It's Just Like Groundhog Day—Or Is It? How the Bill Murray Classic Spawned a Whole State of Mind

A day that feels like yesterday or a rut you can't get out of is commonly referred to as being "like Groundhog Day" thanks to the 1993 movie.

By Natalie Finn Feb 02, 2022 3:00 PMTags
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You really know a movie is a classic and has become a pop culture touchstone when it is endlessly referenced and quoted and, ultimately, ends up becoming the go-to term for a universally recognized life experience.

And such is the case with the ever-delightful 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as jaded, chauvinist and fairly misanthropic weatherman Phil Connors, who's forced to relive the same day over and over until he finally gets it right.

The film was a modest success at the box office, earning about $71 million, but the embarrassment of cultural riches came later when people caught on to its rewatchable whimsy and started adopting Phil's existential conundrum as their own.

Saying something is "like Groundhog Day"—which is today, Feb. 2, cheers!—has become a much-used phrase, used to describe any repetitive experience, whether it bears any resemblance to the goings-on of the film or not.

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Because people surely don't mean actual Groundhog Day, which hinges on whether a groundhog comes out of its burrow and sees its shadow and retreats back into the hole (six more weeks of winter) or doesn't (meaning spring comes early).

The title of the movie references the sameness that the fabled retreat of the groundhog represents, six more weeks of the same-old dreary cold, but Phil's journey as the calendar stops moving forward takes that sameness to a new level—one that was updated for the new millennium in Palm Springs, 2020's extremely timely addition to the different-s--t, same-day canon.

For instance, something happening to you this year that's similar to something that happened to you last year, isn't an actual Groundhog Day experience, but it's reminiscent of the Groundhog Day experience, and you certainly wouldn't be alone in using it to describe circumstances repeating themselves.

Columbia Pictures Corporation

And boy has that phrase permeated every level of conversation, no matter how serious.

Historically the vibe that leads to invoking the film has been lighthearted, such as when Kristen Bell's endlessly savvy Veronica Mars cracked in a 2007 episode of the cult-favorite mystery series: "I have to, have to, have to go to my morning classes tomorrow. Getting lost in the sex-nap-eat-repeat loop. I'm in the porn version of Groundhog Day."

Or when then-Cleveland Cavalier Antawn Jamison said of the team's losing ways in 2011, "It's like Groundhog Day, every day," he helped spawn the go-to metaphor for futility in sports, with the L.A. Times using the reference in 2016 with regard to hopes that the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil (the titular groundhog at the center of the film's hubbub) on Feb. 2 might help the Lakers reverse their dreary fall from the NBA's top tier.  Coincidentally, both teams respectively broke their vicious cycles by incorporating LeBron James into the sequence of events.

From sports and entertainment to politics and the overall human condition, the reference has had tremendous staying power.

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"Even when you go to jail, you know there's the time when you're gonna get out. But in this situation, it's never ending. It's just like Groundhog Day every day," Britney Spears famously said in the 2008 MTV documentary For the Record, talking about life when her dad was making all the decisions.

Seven years later, talking about gender equality to GQ, Cate Blanchett lamented the lack of real change, saying, "We'll be back here like Groundhog Day next year having the same f--king symposium. It just has to shift."

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

And despite its rom-com origins, there has been no situation too dire to invoke the term.

"This happens way too frequently," Bill Maher said in 2015 on Jimmy Kimmel Live, referring to the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in France. "It's like Groundhog Day, except the groundhog keeps getting its head cut off."

Hell, even Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN that negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program "felt like Groundhog Day."

And, as expected, the references and memes ran rampant as the COVID-19 pandemic relegated so many of us to our homes for extended periods of time, challenging one and all to be able to tell you the difference between this week and last, yesterday and today.

And to think, Murray, Andie MacDowell and director Harold Ramis just thought they were making a rom-com with a life-affirming message, smart dialogue and some well-timed physical pratfalls.

But once the world stumbles on a concept so endlessly useful, try telling the world to let it go. The film, co-written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, took on such a life of its own, in all likelihood it's being referenced these days by a lot of people who've never even seen it—so, what better day to remedy that unfortunate situation?

Happy Groundhog Day to all—and we hope it's a good one, just in case all the same stuff happens tomorrow.

(Originally published Feb. 2, 2016, at 4:15 a.m. PT)