddball golf course greenskeeper Carl Spackler in this all-time-great raunchy ’80s comedy. The character is a little grungy and a little dangerous and more than a little off, but also strangely sweet and the source of endlessly quotable lines. Murray has said that people shout Carl dialogue to him all the time as he’s playing golf in real life — “It’s in the hole!” — hoping he’ll recite the words back. That’s how much this movie and this character still matter in our crowded pop-culture universe.

“Stripes” (1981): Murray is at his subversively charming best here in an early starring role as John Winger, a loser who decides to join the Army to be all he can be. He’s silly and sarcastic, confident and quick-witted, so naturally he has a little trouble respecting the authority of Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka, the platoon’s “big toe.” But he earns a loyal following, becomes an inadvertent leader and even gets the girl in the end. Murray plays beautifully off old friend Harold Ramis as his straight man, and the whole anarchic vibe from Ivan Reitman, directing one of his best films, is an excellent fit for the comic’s persona during this period.

“Lost in Translation” (2003): Murray earned an Oscar nomination for best actor for his portrayal of Bob Harris, an aging American actor who has schlepped to Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial that will pay him $2 million. He strikes a beautiful balance between lighthearted sarcasm and self-loathing as he forms an undefinable friendship with Scarlett Johansson, playing the bored, young wife of a celebrity photographer. To this day, I can’t listen to “More Than This” by Roxy Music without thinking of Murray’s delicate karaoke rendition in this lovely Sofia Coppola film.

“Broken Flowers” (2005): He’d already appeared with deadpan hilarity in perhaps the best segment of Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” Here, Murray stars for Jarmusch as a middle-aged Lothario on a halfhearted quest to visit old lovers in hopes of finding the teenage son he never knew he had. We learn about him — and he learns about himself — through his varied and unpredictable reunions with various ex-girlfriends. It’s yet another world-weary performance from Murray, but each incarnation of this persona reveals richness and shadings; his dramatic work in the later years of his career is just as strong in its own way as the wild comedy was in the beginning.

3 Comments on “Five Great Bill Murray Performances

  1.  by  chris marakovitz

    Interesting…I made my own list before reading and CADDYSHACK was the only match. My other four:
    – WHAT ABOUT BOB- This is the one I am most adamant about. The rest are arguable, this one isn’t.
    – QUICK CHANGE- A criminally overlooked movie. Murray at his suavest.
    – MEATBALLS- As good an expression of the classic Murray persona as any.
    – LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU- I realize I am in the minority here, but I prefer this one, both as a movie and as a performance, to RUSHMORE.

  2.  by  Ronson

    I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Murray, but I really did enjoy his acting as the grouchy neighbor in Saint Vincent. Overall a decent story. I enjoyed them fleshing out Bill Murray’s character to show the decent side underneath the crass exterior. As for Lost in Translation… that was an odd movie… “LIP MY STOCKING!!!”