Since he made the leap from playing TV heartthrob Dr Doug Ross on hit medical drama ER to big screen success, George Clooney has always been compared to acting legends like Cary Grant and Clark Gable because of his old-fashioned good looks and his effortless charm. However, Clooney has always refused to go the easy route when choosing what projects to be involved in. In his capacity as an actor, screenwriter, director and producer, Clooney has always been drawn to deep, complex stories and performances, and this has made him one of the most intriguing movie stars in Hollywood.
10. Gravity (2013)
Sci-fi blockbuster Gravity is one of the most impressive technical movies ever made. Following two astronauts on a doomed shuttle mission, the movie required digital post-production for almost every shot and every scene. Co-starring with Sandra Bullock, Clooney plays a veteran astronaut who desperately tries to recover the mission when debris strikes the shuttle and cuts the two off from any communication with mission control. The movie hinges completely on the two central characters, and both Clooney and Bullock bring unrivalled depth and strength to their performances which were nothing like any conventional ‘acting gig’ (as well as shooting almost entirely on green screen, the two had to perform in mechanical rigs and in confined spaces to recreate the astronaut suits and the space shuttle environments). Although Clooney plays a smaller part in Gravity than he does in most of his projects, Gravity is one of the most engaging and tense movie-watching experiences of recent years.
9. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Clooney has always been drawn to offbeat, quirky projects as well as big blockbuster fare, but his participation in the stop-motion animation movie Fantastic Mr Fox is definitely a head scratcher. Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book has a strange, timeless quality and an underplayed script, and it’s about as far from a ‘conventional’ animated film as possible. Lending his instantly recognisable voice talent to play the title character, Clooney’s charm oozes from the screen and it’s a very natural, funny turn from the actor.
8. The Descendants (2011)
Clooney has always struggled to shake off criticisms (if they can be called criticisms) that his rugged good looks have forced him into roles where he plays successful, confident characters who have everything in their life put together. However, to his credit Clooney has always rejected these easy acting gigs, and many of the roles he chooses are characters who struggle to find emotional depth with others or who have conflicted, complex personalities brimming beneath the surface. The Descendants is an excellent example of Clooney acting outside of his comfort zone as he plays Matt King, an aging father of two who is struggling to reconnect with his children. King is an outwardly successful man whose life is turned upside down by a shock family emergency and the revelations that follow. It’s a challenging part , but Clooney is hugely confident and successful in pulling off the difficult role and he rightly received an Oscar nomination for his acting.
7. Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Clooney has always shown a fondness for the “Golden Age” of television. One of his earliest behind the scenes credits was Fail Safe (serving as an Executive Producer), a live televised black and white play similar to those produced in the 1950s, and his first directorial project Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a quirky movie which lampooned American game shows from the 1960s. However, his love letter to this period comes in the form of Good Night and Good Luck, his second directorial effort (which he also co-wrote). Focusing on the infamous confrontations between newsreader Edward R. Murrow and senator Joseph McCarthy, Good Night and Good Luck is a smart, assured project which proved Clooney’s confidence behind the camera. Clooney takes a supporting acting role amongst a stellar cast and the movie is an outstanding period political drama.
6. Michael Clayton (2007)
Starring in the title role, Michael Clayton is a smart adult thriller which allows Clooney to play a much darker character than usual. Clayton is a flashy high-paid fixer for a law firm who has spent most of his career getting rich people off the hook by using legal loopholes and shady connections. However, the dubious work has clearly taken its toll over the years and Clayton is burned out by the work while struggling to get his personal life together. Although previous roles have allowed Clooney to show off his more eccentric character acting side, Clayton is by no means a good man. However, Clooney still manages to draw sympathy from the character without relying on his good looks or charm. It’s a nuanced performance and definitely one of Clooney’s most complex roles.
5. Three Kings (1999)
Clooney’s long professional relationship with offbeat, art-house director Steven Soderbergh has seen the actor make some creative risks during his career, but Clooney’s involvement in Three Kings is arguably one of his most interesting projects. Combining action, humour and political satire, Three Kings has a loose and funny tone but it is also at times a challenging and very provocative movie. Clooney and director David O. Russell didn’t see eye to eye on the production (it is rumoured that the two traded blows after Clooney confronted O. Russell about the way he treated extras), but that doesn’t diminish the impact of this powerful, underrated movie.
4. O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)
Clooney’s first attempt at comedy completely defied everyone’s expectations of what the star was capable of. O Brother, Where Art Thou is the Coen Brother’s loose interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey set in the 1930s Deep South, and Clooney plays the character Everett McGill with goofball charm. It’s one Clooney’s few quirky performances, but he pulls it off with ease and he is clearly comfortable trading the Coen brother’s trademark witty dialogue against fellow actors John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. The Coen’s would use Clooney’s comedic chops again in future movies like Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading, but this hapless Southern misadventure is one of his standout performances by far.
3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
One of Clooney’s many collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh, Ocean’s Eleven is one of the flashiest and slickest heist movies ever made. A remake of the 1960s Rat Pack movie of the same game, Ocean’s Eleven sees professional heister Danny Ocean bring together a dream team of swindlers and conmen to rob three Las Vegas casinos in one night. Stylishly directed by Soderbergh and moving along at a breezy pace, Ocean’s Eleven really has everything you can expect from a heist movie and it’s all anchored by Clooney’s central performance.
2. Up in the Air (2009)
Another role which has the actor portraying a slick corporate executive, Up In the Air sees Clooney playing Ryan Bingham; a man who essentially makes a living by downsizing companies and firing people. However, when his own professional career is in jeopardy (and with it his happy go lucky ‘on the road’ lifestyle), Bingham is forced to consider his shallow, no strings future. It’s another deep and complex role for Clooney and one which proves how well he can play characters who seem content on the surface but are much more complicated on the inside.
1. Out of Sight (1998)
Out of Sight was the movie which transformed Clooney from a TV heartthrob into a movie star. His first collaboration with Soderbergh, Out of Sight is a punchy, slick adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s crime novel and Clooney proved to be one of the few actors who can confidently pull off Leonard’s quick and sharp dialogue. Sharing incredible onscreen chemistry with Jennifer Lopez (the movie also proved to be her breakout role), Clooney plays suave bank robber Jack Foley as he tries to pull off one last big score while being pursued by Lopez’s DEA agent Karen Sisco. Clooney brings complexity to the aging career bank robber and he is completely believable as the likeable Foley. Definitively proving that he was much more than just a romantic lead, Out of Sight was the real beginning to Clooney’s interesting and fruitful career.