The Best Movie Ever: Bill Murray

The Best Bill Murray Movie Ever

Bill Murray is one of the most beloved stars of his generation, even though he still won't let Ghostbusters 3 get off the ground. The comedian broke into the popular culture with his memorable run on "Saturday Night Live" before emerging as a full-fledged movie star with CaddyshackStripes and Ghostbusters. Although he's had his fair share of flops, his career never completely hit the skids like his contemporaries Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase. In fact, he's reinvented himself over the past decade-and-a-half as a dramatic lead – although still usually a funny one – in films like Lost in TranslationBroken Flowers and now The Monuments Men, a World War II saga directed by George Clooney.

With a career like that, filled with classic comedies and remarkable indies, we thought it was finally time to decide which film is The Best Bill Murray Movie Ever. We polled CraveOnline's film critics William "Bibbs" Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Brian Formo and Fred Topel to find out which film they think deserves the distinction. Two of them found common ground, the others went in completely different directions. Take a look, and come back every Wednesday for another installment of The Best Movie Ever.

William Bibbiani:

Quick Change

My favorite Bill Murray movie? Easy: What About Bob?, an idyllic comedy pairing of Bill Murray as the endearingly emotionally disturbed patient of therapist Richard Dreyfuss, who himself goes mad over the course of Murray's treatment. The best movie Bill Murray ever starred in? Tougher, but I'm pretty sure it's either Lost in TranslationRushmoreGhostbusters or Groundhog Day. But the movie that best encapsulates everything I love about Bill Murray? Quick Change, no other answer. Debate closed. [Note: Read on for the debate.]

Co-directed by Howard Franklin and Murray himself, Quick Change stars the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member as a master criminal who pulls off the perfect bank heist ( it really is a clever plan), but whose getaway with co-conspirators Randy Quaid and Geena Davis is stymied at every possible turn. Literally everything that can go wrong does, and to a spectacular degree. Anal-retentive bus drivers, overzealous meter maids and a mugger who steals everything but their millions of dollars all test Murray's patience, and emphasize the actor's impeccable timing and most reliable comic asset: the ability to be superior to, yet perpetually victimized by, everyone around him.

I have an affinity for what I call "poor bastard" movies, in which fate intervenes to screw with the everyman time and time again. Sometimes they veer into the realm of discomfort comedy, but Quick Change finds the right balance: the victims are themselves unapologetic criminals, so they more-or-less deserve everything that happens to them, but they're also charming characters whose reactions to their increasingly ridiculous plight are both plausible and gutbustingly funny. Murray is of course the star of the show, but he never dominates the screen, letting every other actor earn their own laughs. He seems to know full well that the urgency of the plot, and the complete inability of that plot to get going, will make anything he does on camera hilarious. It's the perfect marriage of premise and star, with each asset bringing out the best in the other. 

Brian Formo:

Groundhog Day Bill Murray

I'm not thinking of the best film that Bill Murray has starred in. Or even the best performance that Bill Murray has given. When I think of an all caps BILL MURRAY MOVIE its just Groundhog Day.

When I watch Lost in Translation and laugh at his whiskey ad, descriptions for carpet samples and interactions with the “premium fantasy” woman, I am fully aware that I am watching Bill Murray. Same withRushmore, same with Broken Flowers and especially with Wild Things, where his stock joke of an ambulance chaser is funnier than it should be just because it’s Bill Murray playing an ambulance chaser – in a sex movie!

That’s certainly not a problem.

Seeing Bill Murray is always joyful. Especially when it’s unexpected.

As an actor, Murray doesn’t move too far from his comfort zone (which is maybe moreso a discomfort zone). But if it’s a joy to just see Bill Murray in anything and everything, it’s because Groundhog Day did all that heavy lifting. If Bill Murray is in a whiskey-funk, you know his character has got a soul somewhere because he relived the same day over and over and over. In Hyde Park on Hudson is it okay that he is FDR and he’s having an affair with his cousin? Maybe. Because he wants to adopt and foster all the kids! Why’s he look confused at the karaoke bar in Lost in TranslationBecause the only song he knows is “I Got You Babe!”

In Zombieland, Emma Stone laughs while Bill Murray (as Bill Murray) has his last, elongated breathe before he dies. She says, “I’m sorry. He just gets me.” It’s probably because he tried so many different fantasies in Groundhog Day. Murray was the perfect choose-your-own-adventure character because all of his decisions became failure. He failed and only begrudgingly tried again. This made him accessible. He brought that to every role since.

I may have other movies of his on my shelf, but Murray doesn’t really exist in them – it’s just Phil, trying out another character, reliving them all a little differently. Because I laughed at his attempts of crime, seduction and connection in the repeated scenarios in Groundhog Day, Murray has since repeated characters and I laugh because his back catalogue has filled in all the lines. Because of Groundhog Day,every one of his subsequent – and rare – film appearances became an all caps BILL MURRAY appearance. 

Fred Topel:

Groundhog Day

Wow, with such a legendary career, I could be tempted to pick so many tangential Bill Murray movies. I’m kind of okay not to include his acclaimed indie film career, because as great as he is dramatically, I do think he’s firing on all cylinders in comedy. Of course I adore Little Shop of Horrors but Murray’s cameo as the dental patient doesn’t really make it a “Bill Murray movie.” Picking an epic character performance like What About Bob? or supporting roles like Ed Wood and Tootsie was tempting, but I can probably save Kingpin for when we’re picking the best Woody Harrelson movie.
Of the classic Bill Murray comedies, Groundhog Day really does everything right and then some. It is a comedic premise so sound that it immediately became common terminology for “a Groundhog Day scenario,” not that it’s come up that often in pop culture. If you could live the same day over and over again, how would you use it to your advantage? The premise goes both selfish (personal monetary gain, sex), gluttonous, and even tragic. Even on Groundhog Day you can’t cheat death. Murray of course has a field day taking advantage of his God-like knowledge of a single day’s occurrences.
Groundhog Day gets it right on so many little details that any single misstep could have watered down its quality. Bravo for not explaining why Groundhog Day repeated. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how Phil (Murray) deals with the repeating day. You know that a 2014 version would have a full scientific explanation per studio notes. Bravo for not making it all a dream. I was worried they were going there when Phil gets whacked on the head with a shovel early on. No, that was just some slapstick. Groundhog Day sets up a wealth of comic subplots, some so subtle you didn’t even realize they would pay off later, and has a fairly profound message about self-growth layered in there subtly. There’s never a moment when Phil learns a valuable lesson, it’s just a gradual character change without ever sacrificing jokes. I also like when he tries to recreate the magic of his date with Rita (Andie MacDowell) but no matter what you repeat objectively, you can’t force chemistry to happen. 

Witney Seibold:

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray. What a charming guy. Lazy, affable, a little bit insane, a little bit wry, but still comfortable and self-aware. This is a man who is so confident and so funny that he can throw P.J. Soles onto a kitchen range and hit her repeatedly with a spatula, and it can actually come across as a viable form of seduction. Which is, by the way, what happens in 1981's Stripes, one of three comedies that really exploded Murray onto the film scene (the other two were Meatballs and Caddyshack). And while it's tempting to pick Stripes as Murray's best film – it certainly exemplifies his appeal as a comedic leading man, and served as the prototype for well-loved follow-ups like Ghostbusters – it's certainly not the best film he has appeared in. That honor belongs to, I feel, Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation.

In Lost in Translation, Murray seems uncomfortable. Murray, while charming and confident, has always has an air of baffled melancholy lurking underneath his on-screen persona. He has a twinkle in his eye, but his face is often a hangdog mask of weariness. Coppola was wise to cast Murray as an American in Japan, somewhat lost and alone in this alien universe, longing not necessarily for romance, but for a real human connection. Which he finds in the form of an equally adrift Scarlett Johansson. Other directors had previously tapped into Murray's melancholy (RushmoreThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Hamlet preceded this), but I feel that Lost in Translation did it best. It's a lovely, heartfelt, wholly emotional film where Murray gets to reveal his humor and his melancholy all at once.  

The Best Bill Murray Movie Ever