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What’s the best Bill Murray movie of all time? We could debate that question for hours. But we don’t need to; I have the answer.


And I’ll tell you what it is straightaway, lest you think I’m going to blather before actually giving you my take. It’s 2003’s Lost in Translation. As I’m typing this, the movie just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Released on September 12, 2003, the Sofia Coppola-directed film stars Murray as a fading American movie star named Bob Harris who meets a young woman in Tokyo with whom he has much more in common than meets the eye.


It’s a departure for the actor, to be sure. Murray’s comedic work on the big screen from the late ’70s through the early ’90s is legendary. From classics like Meatballs and Caddyshack and Stripes and Ghostbusters and What About Bob? and Groundhog Day the man absolutely could not miss. But it’s when he started to pivot away from comedic roles to more serious fare in the late ’90s that the Murray magic started to happen.


That pivot point was Wes Anderson’s second film, 1998’s Rushmore. Murray as Herman Blume was the perfect blend of the comedic and dramatic. It gave the actor an opportunity to showcase his depth while still playing to his strengths. The performance ensconced Murray in the Wes Anderson menagerie. And it put him on Sofia Coppola’s radar.


The Best Bill Murray Movie Isn’t the One You Think It Is

Coppola claims she wouldn’t have made Lost in Translation without Bill Murray as Bob Harris. Once you’ve watched the film, you can see why. Much like his portrayal of Herman Blume in Rushmore, Murray plays Harris with a comedic edge, but balances it out with a melancholy depth that captures the disconnection and despondence of a middle-aged actor whose time has passed and who is far away from home.


His on-screen chemistry with Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte is…well, it’s hard to find the proper adjective. There’s a complex connection between the two characters. It’s romantic without being a romance. It’s love without falling in love. It’s a bond and an understanding between two people at two very different stations in life that, at that moment in time, have everything in common.


Lost in Translation is an incredibly well-done film. It’s an all-time favorite of mine; I come back to it pretty much every year. And a big reason why is Bill Murray. I was floored by the nuance of his performance when the movie debuted 20 years ago, and I still am today. I’ll always love Peter Venkman and Carl Spackler. But Bob Harris will always be my favorite.

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