You just don’t get them better than Bill Murray. A born comedian with a dramatic range, his relaxed demeanor, easy delivery and wiseacre nature make him a natural for whatever role you’d want him to take on. He can go manic and zany, and he can be so subtle you almost miss it. Always in demand, and always worth the price of admission, here are 10 essential comedies from the filmography of a man who should’ve won an Oscar by now. Before you ask, we’re considering “Lost in Translation” a drama, and as much as we’d like to include “Zombieland,” it wouldn’t seem fair to call it A Bill Murray Comedy. So this shout-out will have to do.
1. “Meatballs” (1979)
Murray’s first starring role in a movie is in a ridiculous slobs vs. snobs comedy directed by Ivan Reitman, who would work with him again to reach even greater heights of hilarity. Cut-rate Camp North Star counselor Tripper Harrison finds his misfit crew in a rivalry with the rich and fancy Camp Mohawk, and once the competition builds to a fevered pitch, he delivers one of the most demoralizing inspirational speeches ever.
2. “Caddyshack” (1980)
One could argue this isn’t technically A Bill Murray Comedy, given that he was seemingly intended to be more of a supporting goofball to the Rodney Dangerfield vs. Ted Knight country club conflict – not to mention Murray’s former “Saturday Night Live” rival Chevy Chase – but Carl Spackler’s ridiculously relentless gopher hunt steals the show with several big bangs. So he’s got that going for him.
3. “Stripes” (1981)
Murray reteams with Reitman, as well as with John Candy and future Egon Spengler Harold Ramis, for this army comedy about two guys with nothing to lose making the rash decision to join the military. A wild-eyed free-thinker like Bill Murray does not belong in basic training, hence the comedy. Incidentally, his character’s name is John Winger, and Dan Harmon has said he wanted Murray to play Jeff Winger’s father on the brilliant TV show “Community.” How great would that have been? Damn great, and that’s the fact, Jack.
4. “Ghostbusters” (1984)
If you didn’t already know this spook-hunting work of comedy gold was essential, something is wrong with you. Murray steps into a role originally intended for John Belushi and makes Dr. Peter Venkman very much his own – so much so that you can scarcely imagine it without him. Ramis and Reitman are in top form, as is Dan Aykroyd in a film that always has something new and funny for you catch each time you watch it, which should be a hundred times minimum. That’s how brilliant this is. Bustin’ makes us all feel good, and let’s all be glad that J. Edgar Hoover never appeared to destroy us.
5. “Scrooged” (1988)
“Groundhog Day” gets all the holiday attention, but this retelling of “A Christmas Carol” through the eyes of an asshole television producer trying to put on his own version of the same tale rides entirely on the force of Murray’s performance. Frank Cross is a loud, belligerent bastard that fights his journey toward the true spirit of Christmas tooth and nail every step of the way with an angry, manic vitriol that only Murray could pull off and still make us like him. Rare is the adaptation of Dickens that includes calling the Ghost of Christmas Future a “pussy.”