12 Essential Bill Murray Films You Need To Watch

6. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)


In this Wes Anderson film, Bill Murray plays a homage to Jacques Costeau. Anderson is an expert in making us feel like we’re watching a very simple quirky comedy and, at some point, making it rain on our faces.

Steve Zissou is a filmmaker and oceanographer who leads Team Zissou. Together, they make underwater documentaries. We are confronted by an arrogant man who has lost his competitive vein after a lot of consecutive failures. In this condition, he meets his grown-up son Ned (Owen Wilson), who joins him and Team Zissou in the search for the leopard shark, who ate Zissou’s best friend. It’s not really about where the film goes, but how it goes.

The made-up animals, the spectrum of personalities and the astonishing plot peculiarity are unified by a masterpiece musical score of David Bowie’s songs covered in portuguese by Seu Jorge. It’s the usual show for Wes Anderson admirers, offering continuous chuckles all through the film, where Murray’s brilliancy is shown when you think of how you spend so much time wanting to hate him and, near the end, actually cheer for him.


5. Broken Flowers (2005)

Broken Flowers

Definitely not the film to watch if you’re looking for some laughs. In Broken Flowers, Bill Murray is the main character, named Don Johnston, a retired software entrepreneur who made a lot of money and now spends his days on the couch.

Upon receiving a letter one day from a former lover, he finds that he has fathered a child nineteen years before, but doesn’t seem to care much about it. It’s his neighbor and friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a part-time detective, who aims to find the boy and makes Don visit the possible candidates in order to find who sent the letter.
In this particular role, Murray is again fantastic at showing no emotion and doing nothing at all, while making you want to watch him, what he’s going to do next, how he’s going to surprise you.

Meanwhile, we’re also left with life’s big questions, a bold nostalgia for what we might’ve missed and a worry with what we’re doing with our lives. It’s a good thing Murray can make tragic look so bland.


4. Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore (1998)

Even though my favorite Wes Anderson film is The Royal Tenenbaums, I have to say the quintessential Anderson-Murray collab work is Rushmore. Seeing Murray in this work is an experience, you never know how to feel about his character. That might sound normal by now, but it’s here you find bits of all the other characters Anderson has created for him in one glorious structure. In it, Murray plays self-made millionaire Herman Bloom, a bully who happens to be quite generous with his money. He meets the hero Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a kid so excited about extracurricular activities that he can’t find time for actual school work, ultimately being kicked out of his school.

They’re the driving force of the film, when it all boils down to who gets the girl. We see them liking and hating each other in an effortless, hilarious grace, as we get so often confused by who’s the child and who’s the adult.


3. Ghostbusters (1984)

bill murray ghostbusters

I remember watching Ghostbusters as a kid and trying to figure out what my dad and my brother found so interesting about it. Was it the ghosts? Was it the 80s special effects? Most of all though, I remember looking at Bill Murray and being drawn to his quirkiness and his face.

Anyway, Ghostbusters, as everyone knows, revolves around an epidemic of psychic nuisance reports in Manhattan. Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd – all graduates of Second City/SNL – create a company named Ghostbusters, whose business is pretty bad up until Sigourney Weaver notices the eggs in her kitchen are frying themselves.

It’s a horror parody that keeps up a playfulness relied on sincere, dry humor. If you watch this film without audio, it’s likely to become a very serious thriller with crazy special effects. Its witty dialogue and delivery aren’t easily understood, which makes it a solid comedy classic. Just remember it inspired millions of kids all over to world to bust ghosts, and ended up getting a sequel (not as good) and a successful cartoon series.


2. Lost in Translation (2003)


Admittedly, Murray is always at his best when he’s torn between comedy and tragedy. This was the role that gave him the Oscar nomination he was meant to receive, even though the fact that he didn’t win still revolts me.

As Sofia Coppola’s second feature, Bill Murray plays international movie star Bob Harris who is in Tokyo filming commercials for Suntory whiskey. In a mix of jet-lag and loneliness, he meets Charlotte and strikes up a friendship with her. It’s the sort of romance drama you can’t quite catch, where you see them at loss in a foreign country as well as in life. You can’t help thinking this is probably the role that most resembles Murray in reality, karaoke singing included.

Coppola, who also wrote the film, accomplishes the difficult task of showing bored characters while keeping us interested in them, creating a pleasing empathy for both of them without ever feeling like we know much about them except that they were lucky enough to create something so unique in such a short time. They are nothing more than themselves, their lives outside of their relationship doesn’t matter except to learn and to teach from each other’s experiences. It’s the story of an encounter, as simple as that, but Murray is brilliant in it.


1. Groundhog Day (1993)


It all ends here, in the perfect comedy. Even though I’m more appreciative of Bill Murray’s most purely melancholic side, I couldn’t brand this film as anything other than number one on his essential films.

Known for inspiring a plea to the White House to make February 2nd The Bill Murray Appreciation Day, it’s a film whose genius may not be immediately understood. If you don’t know, it’s about a man who finds himself living the same day over and over again, and is the only one in the world who knows it. Murray is indispensable in a way that you couldn’t possibly imagine anyone else doing what he’s done here. He plays the perfect bastard.

The whole film is like a metaphor for the most materialistic generations. The character doesn’t just learn, he changes. There’s not a moment where you think it’s getting less exciting because he just owns it. He gets away with it in the most natural, Bill Murray way. It’s the epitome of his charisma, and it’s timeless.

Author Bio: Alex Gandra is a Portuguese writer and filmmaker.She graduated this year in New Communication Technologies from the University of Aveiro and is currently in a master’s degree in Digital Audiovisual. She spends too much time in cafés writing scripts and other kinds of texts you can find at medium.com/@gandra_le. She’s also writing a book she hopes to finish some day.