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What Other Movies Has Oppenheimer Star Cillian Murphy Starred In?

Before he was the inventor of the atomic bomb, Cillian Murphy played a Batman villain, a WWII soldiers, and a few post-apocalyptic survivors.

By James Grebey

Cillian Murphy has become death, destroyer of worlds. Or, at least, he has become J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb and the man behind that famous quote. Oppenheimer, the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, opens in theaters on July 21, and it gives Murphy his biggest role yet. The 47-year-old Irish actor has been a regular in the movies and, to a lesser extent, on TV screens for more than two decades before Oppenheimer, the historical war drama about the invention and building of the atomic bombs that were used to end World War II — and give humanity the power to destroy itself. 

RELATED: Oppenheimer Star Cillian Murphy Says Playing Father of Atomic Bomb Both 'Terrifying and Exciting'

Before Oppenheimer premieres, let’s look back at some of Murphy’s previous roles, including a member of Batman’s rogues' gallery, a scientist on a mission to the sun, and a survivor of multiple apocalypses. 

28 Days Later (2002)

Murphy’s breakout role came in 2002 when he starred in 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle’s terrifying reinvention of the zombie genre. The story, which was written by future Ex Machina director Alex Garland, has Murphy’s character, Jim, wake up from a coma after 28 days — only to discover that a highly infectious virus known as Rage has transformed most of Great Britain into mindless, hyper-aggressive, zombie-like beings.

It’s an incredible early showcase for Murphy, who has an innate haunting beauty about him that lends itself well to walking around an eerily empty London before chaos breaks out. 

The Dark Knight Trilogy (2002-2012)

Murphy actually auditioned to play Batman in Batman Begins, and while Nolan decided he wasn’t right to play the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale got the role), he felt an instant connection with Murphy, and cast him as Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. He’s Batman Begins' secondary villain after Ra's al Ghul, but his fear-obsessed baddie might be the better foe.

(Who can forget how Murphy says “the bat-man?”)

Murphy would return as the Scarecrow in the next two Batman movies in cameo roles, both of which are delightful. 

Red Eye (2005)

The same year he played a supervillain, Murphy was also playing a baddie in Red Eye, a psychological thriller from Scream creator Wes Craven. Murphy plays the subtly-named assassin Jackson Rippner, who becomes a terrifying threat to a young woman (played by Rachel McAdams) when they’re seated next to each other on a red-eye flight. It’s a great showcase of Murphy’s talents, as he’s got an undeniable magnetism and charisma even as he’s scaring his fellow actors and the audience alike. 

The Wind the Shakes the Barley (2006)

World War II is not Murphy’s first on-screen war. He starred in this 2006 war drama about the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War in the early 1920s. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and Murphy’s nuanced performance is no small part of that. 

Sunshine (2006)

Thanks to Sunshine, the atomic bomb is not the biggest bomb Murphy has ever created on the big screen. In this haunting sci-fi flick (another Boyle and Garland collaboration), Murphy plays a scientist on the fatefully named Icarus II, a spaceship that will travel to the sun and detonate an unfathomably massive bomb Murphy’s character designed in order to restart it. It’s cerebral, beautiful — and horrifying.  

Inception (2010)

Another Nolan collaboration, Inception casts Murphy as the heir to a business empire and the target of Leonardo DiCaprio’s reverse-heist dream invasion. Murphy gives the character the right amount of pathos, and even as you’re hoping DiCaprio’s plan works and they successfully incept him, you’re also yearning for Murphy’s own catharsis, which the film ultimately provides. 

Dunkirk (2017)

Once more, Murphy co-starred in a Nolan movie, and once more he played a man who is haunted by horrors unknown to most. (Murphy knows his strengths as an actor!) Murphy plays a consequential but unnamed soldier who is attempting, like so many others, to retreat across the English Channel and escape to fight Nazis another day.

RELATED: Christopher Nolan Teases “Interesting Relationship” Between Endings of Inception and Oppenheimer

Due to the film’s multiple timelines, we see two versions of Murphy’s character. At the start, he’s brash, and a bit of a jerk. But, when he ends up in the water and pulled into a civilian rescuer’s boat, Murphy fully sells just how shaken and damaged he’s become in just a few hours — to tragic ends. 

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

In a throwback to his early days as a post-apocalyptic survivor, Murphy appears in the A Quiet Place sequel, though now he’s surviving aliens rather than zombies. As is his seeming trademark, Murphy is yet again a psychologically haunted man, as when we first meet him he’s largely given up hope because his family died earlier in the alien invasion.

Were it another actor but Murphy, playing tortured characters might get old after a while. But, he’s just so good at it that it only makes sense to saddle him with the weight of the creation of the atomic bomb.

Oppenheimer opens exclusively in theaters on July 21.