Cillian Murphy first cut his teeth at the Corcadorca Theatre Company in his hometown of Cork, Ireland at the age of 20, where he nailed the audition for his first acting role in Enda Walsh’s “Disco Pigs” play. Murphy made enough of an impression to not only land the role for the theater part, but he also starred in the film adaptation years later. Although the movie wasn’t necessarily a renowned success, his performance caught the eye of Danny Boyle: the legendary filmmaker, then searching for a lead in his post-apocalyptic thriller, “28 Days Later.” That movie would significantly boost Murphy’s profile, earning him nominations for Best Newcomer at the Empire Awards and Breakthrough Male Performance at the MTV Movie Awards. 

With 40 movies and 27 years to his career, Murphy seems to be progressing with each appearance, and his latest role was his biggest yet. As the titular physicist and “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer in last year’s massive blockbuster “Oppenheimer,” Murphy netted his first career Oscar nomination and looks to be a major contender for the win. His sixth collaboration in a 20-year relationship with Christopher Nolan, the “Oppenheimer” actor jumped at the opportunity to star in his first lead role for the filmmaker, who took Murphy under his wing early in his career. 

“Out of the blue, he called me up and said ‘I’d like you to play Oppenheimer,’” Murphy said to Deadline. “You have a few of those great days in your life as an actor, which you’ll never forget and that was one of them. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Murphy was also considered to play Oppenheimer in the short-lived 2014 TV series “Manhattan,” but was passed up for Daniel London — allowing Murphy to properly nail the role nine years later. The series centered on Frank Winter, a physics professor leading the Manhattan Project in the New Mexico town of Los Alamos: a character that didn’t make the cut in Nolan’s version of the story. From supervillain to terrorist assassin and WWll physicist, there is no character Murphy has away shied from. 

In celebration of Murphy’s Oscar nomination, IndieWire has updated our list of his greatest roles. Read on for the 12 best Cillian Murphy performances, ranked.

With editorial contributions by Alison Foreman, Ryan Lattanzio, and Christian Zilko.

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