Geoff Murphy grew up in Wellington where he trained and worked as a schoolteacher. A founding member of legendary musical and theatrical co-operative Blerta, he worked on the Blerta Television series (a kiwi version of the Monty Python series that mixed musical performances with sketches). His debut feature was Wildman (1976) which was screened on a double bill with short-film, Dagg Day Afternoon, starring John Clark also directed by Murphy.
He made his name with the classic and road-movie Goodbye Pork Pie; one of the first New Zealand films to attract large-scale local audiences, shortly followed by Utu. In 1985, The Quiet Earth became another Kiwi classic and gained an international cult following, featuring Bruno Lawrence as one of the last men on earth. The film sold to around 80 countries, winning particular attention in the United States. Murphy directed his first project outside New Zealand in 1989, a spy thriller featuring an Emmy-nominated performance by Max Von Sydow. For the next decade he worked largely in America, directing a number of titles including US-shot disaster movie Dante's Peak. In 2001, he put together Blerta Revisited, a collection of skits, shorts, and music from the Blerta archives. He followed it with his first drama on home soil in fourteen years, a conspiracy thriller Spooked. He then returned to New Zealand to work on all three of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Geoff Murphy also worked as a scriptwriter, assistant director, special effects man, school teacher and trumpet player. With John O'Shea, Bill Sheat, Roger Donaldson, and John Reid among others, Geoff was involved with the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission in 1978. In 2013 he was announced in the New Year's Honours list as an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM).