Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress. This article was originally published in 2015, but is being republished in celebration of Murray’s birthday.
When the Farrelly Brothers released Kingpin in 1996, the trailer bragged about the appearance of its megastar: the “Big Bad Bill Murray.” Which was a fitting claim since Murray has always marched to the beat of his own drum.
At Chicago’s Second City, the Wilmette, Illinois, native didn’t exactly play by the rules of improvisation, and his humor was defined by that tendency to bark spontaneously. On screen, he has a propensity to avoid script, and what you often hear is the free thoughts of Murray himself, re-purposed for whatever movie he’s stumbled into by occasion.
Those years as a random party crasher with an 800 line? Certainly, his reputation precedes him.
Murray’s like a tornado of caustic, unexpected humor — the “Murricane,” as some used to call him — whose uncontrollable existence has somehow cultivated a filmography enviable of most actors. For the lucky handful of directors who have seized him, well, their work usually ends up so much better because of Murray’s erratic touch.
As we celebrate his birthday today, we pored over Murray’s filmography and whittled it down to a dynamite list that’s big, that’s bad, and that’s essential of the unpredictable actor.
Foolish maybe, but back off, man — the more the Murray-er.
— Blake Goble
10. Bill Murray, Zombieland (2009)
A random pop-up from Bill Murray in a random film is always a conversation starter. From the meth cook in the abysmal Dumb and Dumber To to Agent 13 in the I-forgot-it-existed Get Smart, Murray puts his stamp on everything he touches no matter minor the role. Take Zombieland, in which Murray plays himself as he aimlessly walks around his dilapidated mansion, disguised as a zombie in order to trick the walking dead. In his brief appearance, he manages to get shot by mistake and wears a Ghostbusters costume. Director Ruben Fleischer must have been pinching himself.
Little Rock: “So do you have any regrets?”
Bill Murray: “Garfield, maybe.”
— Justin Gerber