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Every George Clooney Movie Performance, Ranked

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by Warner Bros, Buena Vista Pictures and Universal Pictures

In a fantastic New Yorker profile of George Clooney from way back in 2008, he talks about the best advice he ever got as an actor. It didn’t involve career maintenance or role selection or the potential temptations of fame. It was much more practical than that: “Clooney once spoke with Steven Spielberg on the set of ER; 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.’”

It’s worth noting that by the time Spielberg was working on the set of ER, Clooney was already 33 years old and at last getting his big break after years of TV guest spots, cheesy commercials, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes sequels. And that really does fit for Clooney, an actor who was too callow (and often ridiculously long-haired) in his 20s and didn’t truly grow into himself until he’d had years of struggle. By the time he became a star, he was ready — and serious about it. A younger actor might have bristled at Spielberg’s advice; Clooney took it, absorbed it, and adjusted. Next thing you know, the director was proven right: Clooney was indeed a movie star. The irony was that he just needed to get old enough to feel like a throwback.

Clooney’s latest film (and his seventh as a director), The Midnight Sky, hits Netflix this week, and to commemorate, we have ranked 34 of his major movie performances. In many ways, Clooney is both the perfect movie star and a repudiation of what we think of as one. (He has also never been quite as bankable as you may think.) But even though not all of his films work, one through-line emerges: Clooney carries himself as — and attempts to stage his career as — someone who takes the movies and his performances in them seriously, even when the movies and the performances are goofy. He deeply cares. Well, since he played Batman, anyway.

34. Batman & Robin (1997)

Clooney has apologized so many times for his appearance as Batman in Joel Schumacher’s infamous debacle that we’re starting not to believe him: The self-effacement began feeling self-aggrandizing about a decade ago and isn’t getting any less so as he still talks about it 23 years later. While Clooney isn’t the absolute worst thing about Batman & Robin— so many contenders, though Chris O’Donnell is our winner — he’s pretty terrible, mostly because he plays the movie so straight. He feels less like a movie star than a pretty television face out of his depth, and more concerned with playing Batman as a career move than in evincing any particular interest in the part. More than just about any other actor to portray the Dark Knight, even Ben Affleck, Clooney doesn’t look past the surface: He’s just a bland action toy, a sharp chin, and nothing else. We’d be happy to forget about this if Clooney would let us.

33. Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Clooney’s starring role in this parody sequel turned into a fun punch line once he became a star, but it’s worth noting that he probably saw it as a big career break when he got the part. He was already 27 and getting a little old in Hollywood terms when he signed on for what can best be described as the Robert Hays–in–Airplane! role of the handsome hero in a wacky-high-jinks comedy. While Clooney is game and can land a joke or two, the movie never considers him interesting enough to let him do anything but be Bland Leading Man who occasionally cracks a one-liner. For a frame of reference: He was still three years away from showing up as Roseanne’s boss on Roseanne when he made this.

32. Red Surf (1989)

Next up for Clooney: playing a street tough! If you’ve ever wondered what Point Break would have been like had it been directed by someone other than Kathryn Bigelow, try this movie, in which Clooney and future Melrose Placer Doug Savant play surfer bums who get caught up in the drug world. (Things don’t turn out well.) Red Surf inexplicably has Gene Simmons in it, and it’s as bad as you suspect it is. But it’s worth noting that Clooney did quietly get some positive notices in it, with the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Thomas writing that he had “genuine charm, ability and star quality.” It would be a while before anyone started to agree with Thomas.

31. Money Monster (2016)

Indicative of the limitations of the roles he has chosen recently, Clooney’s performance as a snide, popular Jim Cramer–type TV host is both obvious and self-satisfied. In the Jodie Foster–directed Money Monster, his soulless character gets taken hostage during a live taping of his show by a gun-toting man (Jack O’Connell) who took his stock tips and went bust in the process. The Dog Day Afternoon–esque topical thriller makes every point loudly, and Clooney never brings much depth or surprise to this caricature.

30. The Good German (2006)

In theory, everything about The Good German sounds as if it would make a great movie. Forever-experimental filmmaker Steven Soderbergh limited himself (mostly) to the filmmaking techniques of the 1940s, including incandescent lighting, boom mics, and old Universal soundstages, in attempting to craft a black-and-white classic reminiscent of the period. He picked the two most old-school movie stars, Cate Blanchett and Clooney, to play the romantic leads. (Even the poster looks like Casablanca’s.) Unfortunately, The Good German is so suffocated by its style and preciousness that there’s no room to breathe, and while Clooney may look like an old-time movie star, he’s never quite able to shake the sense of playacting here. The whole thing is supposed to look real, but it’s all artificial: Nothing here, including Clooney, works much at all.

29. Leatherheads (2008)

Leatherheads would be a tough haul for any director: It’s a slapstick, throwback, Keystone Kops–esque comedy about the early days of professional football that attempts to be a razzmatazz “That’s showbiz!” ode to an earlier age while also trying to be a modern, earnest star vehicle. Predictably, it just ends up being a total mess, with Clooney learning too hard into the jokes and mugging way too much. The movie was co-written by pun-tastic former Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, and it plays as such: Leatherheads feels like a bunch of jokes your uncle would tell on the golf course all strung together. This is definitely the only movie in which Clooney wears eye black, though. (John Krasinski and Renée Zellweger too!)

28. Welcome to Collinwood (2002)

Back before Avengers: Endgame or Community or even You, Me and Dupree, the Russo brothers made this dopey, harmless comedy about a bunch of dumb hoodlums who struggle with their one big score. Clooney was already a star by this point and was trying his hand at producing (he co-produced Welcome to Collinwood with Soderbergh), but this is less Coen brothers homage than it is cosplay. The Russos would get much more confident as the years went along, and so would Clooney … who ended up spending much more time with the real Coen brothers.

27. The Monuments Men (2014)

Clooney’s fifth film as a director should have been a slam dunk: a World War II heist movie with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, and Clooney himself? How could it miss? But Clooney the director is clearly more interested in the period and mood in which the heist takes place than the heist itself, and eventually the slack pacing drains the film of all its energy. On top of it all, Clooney is oddly vacant in the lead role, as if he doesn’t quite trust himself as a leading man. He’s half in, half out here. The Monuments Men needed either the wit of the Coens or the scope of a Clint Eastwood. Clooney provides neither.

26. The Peacemaker (1997)

Clooney was still trying to get his movie-star footing with this actioner (by his old ER director Mimi Leder), which was clearly supposed to slingshot off his presumed career-exploding role as Batman from earlier that summer. Once that didn’t work out, Clooney was stuck with this middling, mostly competent, but not particularly exciting political thriller featuring Clooney and Nicole Kidman (also regularly being misused at this point in her career) trying to stop a nuclear bomb from going off at the U.N. Remember that old Ben Stiller joke about Owen Wilson winning an Oscar for Best Running? Clooney would have had a real chance to be nominated for this movie.

25. One Fine Day (1996)

Early enough along in Clooney’s ER stardom that he was still sporting that Caesar cut, One Fine Day is a romantic comedy so slight and inconsequential that it floats away and out of mind before it’s even over. Clooney plays a newspaper reporter (he even hangs out with the late Pete Hamill) who, like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Melanie, is a haggard, exhausted divorced parent. The two end up stuck together all day, organizing child care for each other, and you will never believe it but it turns out that they fall in love. The movie is harmless and forgettable, and Clooney plays it that way: He’s all empty charm, pleasant but vanishing before your eyes.

24. Tomorrowland (2015)

Clooney has never quite been the blockbuster leading man the press clippings and gossip mags would make him out to be, though that’s more a measure of us than of him: His seeming like a movie star from a previous age ends up working against him, considering that the age he lives in is this one. He tries to lean into his nostalgic aura in Brad Bird’s financial fiasco, a film that was meant to build up another Disney thrill ride but that ultimately is just so obsessed with the past it hardly feels relevant to this world. Clooney is fine in Tomorrowland, but playing an eccentric, reclusive inventor makes him look smaller rather than bigger. He gets swept away in all the empty effects, as everyone else does. Like many of Clooney’s missteps, this is a movie you want to like a lot more than you actually do.

23. Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

The Coen brothers were sort of in their wilderness period here — the stretch between O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men — and Clooney follows them into it for this strained, moderately funny, but mostly distracted comedy. (The Coens had written the script for hire years before, and only late in the process decided to direct. It’s clearly not one of their passion projects is what we’re saying.) Sometimes in the Coens’ movies, Clooney gets a little too bug-eyed and “wacky” for his own good, but here, he goes too far in the other direction: He’s so “smooth” that he’s sort of bland. Intolerable Cruelty still has its moments, because how could it not, but this is exactly zero people’s favorite Coen-brothers movie.

22. The Midnight Sky (2020)

Despite what the promotional campaign may suggest, Clooney’s latest directorial effort isn’t really a star vehicle for himself. He plays Augustine, a scientist living alone on an Arctic base after a global catastrophe, who must care for a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) who was left behind after everyone else evacuated. But the more interesting and developed aspect of The Midnight Sky’s plot concerns a spaceship (containing, among others, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, and Kyle Chandler) on its way back to Earth, which reduces Clooney’s storyline to a rudimentary survival tale. As a man dying of a terminal disease looking back on his life, Clooney is sufficiently empathetic without doing a lot of heavy lifting. All told, one suspects he might have been just as happy letting someone else play the role so he could focus on directing. Clooney doesn’t make a lot of films, so it’s nice to see him back in the game, even if he’s not exactly a revelation here.

21. The Thin Red Line (1998)

This Terrence Malick movie ranks so low on the list not because Clooney isn’t good in the Oscar-nominated director’s comeback film but because, well, he’s barely in it. Being cut out of a Malick movie is nothing new, but even in a small role, Clooney is effective as a commanding officer who gives a patronizing speech near the end of The Thin Red Line after our main characters have gone through hell yet again. The officer’s bluster is even more pathetic in the face of what all these guys have had to endure. Would you like to see the whole performance for yourself? Here ya go:

20. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

In the fevered imagination of Chuck Barris — which, notably, is nothing remotely resembling reality — the former Gong Show host was a secret CIA assassin. Seriously: He claimed that exact thing in his “unauthorized autobiography.” Charlie Kaufman was charged with adapting that ridiculous memoir into a film, and the result is Clooney’s directorial debut, an awkward, goofy, confused, but still pretty fun lark in which Sam Rockwell (as Barris) is charming and ridiculous and a trained killer. Clooney gets Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to play Gong Show contestants, and the whole movie has that “we’re just stars having fun” vibe. Clooney plays Barris’s CIA contact, but, like much of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he never quite figures out whether he’s serious or pulling your leg. Still, this is definitely the lightest, most purely enjoyable movie Clooney has ever directed.

19. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

How powerful was Quentin Tarantino in 1996? He had the juice not only to get this old, lying-around script about vampires and biker dudes made but also to cast himself as the disturbed brother of Clooney’s more stable bank robber. The siblings end up stopping in exactly the wrong Mexican bar, and next thing you know, they’re fighting vampires. From Dusk Till Dawn is insane but still pretty fun 25 years later, and if you squint, Tarantino’s not even that bad, though the movie would be a lot better if he had given a real actor the part. As for Clooney, he looks better standing next to Tarantino, but he hadn’t yet shaken all those tics Spielberg warned him about: There’s a lot of head-sideways stares and posing. But Clooney’s wanting to do this movie at all spoke to his eagerness to transition from television to movies the right way.

18. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Directed by Clooney’s post-Soderbergh producing partner, Grant Heslov, The Men Who Stare at Goats is based on a crazy true story: For a time, the U.S. military tried to train its soldiers in the art of psychic warfare. Clooney portrays a Special Forces officer who’s a true believer being interviewed by a skeptical journalist (Ewan McGregor). The absurdist comedic tone isn’t steady, but Clooney nicely underplays his character, who has embraced his role as a so-called Jedi warrior like a religious calling, taking the reporter along on his next top-secret mission in the Middle East. This guy may be a fool, but Clooney is so invested in the officer’s faith in psychic powers — particularly, that they can be used to end military conflicts — that it’s actually quite touching.

17. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

With Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney continued a pattern that is true for most of the movies he has helmed: He ensures that other actors are the main attraction. This ensemble drama about Edward R. Murrow’s battle against the Red Scare during the 1950s features a stellar cast that includes Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, and Robert Downey Jr. But the movie belongs to David Strathairn’s valiant Murrow, with Clooney playing the broadcaster’s loyal producer, Fred Friendly. Your eye doesn’t really go to Friendly, which is entirely the point, and it’s a sign of Clooney’s graciousness that he gamely slips into the background, letting his co-stars shine.

16. The Ides of March (2011)

Based on a play written by Beau Willimon (who, a year after this, would give us House of Cards), The Ides of March is a political thriller about a campaign manager (Ryan Gosling) trying to win the Democratic presidential nomination for a charming but untrustworthy politician (Clooney). The movie is obviously dated now, but it felt so then, too: It’s less about any conceivable political reality than the one in the fevered dreams of screenwriters. (Like House of Cards, actually.) This has an incredible cast (including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood), but Clooney, directing again, is too earnest and prone to speechifying to make it cut particularly deep. It is fun to watch Clooney play a villain, though: There’s an undercurrent of sinister privilege to him, and he taps into it well here.

15. Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Baird Whitlock is a very Clooney-ish Coen-brothers character in this affectionate send-up of 1950s Hollywood. Handsome but not very bright, Whitlock is kidnapped by communist screenwriters, who end up indoctrinating him into their cause. Hail, Caesar! proves more silly than incisive, and Clooney seems to be enjoying himself as an obtuse movie star who means no harm but has never had a deep thought in his charmed life. But Joel and Ethan invest in other characters’ stories more — specifically, Josh Brolin’s conflicted fixer and Alden Ehrenreich’s anxious young actor — leaving Clooney to ham it up pleasantly as a forgettable dolt.

14. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

It’s still a little wild that this Coen-brothers lark was such a big hit, their fourth-highest grosser ever, and definitely their best-selling soundtrack. For our money, Clooney is dialed up a tick or two too high here as Ulysses Everett McGill, an escaped convict on his own odyssey; it’s as if he took the cue for his whole performance from the Dapper Dan hair cream his character is obsessed with. But O Brother, Where Art Thou? is so madcap that it’s tough to blame him for going along with the tide. It’s also a reminder that it’s very funny to watch Clooney get hit in the face with something or fall off a train.

13. Solaris (2002)

Perhaps the most debated entry in Clooney’s filmography, this adaptation of the Stanisław Lem sci-fi novel — which had previously been turned into a meditative 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky drama — has its champions and its passionate haters. The movie bombed over Thanksgiving weekend in 2002, probably because audiences weren’t in the mood for a slow-moving, sad-faced story about a widowed doctor (Clooney) who travels to a distant space station only to discover that his dead wife (Natascha McElhone) is inexplicably onboard. Our feeling is that Solaris, which Clooney made with his frequent collaborator Soderbergh, is a noble, solid effort that’s certainly worth a look. That applies to the performance as well. Clooney is appropriately emotionally clenched, conveying the anguish of a man coming to terms with the strange reprieve he has been given by the universe.

12. Burn After Reading(2008)

When Burn After Reading came out on the heels of the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, this goofball Coen-brothers comedy felt slight, even a little pointless. But we’ve all come around, if just because of the memes and GIFs … and Brad Pitt’s gloriously silly performance. Pitt is so wonderfully over-the-top that Clooney can’t help but feel restrained compared to him, but he still has a grand time playing his own specific kind of idiot. (He’s got time to get a run in.) And we’ll be careful of spoilers here, but … his final scene with Pitt is truly incredible.

11. The Perfect Storm (2000)

Always wary of being too Cary Grant–like (he is a Midwesterner at heart), Clooney goes full blue-collar guy in this tale of the Andrea Gail, which (as immortalized in Sebastian Junger’s gripping best seller) went down at sea. The Perfect Storm was a good, manly role for Clooney to sink his teeth into at this point of his career — he plays a ship’s captain, for crying out loud; in retrospect, it’s remarkable that he doesn’t have a bigger beard — and he sells the hell out of it. Clooney really felt like a Bogart-like leading man here, though he probably shouldn’t try that Gloucester accent again.

10. The American (2010)

Essentially Clooney’s take on the stylish, ultracool, existential European thriller, The American finds the actor in the Jean-Pierre Melville role of an emotionally distant hit man, Jack, who goes into hiding and eventually falls in love with a dangerous beauty (Violante Placido). Because Clooney is such a natural charmer, it’s striking to see him playing this kind of character, whose whole point is to keep everything close to the vest. Critics were divided, and audiences didn’t bother showing up, which makes the film a bit of a misfit toy on Clooney’s résumé. To be sure, The American isn’t for all tastes — and it’s a little self-consciously indebted to its influences — but the movie is an absorbing, rewarding curveball from an actor who was happy to take risks even at the height of his celebrity.

9. Gravity (2013)

If you’re heading into space for the first time — especially if it goes as disastrously as it does for Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone — you definitely want a Matt Kowalski by your side. A wiseass who projects a calm confidence when things look grim, Kowalski allowed Clooney to give one of his warmest performances in recent years by serving as a mentor figure for Stone — even after he dies. So affecting is Clooney in Gravity that you feel a palpable sense of dread once he has to leave her. (Also, it’s simply the shock that a movie star as big as he is doesn’t make it to the end of the film.) Without Kowalski’s guidance and experience, can this rookie survive the ordeal on her own? She does, of course, but as inspiring as her saga ends up being, you can’t help but think about Kowalski drifting off into oblivion.

8. Up in the Air (2009)

Clooney would have worked well in the ’80s. Can’t you just see a younger version of him making a good Bonfire of the Vanities lead? He fronts a different sort of capitalist Zeitgeist in Jason Reitman’s comedy about frequent fliers, corporate downsizers, and the loneliness of the modern world. That loneliness lands differently when we watch the film today during a pandemic — it sure seems less isolated in those premium sky clubs than it does in our houses right now — and the movie’s politics read as more hazy and squishy in 2020 than they did in 2009. But Clooney gives a terrific performance as a man who’s just smart enough to cut himself off from anyone who might care about him. This was the third of his four Oscar nominations for acting, and the film felt like a big deal at the time but it’s surprising how little Up in the Air resonates today.

7. Three Kings (1999)

You probably know about the tension between Clooney and director David O. Russell on the set of Three Kings, which at one point resulted in their physically going after each other. Whether that hurt or helped the film, what’s clear is that Three Kings further cemented Clooney’s transition from ER heartthrob to legitimate leading man. Playing less of a dreamboat and more of a disillusioned hard-ass, he’s Archie Gates, a career soldier who’s about to go home after the Persian Gulf War when he and his buddies (Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube) learn about some hidden gold that could be theirs. An updated Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Three Kings finds Clooney projecting a grit he had never shown on the big screen, playing a military man who will reluctantly grow a conscience once he discovers what America’s adventure in the desert has done to the locals. For perhaps understandable reasons, this isn’t a movie Clooney talks about much these days. But it’s crucial in his early development as a star.

6. Syriana (2005)

Winning the first of his two Oscars (his second was for producing Argo), Clooney took home the prize for his portrayal of Bob Barnes, an emotionally spent CIA agent who’s sent on one last mission. Naturally, things don’t go well for him in Syriana, and it’s hard not to think the actor earned the Academy Award for showing his peers that he could play someone so spiritually exhausted. (And heavy: He gained 30 pounds for the film.) Clooney brings a jaded, fed-up quality to this man who’s very good at his dirty job but who long ago lost any illusions that he was actually doing much to make America safer. For one of Hollywood’s most passionate optimists and activists, his role in Syriana was most affecting because of the deep cynicism he tapped into. Even before his fateful end, Bob was a dead man walking, and Clooney makes you feel every step to the gallows.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Clooney was excited about working with Wes Anderson on this Roald Dahl adaptation, but he had some concerns: “I remember reading the script and saying to Wes, ‘Listen, I love it, and I’m thrilled to do it but I don’t know who’ll see it, because it’s sort of made for grown-ups as well as for kids, and you never know how that plays.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, let’s just go make the movie and have some fun!’” That advice may explain why his character in Fantastic Mr. Fox feels a bit different from the other comedic roles Clooney has taken on. Mr. Fox isn’t a buffoon like the characters he plays in Coen-brothers films — in fact, he’s an unhappy husband and father realizing that life hasn’t turned out the way he’d hoped. It’s a voice performance filled with wit but also a lot of sadness: Clooney is really funny in the role in a completely offhand, melancholy sort of way. It’s hard not to imagine that playing Mr. Fox helped prepare him for an even better disaffected-dad role that would come his way soon after (and is coming up next on this list).

4. The Descendants (2011)

Around the time that he worked with director Alexander Payne on this Oscar-winning study of an unremarkable middle-aged man, Clooney talked about growing old in Hollywood. “There’s a certain cruelty to being on a big screen as your eyelids start to sag and your hair falls out and turns gray that you either have to be able to handle or not,” he said. “What you can’t do is try to force yourself into roles that you could have played or would have played ten years earlier.” As Matt, a passive husband and father who discovers his comatose wife had been having an affair, Clooney exudes a naked vulnerability that in some ways is meant to be pathetic. Deep down, Matt knows he’s nothing special — he’s a nondescript lawyer and number cruncher — and Clooney’s refusal to make the guy either lovable or a heel is impressively nuanced. It’s very hard to play someone who’s average, but the slow-building sadness within the character suggests that he’s got a soul, even if he can’t quite articulate the pain coursing through him.

3. Out of Sight (1998)

The movie that signaled he wouldn’t be remembered only for that Batman flop, Out of Sight established the George Clooney Movie Star™ template. As expert bank robber Jack Foley, he’s all suave swagger and grown-up sex appeal — his courting of Jennifer Lopez’s determined cop, Karen Sisco, is playful but undeniably carnal. (Long before they go to bed together, you know they’re destined to.) The film also began Clooney’s fruitful partnership with director Soderbergh, which would carry over to several subsequent movies and, for a while, the risk-taking production company Section Eight. But perhaps most important, Out of Sight is where Clooney learned to loosen up on-camera, shedding the stiff self-consciousness that hampered his previous film performances. Here he stopped trying so hard and simply started exuding — and suddenly hit his stride as a leading man with a killer smile and an old-fashioned silver-screen sophistication.

2. The Ocean’s Eleven movies (2001, 2004, 2007)

Clooney’s purest, most effortless movie-star role, Danny Ocean is the kind of dream part an actor kills for. Yet if you get the balance wrong — if Danny’s too smug or too much of a lightweight — the character could be deeply obnoxious. But the early 21st century was when Clooney was as locked in as he ever was, and he’s equally adept in these movies’ quippy moments as he is when he has to convey Danny’s hurt in Ocean’s Eleven at discovering his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) may truly not love him anymore. It’s easy to discount how supremely winning Clooney is in this trilogy — making it look easy is precisely the point — but the Ocean’s films allowed him to show off a suave swagger that we just don’t see much in Hollywood blockbusters anymore.

1. Michael Clayton (2007)

Anyone as famous and charming and handsome as George Clooney will be tempted from time to time to play someone who’s ugly on the inside, almost as if paying penance for being the fantastic specimen we see in front of us. Clooney’s variation on this type seems to be blank, underwhelming men — guys who ought to have amounted to more than they did. As Michael Clayton’s title character, he gives us a performance that’s all about the nagging disappointments of someone who long ago decided not to listen to the Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder. Clayton is a fixer, and he’s good at it because he doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions — until, of course, he’s faced with a true ethical dilemma.

A throwback to the moody character studies of the 1970s (not to mention the conspiracy thrillers of that era), Michael Clayton is electrified by a first-rate cast, including Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her work here. But it’s Clooney’s quiet, almost stubborn portrayal of a guy who knows he has to do the right thing that gives the film its soul. Clayton isn’t really a hero — he’s just a pissed-off nobody — and Clooney had never before played such a disgruntled, adrift man. He has said that, while filming Michael Clayton’s incredible final shot in the back of a cab, he was mostly just trying to avoid laughing because people in passing cars were waving at him. That fact does nothing to dilute the power of that moment, in which Clooney shows us everything about his character without doing anything.

Grierson and Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on films. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

Every George Clooney Movie, Ranked