"I've never made any horrible, horrible movies. If you don't ruin your reputation, you can always get work." - Bill Murray
It’s Bill Murray’s world. We just live in it.
There’s so much of Bill Murray’s work sprinkled throughout my everyday life that it actually scares me sometimes. He came along at a very impressionable age for me, so picking the best Bill Murray movies is like picking my favorite kid, but I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this.
I was lucky enough to be a teen in the 80’s when movie comedies hit their peak. I consumed each one over and over again. School consisted of quoting the masters over and over again: Steve Martin, Belushi (once in a lifetime talent), Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, and Dan Ackroyd, who was the best straight man of any generation.
While all legends, they’re not Bill Murray. He is best of the best. One look from him can send anyone into blinding laughter and he’s consistently put out great, funny movies while never taking himself too seriously. He doesn’t just act. He creates and collaborates with the director, whether the director likes it or not.
Here are Bill’s top five movies of all-time. This could have easily been a top 10 list, but wouldn’t have been as fun. Tough choices had to be made. Let the arguments begin.
5) What About Bob? (1991)
I recently introduced my 11-year-old to this movies and forgot just how good it is. And how good Bill is. What About Bob has more laughs and finds Bill at his funniest, playing off the always good Richard Dreyfus. The movie ends a little weak, but the laughs are just too good to pass up as Bill’s character “Bob” terrorizes Dr. Leo Marvin. Again, Dreyfus was great in this movie and really allowed Bill to be Bill.
Bob Wiley: "Fay, this is so scrumptious. Is it hand-shucked?"
4) Meatballs (1979)
I know I’ll catch hell for putting this ahead of films like “What about Bob” and “Ghostbusters”, but this movie doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Probably because of the name it was given. Bill really became a movie star in this role. He carried the movie with such ease, it’s tough to know where he starts and Tripper ends. This movie is just pure fun, and for anyone who grew up in the 70’s or 80’s, Camp Northstar looked awfully familiar.
As a young teen in the 80’s, I must have seen this 15 times and always wished Tripper Harrison was my camp counselor. The closest I got was a guy who could play “Fly by Night” on the acoustic guitar and taught us all about sex. Which was still pretty damn cool.
Tripper (speaking to the entire camp): "And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn't matter because all the really good-looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose. IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! Rest of group: IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER..."
3) Groundhog Day (1993)
There are people worship this movie. And I mean really worship. Many are convinced this is a religious movie, and while the late Harold Ramis, who wrote Groundhog Day, has explained that it’s not, it’s still a brilliantly written script. Ramos and Murray team up again and make a much different movie than they had in the past. Bill is funny, but in a much different way. Similar to how he was in Scrooged, which means he’s arrogant, mean, and on fire. He goes through a journey in this one and hit on all cylinders.
Phil Connors: “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today."
2) Rushmore (1998)
This movie is great for the opposite reasons that made Meatballs a classic: Rushmore was clever, smart, odd, smarmy, and completely different from anything else out there at the time. Bill plays millionaire burnout, Herman Blume, who takes an under-achieving high school kid in under his wing, only to find himself in a holy war with the boy as they fight over the same woman. While you could call this film a “quirky comedy,” you’d be doing it a serious injustice. It has that great combination of being perfectly executed (by Wes Anderson) and a script that’s funny as hell.
Herman Blume (speaking to the school):
"You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here because the fact is you go to one of the best schools in the country: Rushmore. Now, for some of you, it doesn't matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it. Thank you."
1) Stripes (1981)
To me, this is the Godfather of movie comedies. It came out at the right time, didn’t take itself seriously, had sharp writing, and sports an all-start cast of comedic icons. It's not just one of my favorite comedies of all-time, it's my favorite movie. It helped shape my sense of humor, the way I look at the world, and to always question “The Man,” no matter who you are.
John Winger is by far Bill’s best character and really made him a star. It set the tone for his snarky, smart-assed career in comedy and he never looked back. John Candy comes out of his shell and makes a name for himself as the lovable Dewey Oxburger, and even steals a few scenes. And God love Sgt. Hulka. It’s hard to believe that this was originally developed as a vehicle for Cheech & Chong. By the way, this exchange was improvised.
Sergeant Hulka: "Okay, Mr. Push-ups, let's hear your story." John Winger: "Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it's usually something unusual. But now I know why I have always lost women to guys like you. I mean, it's not just the uniform. It's the stories that you tell. So much fun and imagination." [Points to the soldier next to him] John Winger: "Lee Harvey, you are a madman. When you stole that cow, and your friend tried to make it with the cow. I want to party with you, cowboy. If the two of us together, forget it. I'm gonna go out on a limb here. I'm gonna volunteer my leadership to this platoon. An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe. And Sergeant Hulka is always gonna be here to be that big toe for us. I think that we owe a big round of applause to our newest, bestest buddy, and big toe... Sergeant Hulka." [The soldiers start clapping]
I know what you’re thinking: How can I leave off a genius movie whose brilliance is rooted in chaos? How else could you have Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and the brilliant Rodney Dangerfield all in their primes and not have the movie implode? Bill is funny in Caddyshack, but his character isn’t as complete as the others. He does have some great scenes as the creepy greenskeeper, Carl Spackler, which was largely improvised. While it’s one of the most quoted movie of all-time, it’s not an overall great movie (they added the gopher very late to try and tie a story together). It’s more like a lot of sketches all tied together. But it’s still awesome and fun as hell. You also have to tip your hat to the genius that was Ted Knight for being the glue that held this film together. It's not an American classic for nothing.
Carl Spackler (speaking to a caddy): "So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand-foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, 'Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.' And he says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' "So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."
Image credit: aaronHwarren and Mike Lewis via CC BY 2.0