Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Brittany Murphy's Best Movie And TV Roles

Brittany Murphy has been all over the news with the release of HBO Max's "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?," a salacious true-crime documentary that explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding the actress' death. But rather than focusing on the tragic demise of a talented young thespian, we thought we'd instead celebrate her artistic contributions. Murphy had an illustrious career over her short 32 years, racking up 68 acting credits since she started in the business as a young teenager. She was also a capable singer, with her most notable endeavor in music being her appearance on the Paul Oakenfold song "Faster Kill Pussycat," which hit No. 1 on the Billboard dance club songs chart in June 2006. 

It all began with an uncredited 1991 guest appearance on "Murphy Brown," which led to more television work and an eventual jump to film. Murphy's career had its ups and downs (and it certainly ended on more of a down, as detailed in the documentary), but her screen presence and acting chops were consistent. And while some of her films were downright great — like "Sin City" and "Clueless" — the actress also had a knack for being the best thing in a bad or mediocre movie ("Little Black Book," anyone?). So, while all of the television shows and films on this list may not be stellar as a whole, we chose them because Murphy herself excelled. In remembrance of a gifted young woman who died far too early, here are some of Brittany's Murphy's best movie and television roles.

Almost Home

Murphy's earliest roles were in television. The teenage actress typically played the awkward friend or the main character's daughter. Her first big break was in "Drexell's Class," playing Brenda Drexell, daughter of teacher Otis (Dabney Coleman). But it was the sitcom "Almost Home" where audiences first glimpsed what was to come.

Murphy appeared in Season 2 of "Almost Home," which was originally titled "The Torklesons" before a name change and restructuring. The second season had divorced mom Millicent Torkelson (Connie Ray) move to Seattle with her children in order to take a job nannying for a family with a bunch of spoiled kids. Murphy played Molly Morgan, one of the overindulged children she nannied. It was essentially "The Nanny" crossed with "Step by Step," both of which were also on the air in 1992 when "Almost Home" debuted.

The show was canceled after the second season (in 1993), and Murphy went on a streak of guest-starring roles over the next few years. This included one-off appearances on shows like "Blossom," "Frasier," and "Seaquest 2032," as well as multi-episode stints on "Boy Meets World" and "Party of Five." Most notably, Murphy played a friend of Tia and Tamera in six episodes of "Sister, Sister" in 1994-1995.


There is no doubt about it: "Clueless" was the movie that brought Murphy to mainstream attention. As disheveled and unrefined transfer student Tai Frasier, Murphy proved she had comedic chops and tugged on our heartstrings. The pet project of superficial rich girls Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne Davenport (Stacey Dash), Tai transformed from a goofy and lovable girl next door into a horrible mean girl, only to revert back to her original endearing self by the end credits. The dynamic role allowed Murphy to show off many layers. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Murphy handles her character's transformation with gusto."

No one was going to steal "Clueless" from lead actress Alicia Silverstone, but Murphy came close, and she certainly stood out in many scenes. From singing "Rolling with the homies" after being hit in the head with a shoe to calling Cher "a virgin who can't drive," Murphy's Tai had some of the most memorable moments in the film. Even Alicia Silverstone has cited the "virgin" line as one of her favorite parts of the movie (via USA Today). And Murphy's line reading of "I hope not sporadically" — after her character is taught the large word as part of her "lessons" — is pure perfection.

King of the Hill

In addition to her on-screen roles, Murphy was an accomplished voice actress who worked in films like "Happy Feet" and "Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs," as well as video games. But it was on television where Murphy started doing voice work, acting in more than 250 episodes of FOX's popular "King of the Hill" during the show's 13-year run. While she voiced a variety of side characters and teenager Joseph Gribble (for the first four seasons), her main gig was Hank Hill's dimwitted niece, Luanne Platter. It would go on to become one of her most career-defining parts.

"King of the Hill" was on the air from 1997 to 2010, which makes it one of the longest-running cartoons in history (per IMDB). Murphy was recognized for her voice work with Annie Award nominations in 1997, 2000, and 2004, finally winning on her final nod. "Brittany Murphy was like no other," said Kathy Najimy, who voiced Peggy Hill on the show, upon Murphy's passing. "A bright light. Never a mean or judgmental word, wildly fun, silly, loyal friend. Sweet, funny, smart, unbelievably talented actress and singer [with a] brilliant, moving body of work."

David and Lisa

Murphy never shied away from playing a difficult character, and her role in the 1998 TV movie "David and Lisa" was undoubtedly one of the more challenging ones of her career. In the film, Murphy portrayed Lisa Brandt, a woman with multiple personalities who strikes up a romance with another patient (David Clemens, played by Lukas Haas) at the residential treatment center where she lives. Murphy brilliantly portrayed both of Lisa's complex personalities: Muriel, who does not talk at all, and Lisa, who speaks only in rhymes.

"David and Lisa," a remake of a 1962 film, was produced by Oprah Winfrey's production company. Though it's not one of Murphy's better-known projects, her work was incredibly nuanced and affecting. Variety wasn't wild about the movie, but they singled out Murphy's golden work in their review. "Murphy, so good as the sad-sack Tai in the film 'Clueless' and who gives voice to Luanne each week in Fox's 'King of the Hill,' is terrific here as well, turning in sparkling work as a complex lost soul," wrote Variety critic Ray Richmond. "She pulls off the difficult trick of blending coquettish sensuality with aimless angst, in the process supplying the film's true backbone."

Drop Dead Gorgeous

While "Drop Dead Gorgeous" didn't make a huge mark when it came out in 1999, it has become a cult favorite over time. In fact, there were many articles published when the movie turned 20 years old, including one in The Guardian that declared "dark pageant comedy works better in 2019" and another in the Independent that called the film "the cult comedy that defined '90s teen outsiders." The film is a satirical mockumentary about a small-town Minnesota beauty pageant that turns murderous. It's black comedy at its finest.

The movie pokes fun at everything from extreme nationalism to body expectations for women in pageant culture. Murphy appears as dorky Lisa Swenson, one of the contestants in the Sarah Rose Cosmetics American Teen Princess Pageant, and she holds her own in a cast that includes stellar actresses like Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, and Amy Adams. In a 2019 piece on the film, "Teen Vogue" praised Murphy's "endearingly manic, off-the-wall energy" and said, "Brittany Murphy is so unabashedly frenetic and spunky that it makes our loss of the young star feel even greater." The aforementioned piece in The Independent proclaimed Murphy "was never as radiantly spacey and charming as she is here."

Girl, Interrupted

Also in 1999, Murphy appeared in a memorable supporting role in the drama "Girl, Interrupted," playing one of her most layered and distressing characters. Set in a psychiatric hospital circa the 1960s, "Girl, Interrupted" was based upon Susanna Kaysen's best-selling memoir of the same name. Murphy played Daisy Randone, a spoiled young girl struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-harm, and a laxative addiction. Later in the film, we also learn that Daisy hoards chicken carcasses and that she was sexually abused by her father. The tragic, difficult, and at times comedic role gave Murphy much room to display her considerable range.

Much of the attention went to Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of sociopathic Lisa Rowe, but the acting was top-notch across the board. Murphy turned out a fantastic performance that became more and more heartbreaking as parts of Daisy's backstory emerged. The character ultimately committed suicide after a shocking confrontation with Jolie's Lisa. In her review, Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek called Murphy's turn "beguiling and unsettling" and E! Online has referred to her performance as "haunting."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Cherry Falls

Murphy headlined the little-known 2000 slasher flick "Cherry Falls." Despite the film's small audience, Murphy turned out a strong performance as Jody Marken, the daughter of a sheriff in a small town haunted by a serial killer targeting high school virgins. "Cherry Falls" isn't a bad film. One of the reasons it's so obscure is that it never had a theatrical run in the United States; it was only released as a television movie, per the Chicago Tribune. It's a shame that more people haven't seen it, especially since Murphy plays against type as the "good girl" (she was more commonly cast as weirdos, misfits, drug addicts, or sex workers).

Entertainment Weekly's reviewer Doug Brod said Murphy "heads an able low-watt cast that perfectly recalls the generic quality of '80s stalker flicks" and added that the film "might just be the wittiest, most subversive teen thriller since 'Heathers.'" The A.V. Club's reviewer enjoyed the film far less, but still singled out Murphy in his review. "'Cherry Falls' has one giant asset in the usually underutilized Murphy, whose unconventional good looks, appealing awkwardness, and off-kilter presence are refreshing in a genre that defines its heroines by their sexuality and the depth of their cleavage," wrote critic Nathan Rabin.

Sidewalks of New York

Murphy appeared in two movies from writer-director-actor Edward Burns ("The Brothers McMullen"), and the 2001 film "Sidewalks of New York" was the first and best (the other was "The Groomsmen" in 2006). Even then, the movie itself isn't great. Murphy stands out as one of the most redeeming elements. The movie focuses on the intertwining love lives of six characters. Murphy plays Ashley, a waitress adored by lovable nerd Ben Bazler (David Krumholtz), but also having an affair with sleazy married dentist Griffin Ritso (Stanley Tucci).

The A.V. Club praised the performances — and Murphy in particular — in their review, stating that, "The uniformly strong performances, especially Murphy's infectious turn and a hilarious extended cameo by Dennis Farina, help smooth over Burns' distasteful mix of vanity and moralizing." The Chicago Tribune's critic Michael Wilmington similarly praised Murphy's acting, calling her "endearingly squishy and open-hearted Ashley" one of "two prize performances" in the film.

Don't Say a Word

If you've seen the 2001 thriller "Don't Say a Word," chances are that you're picturing Murphy's eerie line reading of "I'll never tell" as you read this. As disturbed mental patient Elisabeth Burrows, who holds the key to a decade-old crime that has resurfaced in the form of a kidnapped little girl, Murphy is unnerving and affecting. Michael Douglas played Dr. Nathan Conrad, a child psychologist tasked with uncovering Elisabeth's secrets and repressed memories before it's too late. The plot is bananas and the movie is uneven, but the film was a moderate success, bringing in $100 million at the box office on a $50 million budget (per Box Office Mojo).

Critics didn't love the movie, but Murphy's performance received many commendations. "Murphy steals the show, something that is fast becoming old hat for her," wrote The Austin Chronicle's movie critic Kimberley Jones. "From her deceptively fluffy breakthrough role in 'Clueless,' Murphy has consistently wowed, and was just as deserving of an Oscar as her 'Girl, Interrupted' co-star Angelina Jolie. Murphy's screentime takes a back seat to Douglas', of course, but from that back seat she makes a very big noise." For her turn as Elisabeth in "Don't Say a Word," Murphy was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the Satellite Awards.

Riding in Cars with Boys

"Riding in Cars with Boys" is very much a Drew Barrymore vehicle. She plays Beverly Donofrio, a teen mother who overcomes the struggles of her early life by way of an education and a lot of perseverance. It's a rare serious role for the actress in her era of silly comedies like "Never Been Kissed" and "The Wedding Singer." But while Barrymore was the lead, it was Murphy who stole the show (and Steve Zahn, as Beverly's drug-addicted husband Ray) in this 2001 Penny Marshall dramedy.

In "Riding in Cars with Boys," Murphy plays Fay Forrester, Beverly's childhood friend who also becomes a teenage mother and who sticks by her side until a turn of events forces her to cut off the relationship. But since the film traces Beverly's life from 1961 to 1985, Murphy still features in a good chunk of it. Austin Chronicle critic Marjorie Baumgarten said Murphy was "wonderful to watch," Slant magazine called her performance "hysterical," and CNN's review said, "Brittany Murphy proves that her great work in 'Don't Say A Word' was not a fluke." "Riding in Cars with Boys" is another instance where Murphy's comedic timing and magnetic presence far outweigh the quality of the film as a whole.

8 Mile

Though she was also good in "Spun," which came out in the same year, Murphy's next truly great role was in the 2002 film "8 Mile," where she starred alongside Eminem in the not-a-biopic (that nonetheless felt a lot like a biopic). In the film, Eminem plays Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr., a young aspiring rapper who works at a Detroit car factory and lives in a trailer with his alcoholic mother (played by a dynamic Kim Basinger), his sister, and his mom's boyfriend. The film is B-Rabbit's story, but Murphy makes her mark as his love interest, Alex Laterno.

Alex is an aspiring model who adores B-Rabbit's rapping and uses his budding notoriety as a chance to get out of Detroit. She's a sympathetic character until she cheats on him and becomes one of the story's villains. CNN's reviewer Paul Clinton said, "Murphy brings just the right touch of vulnerability and strength to her role of Alex," and Seattle Times critic Moira McDonald called her "brilliant." The Orlando Sentinel's critic Jay Boyar called Murphy's portrayal "alluringly feral," which is — we think — also a compliment.

Uptown Girls

By 2003, Murphy had become a bonafide leading lady, headlining films like "Just Married," "Uptown Girls," and "Little Black Book." All of these films were released within a two-year period and all of them are lightweight mediocrities, but "Uptown Girls" at least has glimpses of something special. Murphy appeared as Molly Gunn, a spoiled young orphan who loses her inheritance and is forced to (gasp) get a job for the first time in her life. She becomes a nanny for a precocious, tightly wound New York City child named Ray Schleine (Dakota Fanning). Predictably, the two learn to love each other. Molly teaches Ray to chill out and have fun, and Ray forces Molly to grow up. It's nothing groundbreaking, but the chemistry between the two actresses was good and there are elements of the movie that are quite funny.

Murphy's performance is stronger than the film itself, and critics were not kind in their reviews of the movie as a whole (though it should be noted that audience ratings are far higher, per Rotten Tomatoes). And while not all critics enjoyed Murphy's acting, those who did were not shy about expressing their support. Famed movie critic Roger Ebert went so far as to compare Murphy to the great Lucille Ball (by way of Marilyn Monroe), writing, "Murphy has a kind of divine ineptitude that moves beyond Marilyn's helplessness into Lucy's dizzy lovability. She is like a magnet for whoops! moments." He added, "Murphy's performance has a kind of ineffable mischievous innocence about it."

Sin City

Murphy appears as Shellie in the 2005 neo-noir crime drama "Sin City," which is based upon a graphic novel with the same name. Shellie is a sweet cocktail waitress being hassled by a threatening ex-boyfriend (Benicio Del Toro as Jack "Jackie Boy" Rafferty), who happens to be a dirty cop. Her current boyfriend, Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owen), helps prostitute Miho (Devon Aoki) dispose of Jackie Boy's body after she murders him for harassing another sex worker. This is just one component of the violent and dark film, which follows multiple stories. Shellie is the only character in the large ensemble to appear in all three of the segmented stories in the film.

"Sin City" is one of Murphy's best-reviewed films, though the massive cast and Murphy's relatively small role meant she was usually overlooked in reviews. There were, however, a handful of critics who singled the actress out. "If, however, 'Sin City's' construction is wholly self-aware, its deliberately affected performances (highlighted by Murphy's acid-tongued turn as the saucy Shellie) wisely forgo winks to their own outlandishness," wrote Slate's Nick Schager in his review.

The Dead Girl

In the 2006 crime thriller "The Dead Girl," Murphy plays Krista Kutcher, the murdered woman at the center of the story. Her nude, dead body is found at the start of the film, but because the movie has a five-part, nonlinear structure, it's not until the final segment of the film that Murphy's work begins. We learn much in the earlier segments — that Krista is a sex worker, that she has a daughter, that she was sexually abused, and that she has fallen prey to a serial killer — but it is in this fifth section that we get to see Krista's final hours. Murphy shines in the complexities of the role. It's a shame the movie wasn't widely released.

The San Francisco Chronicle's review called Murphy's work in the film "terrific" and gushed over the way she inhabited the role. "Murphy clearly worked on trying to sound like someone living the low life. The timbre of her voice, the nature of her speech and even her facial expressions suggest a profitable study of drug addicts and others on the fringes," wrote critic Mick LaSalle. "She inhabits the soon-to-be-dead girl with no vanity. Her performance combines, poignantly, a lust for life with a kind of drug-enforced idiocy bordering on the hopeless." Many other reviews were equally complimentary, with the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten calling it "the best work of her career" and the Houston Chronicle's Amy Biancolli calling it a "fierce portrayal."