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Ranked: The best Cillian Murphy movies

The Oppenheimer star possesses a unique style

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy’s Biggest TV Role jhon ahmad / Flickr

Cillian Murphy’s mid-career explosion shouldn’t surprise those familiar with his career. Although Murphy usually plays a secondary role in most films, the Irish star brings a heated devotion and a crystal-clear focus to every performance. This type of effort has been appreciated by some of the biggest directors in the world, namely Christopher Nolan. Murphy expertly heightens the tension and makes genres like historical fiction and even horror feel like something to watch over and over again.

The best Cillian Murphy movies range from science fiction epics to superhero narratives that endlessly entertain and make audiences think about his characters long after the credits start to roll. Murphy’s catalog of great performances began to build upon itself long before he took home an Academy Award for Oppenheimer! He combines sneaky good looks with precision storytelling to garner new fans with every passing year on the big screen.

8. Sunshine (2007)

8. Sunshine
Genre Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans
Directed by Danny Boyle

Long before Cillian Murphy brought home trophies for Oppenheimer, he starred in the somewhat far-fetched sci-fi film Sunshine. The Danny Boyle-directed movie contemplates the effects of a solar apocalypse in which the sun is no longer operable for life on Earth.

Murphy plays the physicist responsible for discovering a cure for the solar system’s demise. Other big-name actors included Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh. It didn’t win an Academy Award, but Sunshine will satiate any science fiction cravings fans might have heading into the picture.

7. Red Eye (2005)

7. Red Eye
Genre Thriller, Mystery
Stars Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
Directed by Wes Craven

Thriller movie fans will surely get a kick out of the tense, pop corn-crunching flick Red Eye. Cillian Murphy plays Jackson Rippner, a terrorist who forms a unique, engrossing relationship with Rachel McAdams’ character while traveling through the air.

Considering this film came out only four years after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the trite commentary on airline threats may feel outdated. Murphy gets to hone his skills as an actor who utilizes a boyish charm while experimenting with antagonistic qualities.

6. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

6. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Genre Drama, War
Stars Cillian Murphy, Pádraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham
Directed by Ken Loach

Of all the movies that displayed Cillian Murphy’s deep and thoughtful character work in dramas, The Wind That Shakes the Barley might be the biggest highlight of them all. This war film analyzes the personal grief and twisted consequences of civil war when Murphy’s character and his brother must choose between their familial love or their country during the Irish War of Independence. The movie allows Murphy to stay close to his Irish roots and also gives war movie fans a look at an event from history that hardly ever gets publicized.

5. Inception (2010)

5. Inception
Genre Action, Science Fiction, Adventure
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Inception is the quintessential Cillian Murphy/Christopher Nolan collaboration. Murphy plays one of the supporting characters in the famous film about dreams and a group of agents with the ability to journey through the human mind.

Inception was perhaps Christopher Nolan’s most popular non-Batman film before Oppenheimer. It cemented Murphy as one of the director’s most important muses.

4. A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

4. A Quiet Place Part II
Genre Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror
Stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Directed by John Krasinski

Cillian Murphy’s experience in genre categories like science fiction and thriller allowed him to effortlessly add his talents to the sequel to A Quiet Place. A horror franchise with some shocking apocalypse themes, A Quiet Place utilizes the scariest idea imaginable to great effect: loneliness.

Murphy’s ability to convey his character’s adaptation struggles in a world overrun by aliens adds something special to the movie that other horror pieces don’t often possess.

3. Batman Begins (2005)

3. Batman Begins
Genre Action, Crime, Drama
Stars Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Cillian Murphy appears in all of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but Batman Begins is the only one where he has a main role. Murphy plays the conniving Scarecrow, a villain with a devious mind but not a lot of muscle to back up his plans.

While the main battle happens between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow makes audiences wonder about his true intentions every time he pesters Batman or another law-abiding citizen in Gotham City. 

2. Peaky Blinders (2013)

2. Peaky Blinders
tv-ma 6 Seasons
Genre Drama, Crime
Cast Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle
Created by Steven Knight

Cillian Murphy doesn’t work in TV very often, but he made his biggest serial role count with Peaky Blinders. It is an iconic crime drama about Thomas Shelby, the leader of the titular gang in the United Kingdom, trying to take over the streets while the vulnerable citizens regain their bearings after World War I.

Murphy plays the antihero as well as ever with a performance that deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the greats of the genre, such as Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad and John Hamm in Mad Men

1. Oppenheimer (2023)

1. Oppenheimer
Genre Drama, History
Stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon
Directed by Christopher Nolan

It’s going to be difficult for Cillian Murphy to supercede his most recent role in Oppenheimer. Playing the brilliant scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, Murphy tries to show how the maker of the atomic bomb fought his internal demons and guilt along with the United States government during the height of World War II. While some viewers think the movie doesn’t give the Japanese perspective well enough, everyone can agree that Murphy absorbs people into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most critical figures. 

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek,, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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