Since making his debut in his home country in the late 1990s, Murphy has also become a presence in British and American cinemas noted by critics for his performances in many independent and mainstream films. He is best known as Jim in 28 Days Later (2002), the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–12), Jackson Rippner in Red Eye (2005), Robert Capa in Sunshine (2007), Robert Fischer in Inception (2010) and Thomas Shelby in the BBC series Peaky Blinders.
Murphy begins his performing career as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he makes his professional acting debut in the play Disco Pigs in 1996. While continuing with stage work he also begins appearing in independent films, first coming to international attention in 2002 as the hero of Danny Boyle‘s post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. Murphy’s profile continues to grow in 2005 when he appears in a series of successful films including as the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan‘s 2005 blockbuster Batman Begins, a role he reprises in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and in the action-thriller Red Eye (2005). For his performance as a transgender woman in Breakfast on Pluto (2005), Murphy receives a Golden Globe award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
In 2006, Murphy plays the lead role in Ken Loach‘s Palme d’Or-winning film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He teams up again with Boyle for the science-fiction film Sunshine (2007), and with Nolan for the highly successful thriller Inception (2010). Since 2013, Murphy has played the lead in the BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders. He continues to work on stage, and wins the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for Misterman in 2011.
In 2011 Murphy becomes patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is closely associated with the work of Professor Pat Dolan Director UCFRC and UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.