George Clooney was destined for stardom. What else would become of the son of a beauty queen and a TV host? Still, the Kentucky-born Clooney briefly pursued a career as a professional baseball player. And then as an anchorman. When neither of those panned out, he then turned to acting.
Clooney's first film roles were in horror films like Grizzly II: Revenge, Return to Horror High and 1988's Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, the latter of which would become a cult classic because of its connection to Clooney. At the age of 33, he broke out as Dr. Doug Ross on NBC's long-running medical drama, E.R., for which Clooney earned two Emmy Award nominations. It was during his five seasons on the show that he had a run-in that would change his life.
As recounted in a 2008 New Yorker profile, "Clooney once spoke with Steven Spielberg on the set of E.R.; Spielberg watched his performance on a monitor, and, tapping the screen, said, 'If you stop moving your head around, you'll be a movie star.'"
Today, Clooney is the platonic ideal of a movie star and leading man, in addition to being a writer, director and producer. He has directed eight films (most recently, 2021's The Tender Bar), won two Oscars (for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Syriana and for producing Best Picture winner Argo), and played Batman once. (Clooney himself has said he "sucked" in 1997's Batman & Robin.)
In celebration of his his birthday — May 6 — A.frame is looking back on some of the best performances by one of the best actors today. These are the roles in which he impressed us, surprised us, and proved why they don't make 'em like George Clooney anymore.
From 1994 to 1999, Clooney played Dr. Doug Ross on the hit NBC drama series ER. Quentin Tarantino, having already made a name for himself with his first two films, 1992's Reservoir Dogs and 1994's Pulp Fiction, directed an episode of ER in 1995. After working together, Clooney signed on to star in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Special effects expert Robert Kurtzman wrote the story, and Tarantino's script is adapted from that story. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn is an action horror film, heavy on the action and very heavy on the gore.
On the run from a bank robbery, Seth Gecko (Clooney) and his paranoid brother, Richard (Tarantino), make a run for the Mexican border. At an inn, the brothers kidnap a preacher, Jacob (Harvey Keitel), and his two kids. They then force the family to smuggle them across the border in their RV. Once in Mexico, they all hole up in a strip club. Unfortunately, this isn't just any club; this place also happens to be the home for a coven of vampires! Soon the brothers and their hostages are fighting countless vampires to make it through the night. The violence, however, is mostly silly by design as the film infuses the horror genre with elements of comedy.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Out of Sight was the first time that filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and Clooney made a film together. This comedy caper, adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, stars Clooney as bank robber Jack Foley. After his last bank robbery, Jack's getaway car wouldn't start, and he ended up getting arrested. Knowing that they're not made for prison life, Jack and his good friend Buddy (Ving Rhames) get involved in a scheme to escape. On the night that they bust out of prison, Jack somehow finds himself — as fate would have it — in the trunk of a car with Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), a beautiful and sharp-witted Federal Marshal. Despite Jack being who he is and Karen being who she is, the two actually develop romantic feelings for one another, making Out of Sight a stylish romance wrapped in a crime film. Out of Sight co-stars Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, Catherine Keener, Luis Guzmán, and Dennis Farina.
Clooney has acted in four films for the Coen brothers: 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2003's Intolerable Cruelty, 2008's Burn After Reading, and 2016's Hail, Caesar!
Here, in their first time working together, Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a fast-talking convict. The film is an adventure comedy that takes place in the south in the 1930s. At the beginning of the journey, Ulysses is having a difficult time adjusting to his hard-labor sentence, so he manages to scam his way off the chain gang with Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (John Turturro). The trio of escaped convicts then go off in search of hidden treasure. All the while, a relentless sheriff (Daniel von Bargen) is after them. With nothing to lose, their run takes them on an incredible journey filled with one awesome experience after another.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey. Many of the elements in the film are inspired by the characters and the events from his epic poem. And although the film is not officially a musical, one could certainly consider it a musical. The film received two Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay for the Coens and Best Cinematography for their long-time collaborator, Roger Deakins.
In the original 1960 Ocean's Eleven, directed by Lewis Milestone, the part of the dapper Danny Ocean was played by Frank Sinatra. For the remake four decades later, Clooney was tasked with the job of bringing the confident and unflappable character to the audience. Clooney and Soderbergh had just worked together on Out of Sight and were eager to work together again. Here, they pick up right where they left off and deliver another iconic film.
While locked up in a New Jersey penitentiary, Danny spent much of his time designing an absurdly sophisticated casino heist. Immediately after getting out on parole, the charismatic thief is freshly shaven and out on the town, ready to recruit associates and lay the groundwork for his elaborate caper. He plans to rob three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man who is currently dating his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to execute such an operation, he needs the right crew. He goes around and rounds up key team members, each with special skills that will be extremely useful the night of the heist. This premise allows the film to feature a star-studded cast that few other films can match. Ocean's Eleven co-stars Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, and more.
Ocean's Eleven eventually became a part of a trilogy once 2004's Ocean's Twelve and 2007's Ocean's Thirteen were made and released.
Clooney made his directorial debut in 2002 with the biographical dark comedy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, starring Sam Rockwell as Chuck Barris, a game show creator who claimed to also be a CIA assassin. The film's script was written by Charlie Kaufman.
For his second feature film three years later, Clooney co-wrote — with Grant Heslov — and directed Good Night, and Good Luck. The historical drama stars David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, the American journalist and broadcaster for CBS News. When Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his campaign to root out Communists in America, Murrow dedicates himself to exposing the many atrocities being committed by McCarthy's so-called Senate investigation. "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home," Murrow asserts. The CBS news team, in support of Murrow, does its best to point out the senator's lies, despite pressure from CBS' corporate sponsors to desist.
Shot in glorious black-and-white by Robert Elswit, the film co-stars Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson, Alex Borstein, Frank Langella, and Robert Downey Jr. Clooney plays Fred Friendly, Murrow's producer and loyal friend. The film received six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director for Clooney, Best Original Screenplay for Clooney and Heslov, Best Actor for Strathairn, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction.
Clooney won his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing burned out CIA operative Bob Barnes in Syriana, a political thriller written and directed by Stephen Gaghan. Tense and grim, Syriana is a film about oil and money, power and corruption, greed and influence, spies and traitors.
The oil industry in the Middle East is the backdrop. Jeffrey Wright plays an American lawyer in charge of facilitating a merger of oil companies, while Matt Damon plays a Switzerland-based energy analyst who experiences both opportunity and tragedy during a visit with Arabian royalty. Meanwhile, Bob Barnes, among many other things, uncovers an assassination plot with deeply unsettling origins.
Gaghan had won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Traffic a few years earlier. Here, he once again weaves together numerous storylines. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film co-stars Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mark Strong.
Tony Gilroy had already written the Bourne trilogy at this point — among many other films — but he had yet to make his directorial debut. The legal thriller Michael Clayton was Gilroy's first film as a writer-director. Clooney plays the titular Michael Clayton, a fixer for a high-priced New York City law firm. He cleans up legal messes when called upon. His latest assignment involves dealing with a lawyer who is having a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty.
Sharply scripted with impeccable performances, the film received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for Gilroy, and Best Score. Clooney was nominated for Best Actor and Tom Wilkinson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Tilda Swinton was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and she went on to win the Oscar.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop motion animated comedy from auteur Wes Anderson. Based on the book by Roald Dahl, the charming film features the voices of Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, and many others.
Mr. Fox (Clooney) lives underground beside a tree with his wife (Streep) and four children. After 12 years of countryside bliss, Mr. Fox gives in to his animal instincts and raids the farms of their human neighbors, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. In doing so, he not only breaks a promise to his wife and endangers his marriage, but he also puts the lives of his family and their animal friends at risk. Chaos ensues. When the farmers force Mr. Fox and company deep underground, he must resort to his natural craftiness to save the day.
Clocking in at an easy-breezy 87 minutes, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an allegory which warns against greed. The film received two Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature Film and Best Score for Alexandre Desplat's marvelous music.
Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert. In other words, he's brought in to fire people. He spends over 300 days a year out on the road. All of that traveling and flying around has put him on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent-flier miles, something he's been extremely excited about. His cherished life on the road and up in the air is threatened when Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young Cornell grad, is brought in to revolutionize his company. She wants to remove the need to travel and to fire people using a video conference system instead. Ryan is absolutely appalled.
To demonstrate the importance of face-to-face sit-downs with those they need to fire, Ryan takes his young colleague out on the road with him. While mentoring Natalie, he's also getting to know and developing strong feelings for another frequent-flier (Vera Farmiga), making Up in the Air a romantic comedy-drama. The film co-stars Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliott, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, Amy Morton, and Zach Galifianakis.
Heartfelt and heartbreaking, Jason Reitman's Up in the Air addresses themes of job loss and economic calamity. The film was released in the fall of 2009, just as many in the country were beginning to move past the Great Recession. The gut-wrenching firing scenes captured some of the pain that many had experienced over the previous two years.
Up in the Air received six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Clooney, Best Supporting Actress for Kendrick, and Best Supporting Actress for Farmiga.
Alexander Payne hadn't directed a feature since 2004's Sideways, for which he and co-writer Jim Taylor had won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. He returned to cinemas after a seven year absence with The Descendants, a comedy-drama that tells the story of Matt King (Clooney), a native islander, land baron, and real estate lawyer who lives with his wife and two daughters in Hawaii. Matt's wife Elizabeth is tragically involved in a boating accident, and then, she plunges into a permanent coma. A devastated Matt then learns from Alex (Shailene Woodley), his teenage daughter, that Elizabeth had been having an affair. Meanwhile, another crisis looms. Matt, the trustee of a large parcel of beachfront property on Kauai, presides over the dissolution of the trust. With everything going on, he begins to have second thoughts about selling off paradise despite the financial windfall that awaits him and his cousins.
Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants captures the messiness of life. The film is both funny and touching. Exquisitely written, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted, the film received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Film Editing. Payne was nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, which he won yet again. This time, he shared the recognition with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Although he did not win, Clooney was nominated for Best Actor. One could argue that the film contains Clooney's greatest performance. It is certainly one of the films that prove that, although he is a bona fide movie star, Clooney also happens to be one terrific actor.