The severity and outcome of respiratory viral infections is partially determined by the cellular response mounted by infected lung epithelial cells. Disease prevention and treatment is dependent on our understanding of the shared and unique responses elicited by diverse viruses, yet few studies compare host responses to different viruses while controlling other experimental parameters. We compared changes in gene expression of murine lung epithelial cells infected individually by three respiratory viruses causing mild (rhinovirus, RV1B), moderate (coronavirus, MHV-1), and severe (influenza A virus, PR8) disease in mice. RV1B infection caused numerous gene expression changes, but the differential effect peaked at 12 hours post-infection. PR8 altered an intermediate number of genes whose expression continued to change through 24 hours. MHV-1 had comparatively few effects on host gene expression. The viruses elicited highly overlapping responses in antiviral genes, though MHV-1 induced a lower type I interferon response than the other two viruses. Signature genes were identified for each virus and included host defense genes for PR8, tissue remodeling genes for RV1B, and transcription factors for MHV-1. Our comparative approach identified universal and specific transcriptional signatures of virus infection that can be used to discover mechanisms of pathogenesis in the respiratory tract.