These days, George Clooney is seen as the godfather of Hollywood. He still has the chiseled good looks and bags of charisma, and he has seen and done it all over his career. Although he is one of Hollywood’s most established stars and has appeared in many box office hits, Clooney has also earned respect through choosing smaller films and pursuing his passions both in front of and behind the camera. He originally found fame not through the big screen, but instead as Dr. Doug Ross on E.R., but today we are looking at his 10 greatest film performances.
10. From Dusk till Dawn
In his first major Hollywood film (and whilst he was still filming E.R.), Clooney starred in Robert Rodriguez’s fantastic horror/comedy From Dusk till Dawn. He plays the cool-headed and charismatic bank robber Seth Gecko, who is on the run with his very odd and unhinged brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote the film). The film starts like a typical crime film, but soon takes a very strange and amazing turn once the brothers, who have kidnapped a family, arrive at an isolated strip club in Mexico where everybody turns into blood thirsty vampires. It is down to Seth to lead the charge against them, and Clooney is brilliant as the antihero who is hell-bent on surviving the ordeal. It is a highly entertaining film which is typical of Tarantino and Rodriguez, and it has since become a cult hit.
9. Out of Sight
Ocean’s Eleven (more on this later) is not the only time that Clooney has excelled as playing a bank robber, as he also did in the 1998 crime comedy film Out of Sight. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, it is the first of several collaborations between Clooney and Soderbergh (including Ocean’s Eleven). The film sees Clooney play bank robber Jack Foley, who soon finds himself in love with the U.S. Marshall that is chasing him, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Many see it as a turning point in Clooney’s career because it firmly established him as a big screen star (following the failure of Batman & Robin), and not just an attractive leading man from television. This means that his performance in Out of Sight paved the way for him to star in many of the films on this list following his departure from E.R.
8. Good Night, and Good Luck
It is clear that Clooney is an enormous fan of film, and this is evident through his progression to a screenwriter, producer and director over the years. He made his directorial debut in 2000 with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and just a year later he would write, direct and star in Good Night, and Good Luck. It is a historical drama that follows the conflict between journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy, with Murrow determined to bring down the Senator who is on a crusade to rid Communist elements in the Government. Clooney plays the role of co-producer Fred Friendly, and it is a powerful film that explores the responsibility of the press and how they should behave. The film was a critical success, with it earning six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director for Clooney).
7. Three Kings
During the final few weeks of his contract with E.R., Clooney began his transition into a movies by filming what would become 1999’s Three Kings. Written and directed by David O. Russell, it is a satirical black comedy about a gold heist during the 1991 Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein. Clooney plays Major Archie Gates, who, along with U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), set off to steal gold after discovering a map found in-between an Iraqi officer’s buttock cheeks. What begins as a selfish mission soon sees them caught in the uprising and they must help the rebels and their families to reach the Iranian border. It is a very exciting, dramatic and comical war film which is also thought-provoking, and here Clooney first proved his abilities on the big screen.
6. Up in the Air
Clooney turned in an incredibly assured performance in Jason Reitman’s film adaptation of Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air in 2009, earning him an Academy Award nomination (one of six for the film). Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, who works for an HR consultancy firm that specializes in termination assistance. This sees him travel the country to conduct layoffs for bosses who do not want to do it themselves, which he loves to do and enjoys the travelling lifestyle. However, he is challenged by a fresh-faced new hire Natalie (Anna Kendrick) and he soon begins to realize that he has squandered his life. The chemistry between Clooney and Kendrick is excellent and provides plenty of humor throughout the film, but it is also a powerful and dramatic movie and Clooney is the perfect man to play the complex character who undertakes a huge character arc.
5. Michael Clayton
In 2007, Clooney once again proved himself as one of the best leading men in the industry when he starred as the titular character in Tony Gilroy’s legal thriller Michael Clayton. The film follows Michael Clayton, an attorney at a prestigious NYC law firm, who attempts to deal with his colleague’s apparent breakdown along with the corruption surrounding a client of his firm. Clayton is referred to as “the janitor” because he cleans up all of the problems. It is incredibly tense and thought-provoking throughout, plus the added talent of Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack ensure that it is brilliantly acted from start to finish. It was such a fantastic film that it picked up seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, which Swinton won.
4. Ocean’s Eleven
His biggest commercial success, Ocean’s Eleven skyrocketed Clooney’s fame and was also a hit with critics, which was largely due to the ensemble cast which included Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. The comedy heist was directed by Steven Soderbergh and a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film, with Clooney as the lead character Danny Ocean—a suave and cool-headed con man who develops a plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos in one night. It is a film that is great fun from start to finish and very slick throughout, and through featuring several of the best actors of their generation it is bursting with acting talent and they share terrific chemistry. Clooney may have made deeper films and portrayed more complex characters, but here he oozes cool and runs the show in this fun Hollywood blockbuster.
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
One of the great Coen brothers films, O Brother, Where Art Though? has a fantastic cast which includes Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter and Charles Durning. A modern satire loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey poem, it is set in 1937 rural Mississippi during the Great Depression. It sees three convicts—Ulysses (Clooney), Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Nelson)—who escape and set out to retrieve supposed treasure hidden by Ulysses. What follows is a wild, strange and very funny adventure in a very distinctive film, which has a sepia-tinted look throughout due to extensive digital color correction, as well as a phenomenal folk music soundtrack. Importantly for Clooney, this film showed that he was much more than a handsome lead actor and that he could excel in silly and comic roles. For his memorable portrayal, Clooney picked up Golden Globe for Best Actor.
2. The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne and based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, this is George Clooney at his best, delivering a performance he would again earn a Best Actor nomination for (losing to Jean Dujardin in The Artist). Clooney plays the role of Matt King—a Honolulu-based lawyer and trustee of a family trust of 25 acres on Kauai Island. After a boating accident leaves his wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), comatose, he begins to try to reconnect with his two troubled daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alex (Shailene Woodley). They soon discover that that coma is irreversible, at which point Matt is informed by one of his daughters that Elizabeth was having an affair. It is both very funny and moving which can be a fine line to walk, and only an actor of Clooney’s caliber would be able to handle this so delicately which ensures for a memorable performance.
In 2005, Clooney cemented himself as one of the great Hollywood actors by winning an Academy Award. He picked up the Best Supporting Actor role for his excellent performance in the geopolitical thriller Syriana, written and directed by Stephen Gaghan. Clooney plays the role of CIA agent Bob Barnes, who is charged with assassinating an Arab prince. It is a complex film with multiple storylines, but it essentially explores the legal, economic, social and political effects of the oil industry on the globe, all of which Clooney’s character is affected by. Although challenging, it is also a gripping and absorbing drama which is powered by Clooney’s performance, but also by the ensemble cast that includes Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper, Tim Blake Nelson and several others.