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The Best George Clooney Movies of All Time

In an industry where good looks go a long way, George Clooney seems born to be a matinee idol. His ascension to the top of Hollywood makes sense, but there’s way more to Clooney than his beauty and charm. What makes Clooney such a great actor is the way he can slide into a huge variety of roles and make them all seem natural. He can be a sexy, sly criminal, a lawyer who’s dead inside, or a bumbling oaf trying to find his way home.

All of these roles work on Clooney, because he fits well in both comedies and dramas. Much of Clooney’s best work as an actor comes from collaborations with a few great directors, but Clooney himself has also stepped behind the camera with great success. Clooney hasn’t acted as much in recent years, but he’s still one of America’s most compelling movie stars, even if he also proves to be one of the last of that dying breed.

George Clooney in Michael Clayton.
Warner Bros.

Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton
82 %
Genre Drama, Thriller
Stars George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Perhaps the defining George Clooney role, Michael Clayton sees Clooney operating in one of his best modes as a man who is above all else, competent. He plays the title character, a fixer for a New York law firm who gets caught up in a conspiracy and is ultimately forced to flee from hitmen. The plot is winding and serpentine, but it works because Clooney is there to consistently ground the entire affair. He’s playing an amoral man who only looks out for himself, but one whose humanity is always threatening to bubble over onto the surface.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
69 %
Genre Adventure, Comedy, Crime
Stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by Joel Coen
The Coen brothers are among the most important collaborators of Clooney’s career, and his first movie with them was proof that he was the ideal vehicle for their stories. Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, one of three convicts that have recently escaped from a chain gang. Clooney brings plenty of swagger and star power to the role, but the movie also makes it clear that Clooney is willing to do whatever is asked of him for the right director. In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Clooney is a modern Odysseus, and his work in the role justifies that lofty mantle.

Solaris (2002)

65 %
Genre Drama, Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance
Stars George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
The Coen brothers are just one half of the story of Clooney’s success. The other half is his many collaborations with Steven Soderberg, who directed this widely reviled remake of Solaris. Although basically no one liked this movie at the time, its ruminations on memory and death are among the most moving in Clooney’s long career. Clooney can be very funny and deeply charming, but he is neither in this role. Solaris is undeniably serious and quiet, but it’s also a moving portrait of one man’s grief, and his ultimate inability to escape from it.

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Ocean's Eleven
74 %
Genre Thriller, Crime
Stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Ocean’s Eleven is the movie that defined Clooney’s star persona, and rightfully so. It’s a breezy, beautiful heist movie, and Clooney is the star that makes the whole thing sing. Clooney plays Danny Ocean as unflappable, a man with millions of plans and plenty of friends and acquaintances to help him execute them. Ocean’s Eleven has a wonderful ensemble cast, but Clooney is rightly at the heart of the action here. He may turn out to be one of America’s last great movie stars, and Ocean’s Eleven is the movie that cemented that status.

Up in the Air (2009)

Up in the Air
83 %
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Directed by Jason Reitman
Thanks in part to his status as one of the world’s great movie stars, Clooney can make the kind of movies that don’t seem all that compelling on paper. In Up in the Air, Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer who travels around the country firing people. It’s a careful character study of a man who has consciously chosen to abandon everything that tied him down. Now, as he takes stock of his life, it becomes clear that he has less than he thought, and is forced to reconsider whether the life he’s been leading is actually the one he wants.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail, Caesar!
72 %
Genre Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Hail, Caesar! is one of the Coen brothers’ most farcical movies, and Clooney is more than willing to play along. Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, an idiotic movie star who is kidnapped by a group of communist screenwriters and held for ransom. Whitlock is eventually won over to their cause, but Clooney’s role in the movie is almost entirely comedic. He’s there to act foolish, and he’s remarkably good at it. Clooney can turn on the charm, but when he wants to, he can also be one of America’s great slapstick comedians.

Out of Sight (1998)

Out of Sight
85 %
Genre Romance, Comedy, Crime
Stars George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Clooney, an attractive man, has been sexy in many movies over the course of his career, but he has never been sexier than he is in Out of Sight. Playing a criminal who spars with Jennifer Lopez’s young police officer, the movie is all about the relationship between the two of them, and the sparks fly beautifully throughout. Perhaps the movie’s most memorable scene comes early, when they are trapped in the trunk of a car together, and instead of panicking, all they can do is flirt. Out of Sight is an explosion of onscreen chemistry, and it served as definitive proof that Clooney and Lopez are hot, hot stars.

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants
84 %
Genre Comedy, Drama
Stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller
Directed by Alexander Payne
When The Descendants first hit theaters, it seemed like it might be the movie to bag Clooney his second Oscar. While that wasn’t ultimately what happened, Clooney deserved all the attention he received for his work in the film, in which he plays a Hawaii attorney who is forced to deal with the twin discoveries of his wife’s death and the fact that she was cheating on him. The movie is complicated and emotional, and the story it tells is one of a man who reaches toward generosity even as he reckons with the shortcomings that led his wife to stray.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Intolerable Cruelty
71 %
Genre Crime, Comedy, Romance
Stars George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Edward Herrmann
Directed by Joel Coen
Coen brothers movies can seem complicated, but most of them are really just about elaborate plans that go horribly awry. In Intolerable Cruelty, though, the elaborate plans are constantly being done in by bigger, more elaborate plans. The movie follows Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a divorce attorney and a serial divorcee who come head to head, and find that they’re well matched as opponents and lovers. The movie is ridiculous, but part of its charm is the way in which these two schemers seem to fall head over heels for one another, even as they repeatedly screw each other over.

Three Kings (1999)

Three Kings
82 %
Genre Action, Comedy, War
Stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube
Directed by David O. Russell
Clooney has been very public about how little he enjoyed making Three Kings, but the movie itself, which tells the story of four Gulf War soldiers who decide to steal some of Saddam Hussein’s gold, is excellent. When one of the soldiers is captured by a band of rebels, the other three agree to help the rebels fight Saddam’s forces in exchange for his return. Three Kings is a damning indictment of America’s presence on foreign soil, and it’s also some of Clooney’s best work. His Major is cynical and unfeeling, but only because he’s had to shut those parts of himself off.

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