Celebrating Groundhog Day with the best of Bill Murray

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes Bill Murray (Part 1)

It’s Groundhog Day — again — and you can’t think of the holiday without Bill Murray.

So we’re having some fun today and taking a look back at Murray’s best movie roles.

Sadly, there wasn’t room to include all of his hilarious “Saturday Night Live” sketches.

Nor can I include brief cameos, of which “Zombieland” may be the best cameo ever.

So what are your favorite Murray performances?

Here are my Top 10:

Honorable Mentions

-“Meatballs” (1979)
-“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
-“Ed Wood” (1994)
-“Space Jam” (1996)
-“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)
-“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004)
-“Zombieland” (2009)
-“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)
-“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)
-“Hyde Park on the Hudson” (2012)
-“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
-“Olive Kitteridge” (2014)
-“St. Vincent” (2014)
-“A Very Murray Christmas” (2015)
-“The Jungle Book” (2016)
-“Isle of Dogs” (2018)
-“On the Rocks” (2020)

Now, on with the list…

10. ‘Rushmore’ (1998)

While Bill Murray probably made better overall movies with writer/ director Wes Anderson, from “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) to “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), my favorite Murray role in an Anderson movie was his Golden Globe nomination as rich industrialist Herman Blume waging war against Jason Schwartzman in a revenge montage for the ages in “Rushmore.” The film marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Anderson and Murray, who has appeared in every Anderson film since.

9. ‘Kingpin’ (1996) 

Two years before the Coen Brothers delivered the ultimate bowling comedy masterpiece in “The Big Lebowski” (1998), the Farrelly Brothers offered up this lowbrow gem as their follow-up to “Dumb and Dumber” (1994). Woody Harrelson starred as the one-handed bowler Roy Munson, battling Bill Murray’s eccentric champion Ernie McCracken. The funniest scene comes when the naive Harrelson visits Amish country: “I was out milking the cow.” “We have a bull.” “I’m gonna go brush my teeth.”

8. ‘Scrooged’ (1988)

Four years after George C. Scott delivered an Ebenezer Scrooge for the ages, Richard Donner reinvented Charles Dickens’ classic tale of “A Christmas Carol” by casting Bill Murray as cynical TV executive Frank Cross haunted by three spirits teaching life lessons on Christmas Eve, including the legendary Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

7. ‘Stripes’ (1981)

After his iconic role in “Caddyshack” (1980), Bill Murray delivered another hilarious comedy with “Stripes.” It follows a pair of best friends, John Winger (Bill Murray) and Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis), who quit their day jobs to join the army, instantly clashing with their drill sergeant (Warren Oates). Add the charm of John Candy and you have a comedy classic by Ivan Reitman three years before he did “Ghostbusters” (1984).

6. ‘What About Bob?’ (1991)

Few relationships in comedy history are as hysterical as Bill Murray tormenting Richard Dreyfuss by whining, “Dr. Leo Marvin!” Murray memorably takes “baby steps” as an obsessive-compulsive neurotic named Bob Wiley, who tracks down his serious psychotherapist during his family vacation, driving him absolutely insane every step of the way.

5. ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003)

The fact that this was Bill Murray’s only Oscar nomination proves the Academy’s bias against comedies. Nonetheless, “Lost in Translation” is a gem of a flick, starring Murray as a faded movie star who bonds with a neglected young woman in Tokyo. Murray won the Golden Globe for Best Actor, while the film won for Best Picture: Comedy/Musical. Filmmaker Sofia Coppola went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, proving to be a chip off the old block from father Francis Ford Coppola.

4. ‘Tootsie’ (1982)

Arguably Bill Murray’s most underrated screen performance came as Dustin Hoffman’s sarcastic roommate in Sydney Pollack’s cross-dressing comedy masterpiece “Tootsie” (1982). The film follows a struggling stage actor who has burned every bridge on Broadway, so he decides to dress up as a woman to audition for soap operas. Picking out women’s clothes to wear, Hoffman asks, “Does this make me look hippy?” to which Murray replies in perfect deadpan, “I think we’re getting into a weird area here.”

3. ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Bill Murray’s biggest pop-culture staple remains “Ghostbusters,” a box-office smash as the second-highest grossing movie of 1984, behind only Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984). Murray memorably played Dr. Peter Venkman, who joins his fellow former parapsychology professors Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) to launch a zany ghost removal service. We can all sing Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic theme song, but it was Murray who stole the show, earning a Golden Globe nomination while delivering lines we can all quote to this very day: “Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!”

2. ‘Caddyshack’ (1980)

While I’m a huge fan of Adam Sandler’s slapstick in “Happy Gilmore” (1996), Harold Ramis’ “Caddyshack” is the undisputed funniest golf movie of all time. It’s impossible to top Chevy Chase (“Be the ball, Danny”) and Rodney Dangerfield (“Did somebody step on a duck?”), yet somehow Bill Murray managed to do it as gruff groundskeeper Carl Spackler, eating a Baby Ruth “turd” in the swimming pool before exterminating a pesky gopher with dynamite. Still, his best scene is his “Cinderella Story” monologue, tears in his eyes I guess, about a “former greenskeeper about to become the Masters champion.” It’s in the hole!

1. ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993)

Of all of Bill Murray’s iconic roles in his legendary career, none was funnier, more creative or more heartwarming than “Groundhog Day,” as TV weatherman Phil Connors becomes trapped in a time loop that repeats the same day over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His character arc evolves from selfish to selfless, breaking the spell only after he learns to live for other people. Harold Ramis’ script is one of the most creative ever written, its title entering our lexicon to mean deja vu.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes Bill Murray (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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