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After a couple of seasons on Saturday Night Live, Murray chose a PG-rated comedy about camp for his first starring role. It established him as a performer who's fun for the whole family, a reputation which holds true to this day—though also allowed his cynical worldview to permeate, especially when his malcontent counselor leads the kids in a chant about life: ''It just doesn't matter!''
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In the beloved country-club comedy, Murray ad-libbed the role of the speech-impaired groundsman, who equates killing a gopher with winning the war in Vietnam. It's the comic version of Marlon Brando's nonsensical garbling in Apocalypse Now.
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''Chicks dig me,'' says Murray, as a new Army recruit introducing himself to the platoon. ''Because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do it's usually something unusual.''
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As Dustin Hoffman's playwright roommate, Murray is not a part of the movie's main narrative but rather a sort of essential Greek Chorus, offering dry wit commentary on the story's absurdity as it rolls towards its climax, and culminating in his delivery of this movie's best line: ''That is one nutty hospital.''
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His sarcasm has never been sharper than in the scene where he arrives at Sigourney Weaver's apartment only to find her possessed by a demon. ''That's a different look for you, isn't it?'' he says. Other bon mots: ''You know you could've picked up the place if you were expecting someone.'' ''I guess the roses worked, huh?'' ''We never talk anymore.'' And when she speaks in a dog's growl: ''What a lovely singing voice you must have.''
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This holiday perennial gets funnier and nastier as the years go by. In one scene, a technician can't get antlers to stick on the cute little head of a mouse and Murray—as the classic Dickens antagonist, smartly updated to a lonely showbiz executive—asks him, ''Have you tried staples?''
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Quick Change (1990)
Murray codirected this clever, underappreciated caper costarring Geena Davis and Randy Quaid as part of a trio of bank robbers struggling to flee New York City after pulling off a big heist. Though comic, there's an undercurrent of malaise from Murray that presages the direction his career would go with filmmakers Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola. His clown thief is, of course, ''the crying-on-the-inside kind.''
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What About Bob? (1991)
A horror-film premise—psych patient embeds himself with doctor's family—is bent into a summer comedy, with Murray and Richard Dreyfuss darkly jousting as the patient and doctor, respectively. No other Bill Murray movie better touches upon his divided persona, that peculiar split in which he can be one minute adorable, the next minute arch.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
Murray's most self-examining role is in Harold Ramis's existential comedy, which has grown richer and more complex in the decades since its release. Not many dramas—let alone comedies—raise as many weighty existential issues about the fears we all have of doing the same thing for every day of our lives.
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His raccoon's hide of a toupee is merely the tip of the lunacy in this Woody Harrelson-led bowling farce by the Farrelly brothers. Murray is only onscreen for about 20 minutes, but he owns every over-the-top second as his own. In a pricelessly sick TV commercial in the movie, he offers his services as a dad to fatherless children...with very bosomy mothers.
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Murray wasn't well-tuned to dramatic roles when he tried one in 1984's The Razor's Edge. Fourteen years later, Wes Anderson offered him the role of Herman Blume, the depressed millionaire at the heart of Rushmore, and Murray delivered a serious performance that still seemed right in his wheelhouse. ''Take dead aim on the rich boys,'' he says in his first scene. ''Just remember they can buy anything. But they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it. Thank you.''
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Lost in Translation (2003)
Happiness, levity, melancholy, yearning—emotions that all dance in Murray's eyes during a tender, unironic karaoke rendition of Roxy Music's ''More Than This.'' Like Wes Anderson five years earlier, Sofia Coppola understood how to use Murray's droll melancholy as the character framework for a successful man starved for passion in midlife.
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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
Murray has appeared in every Wes Anderson movie since Rushmore. His only leading role is also his best, as a grief-stricken oceanographer hunting for the shark that ate his best friend. In the film's most moving scene, he finally comes face to face with the beast and says, with that unmistakable Murray resignation in his voice, ''I wonder if it remembers me.''
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Broken Flowers (2005)
The quietest performance of his career is in this philosophical road movie by Jim Jarmusch. Murray plays an ex?ladies' man who catches wind of a long-lost son and revisits his old flames, leading to beautiful scenes of remembering things past with Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone.
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Stolen Scenes Worth Mentioning
The guy is great even with little screen time, such as his hysterical five-minute cameo as himself in 2009's Zombieland (shown)...or his giddy part in 1986's Little Shop of Horrors (in a role originated by Jack Nicholson) as a masochist who becomes aroused in the presence of Steve Martin's deranged dentist...or his neckbrace-wearing lawyer in 1998's overlooked Wild Things...or as the doomed buffoon Polonius in a modern-day 2000 remake of Hamlet...as another lawyer, this time a stop-motion badger, in 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox....as a transgender actor in 1994's Ed Wood?. The list goes on...