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17 of Clooney’s Signature Expressions, Ranked

As red-blooded women, we’ve always found George Clooney’s grin irresistible, but naysayers have long dismissed his smirk as smug. Since Cloons is extra-omnipresent this fall thanks to The Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and this weekend’s Up in the Air, we foraged through his filmography to gauge how his signature expression has varied over the years. This handy field guide rates George’s smirks and smiles using our highly scientific Smarm to Charm scale, from zero (infuriatingly cocky) to ten (unbearably delightful). Warning: Contains mild spoilers, and may cause light-headedness.

Year: 1985 Sample scene: Behold the actor blending into his environs as eighties-sitcom eye candy, hired as a hot handyman to add some hunk to Facts’ dwindling estrogen-fest. Charm-O-Meter: 2. We see traces of latter-day Clooney charisma buried beneath that vainly feathered mullet. But the gentle upturn of his lip mostly lets you know that when, not if, you let him and his two jars of hair gel buy you a drink, he will undo another button.
Year: 1987 Sample scene: Clooney is not only suspected of a murder most foul, but is also engaged to a girl with hair freakishly similar to his own Facts of Life ‘do, which probably feels kind of creepy. Charm-O-Meter: 8. His smile was irresistible, even before Clooney was Clooney. We can only imagine the delighted twitters from a nation of grandmothers confronted with this face during their Sunday-evening stories.
Year: 1994 Sample scene: Clooney reaches megastardom as charming pediatrician Doug Ross, proving that there’s nothing the ladies love more than a sexy, slightly troubled dude with a predilection for saving sick babies. The scrubs help. Charm-O-Meter: 5. There’s a reason Clooney is one of the biggest stars in the world, and this is it. He can examine us anytime, and he knows it. And thus was born his signature blend of equal parts charm and smarm, co-existing in perfect, maddening yet maddeningly hot stasis.
Year: 1996 Sample scene: Clooney is in the midst of seducing harried single mom Michelle Pfeiffer, cutesy PG-13-style. Charm-O-Meter: 3. Even George’s infamous Caesar cut cannot distract us from his smarmy, self-impressed expression. High off the vapors coming off our collective ER-enflamed loins, he’s pretty sure he’ll get the girl just by breathing — which marks his first official foray into the pitfall of thinking that merely showing up on set and gazing up at us through his eyelashes is enough to score a win. Wrong.
Year: 1997 Sample scene: “Why, I’m just a sensitive be-turtlenecked man hanging out with his young, buffoonish ward. Welcome to the worst Batman yet, dear friend.” Charm-O-Meter: 2. This is Clooney’s second slide down the slippery slope of laurel resting. George wanders though every non-Batsuited scene sporting this exact bemused, patronizing smile, like he’s just as surprised by this mess as anyone else, and would rather not even try. Note to directors: If Clooney makes this face on your set, he already hates the film, and will mercilessly mock it in future interviews.
Year: 1997 Sample scene: Finally free of his boring Bruce Wayne alter ego, here Clooney’s Batman is doing something ridiculous, perhaps pretending Alicia Silverstone is a computer genius who is going to help him unfreeze the world, or releasing us all from the clutches of the Governor of California. Charm-O-Meter: 1. We are stunned that Clooney as Batman is even less charming than Clooney as Wayne. Considering that this movie is laughably terrible, he should be cracking up all the time, especially when he’s forced to wear rubber nipples. Yet, transformed into Batman, this is the best grin Cloons can muster. It’s as charming as a Batmobile to the groin.
Year: 1998 Sample scene: Ex-con Clooney phone-flirts with sassy, smart U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, played by J.Lo-before-she-was-J.Lo, otherwise known as J.Lo-before-we-realized-she’s-not-a-great-actress. Charm-O-Meter: 10. A rare and special teeth sighting! A full grin from Clooney is a sign of genuine, non-smirky enjoyment, especially notable because it indicates that he’s immersed in actually acting, as opposed to Being George Clooney.
Year: 2000 Sample scene: Clooney’s in full period gear — and facial hair — as a prison escapee desperate to win back his wife before she marries a nasty politician. Charm-O-Meter: 7. Clooney’s perceived sincerity automatically gets a bounce when the movie is actually good (plus, he’s rarely funnier than when he’s in his self-effacing Coen Brothers mode). Bonus points for emoting through a mustache/overalls combo that would have felled a lesser man. He’s wearing the manscaping; it’s not wearing him.
Year: 2000 Sample scene: Our humble blue-collar hero has not yet realized that his fishing boat is going to hit, shall we say, less-than-ideal sailing conditions. Charm-O-Meter: 5. Who can resist Cloons as a plaid-clad everyman? But he’s wrong in thinking the endearing scruff totally masks his cockiness; we still spy a wry gleam in his eye that says, “You’ll be safe with me. Rumor has it I give excellent mouth-to-mouth.”
Year: 2002 Sample scene: Coming at the very end of this interminable, depressing movie — in which Clooney suffers many mysterious tragedies, not the least of which is that collarless spaceshirt — is this tearful quasi-smile, directed at his (probably) dead wife. Charm-O-Meter: 4. There is no smirking whatsoever in this movie, which means Clooney may have thought his naked ass alone was enough to sate us, and that is smarmy in the extreme. But his eyes seem troubled that he made anyone sit through his agonizing sci-fi foray, which we appreciate. That all said, those three butt shots? Damn near worth it.
Year: 2001 Sample scene: He’s a suave thief in love with Julia Roberts, whom he just saw for the first time since she dumped him while he was in prison. (Sidebar: Is it just us or does Clooney love playing jailbirds?) Charm-O-Meter: 8. Listen, Julia, we feel you: He got busted and it sucked. But LOOK AT HIM. He knows your verbal daggers will filet his heart, yet he can’t stay away. He wants only you — oh, and to get revenge on your boyfriend by robbing his casino. But whatever, that’s pretty romantic. So if you’re not going to leap into his arms, step off and let us do it.
Year: 2004 Sample scene: Another expensive excuse to party in Europe and show off how they are all awesome, enviable BFFs thrilling caper. Charm-O-Meter: 3. Barely four minutes into the movie and Clooney and his self-congratulatory snicker — deployed amid a silent remembrance of Ocean’s Eleven’s Bellagio robbery — are already smugly recalling how much we all loved him and his band of superstar hotties in the first movie. He is pretty sure now we’ll let ‘em get away with anything
Year: 2007 Sample scene: “So, Brad, remember that time I was pretty sure the world would let us get away with anything? Yeah. Whoops.” Charm-O-Meter: 7. On the one hand, how dare Clooney assume we are so easy that he can wash away the foul taste of Ocean’s Twelve with one apologetic smirk and a slightly less confusing movie stocked with our favorite sexy beasts. On the other hand, though, it turns out we actually are that easy, so … well played!
Year: 2005 Sample scene: George plays down the mirth … though he’s still relatively cheery for a dude who’s in Iran to assassinate a couple of arms dealers. He must have known he was about to win an Oscar for this part. Charm-O-Meter: 5. Clooney’s base level of charm is there, despite the Academy-baiting weight and face-obscuring beard. But he was right not to go too high-voltage in a movie in which he is nearly beheaded, a decision a younger, less-seasoned Clooney may not have made.
Year: 2007 Sample scene: Cloons got another Oscar nomination for his performance as a fixer who decides to fight the good fight for a change. Charm-O-Meter: 7. Turns out Clooney’s crusading is sexier when he’s not wearing rubber nipples. He’s rumpled and world-weary, and with one self-loathing flick of the lip, we can tell Clooney as Clayton is ready to rebel — for once, without the endgame of getting anyone in the sack. Weirdly, that only makes it hotter.
Year: 2008 Sample scene: Clooney owns a football team, and falls in love with the sassy fiancée of his star player. “Hilarious” shenanigans ensue. Or so we assume; we couldn’t get past the heinous poster and the smarmtastic previews. Charm-O-Meter: 0. Come on. Look at that picture. It’s like he’s flying Air Force Smug on auto-pilot while having an orgy in the first-class lavatory. Presumably Clooney thought his DNA would salvage an awful script, a fallacy we thought Batman and Robin disproved, but apparently not. Unacceptable even to the most biased Clooneyite.
Year: 2009 Sample scene: Mr. Fox is plotting to (a) keep stealing food to feed his family and (b) not get killed. He’s smart! He’s sly! He’s doing wrong for the right reasons! He’s the Jean Valjean of stop-motion-animated mammals. Charm-O-Meter: 9. Mr. Fox’s grin isn’t cocky, just mischievous — and charming as hell. As much as we enjoy Human Clooney’s trademark twinkle and gallery of grins, it’s probably good — especially after Leatherheads — to have one movie in which we can’t actually see him trying to charm the pants off us. But only one. After all, we’re only human, and we’re not that attached to these pants.
17 of Clooney’s Signature Expressions, Ranked