With a smooth voice, a wry sense of humor, and endless charisma, George Clooney has remained one of the most charming and commanding A-listers of his generation. His unshakable on-screen confidence ensures that he's equally comfortable in intense dramas that make him seem like a god among men and in goofy comedies that frame him as an air-headed fool. The actor has also directed several of his own projects while turning in stellar performances for some of the most prominent filmmakers of the 21st century, including the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, and Wes Anderson, among others.
Without further ado, here's our ranking of the best George Clooney movies and TV shows.
20. <i>The Facts of Life</i> (1985-1987)
One of Clooney's first major gigs was on the long-running sitcom The Facts of Life with a recurring role as George Burnett, a handyman who befriends the Eastland school girls. It's jarring to see Clooney so fresh-faced — he sports a goofy '80s mullet and his voice sounds like it belongs to an older-looking man — but his appearance on the show proves that he's always been remarkably magnetic, even when he hadn't fully refined his craft.
19. <i>The Ides of March</i> (2011)
Clooney has always wielded the suave charm of a politician, so naturally he cast himself as a governor running for president in The Ides of March, a political thriller he also co-wrote and directed. Here, the actor gives his usual smooth-talking persona an undercurrent of darkness that makes for a chilling watch, especially when a disturbing secret about his personal life comes to light. During a climactic confrontation with a staffer (Ryan Gosling), Clooney seethes with unsettling anger, yielding his creepiest performance to date.
18. <i>Good Night, and Good Luck</i> (2005)
Clooney directed, co-wrote, and costarred in Good Night, and Good Luck, a journalism drama that explores the conflict between CBS News' Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy. As Fred Friendly, Murrow's co-producer and friend, Clooney playfully and respectfully bosses his employees around, giving a satisfying symmetry to his role on set and his character in the film. (It's perfectly fitting to see him in '50s professional attire calling his coworkers "fellas.") And as the station's battle with McCarthy escalates, his nervous, deliberate tone displays Friendly's simultaneous apprehension and steadfastness. It's no small balancing act, but Clooney still juggles it with ease.
17. <i>Return of the Killer Tomatoes</i> (1988)
One of Clooney's earliest film roles came in this absurd horror-comedy sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, where he plays the best friend and co-worker of Anthony Starke's protagonist, half-heartedly assisting his buddy in failed romantic endeavors. The actor doesn't have much screen time, but he commands your attention in every one of his scenes. And he's way more alluring and natural than the rest of the cast, who are putting in more self-conscious, intentionally campy work that fits the movie's parodic tone.
16. <i>Syriana</i> (2005)
This slow-burning political thriller — which won Clooney his first and only acting Oscar — sees him play a CIA agent caught in a tangled web of violence and deception, leaving him with no one to trust. He's still recognizable in the film, but his work in Syriana is among his most transformative — sporting a shaggy beard, messy hair, and looking less physically fit than usual. Though the actor is playing a skilled government agent, it's one of his most convincing turns as a down-to-Earth, (almost) regular guy.
15. <i>Gravity</i> (2013)
Alfonso Cuarón's thrilling space drama sees two astronauts struggle to survive after their space shuttle is pummeled by debris. In the film's elaborate 13-minute opening shot, Clooney immediately establishes a rapport between himself and Sandra Bullock's character with casual, good-spirited conversation that makes it feel like they've known each other for years. A considerable percentage of his screen time is via voiceover, giving Bullock advice, instructions, and support through audio communications. But when the action picks up, Clooney's calm, coolheaded performance provides a necessary respite from the relentless chaos.
14. <i>Money Monster</i> (2016)
In Jodie Foster's thriller Money Monster, Clooney plays a hacky host of a Mad Money-style news show who's held hostage by a disgruntled young investor whose stocks didn't pan out. Given that Clooney's character spends most of the movie with a bomb strapped to his chest or a gun pointed at his head on live TV, the actor's on-screen task is tricky: He must portray a smarmy television personality who wants to put on a good show while suppressing his anxious reactions to the life-threatening predicament. In the process, Clooney goes through a wide variety of emotions and attitudes toward the man threatening him, convincingly shedding self-interested cockiness in favor of empathy.
13. <i>Confessions of a Dangerous Mind</i> (2002)
Clooney made his directorial debut in this comedic retelling of the life of Chuck Barris, the game show producer responsible for hits like The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game, who claimed to moonlight as a secret CIA assassin. Sam Rockwell plays Barris while Clooney calls in favors from several of his Ocean's Eleven costars — including Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt — for supporting roles and cameos. He too joins the ensemble as Barris' CIA handler, speaking in a monotone voice that scarcely raises above a murmur, which comically contrasts with the rest of this delightfully silly action movie. Meanwhile, behind the camera, he employs a visually energetic style, with clever transitions between scenes and playfully kinetic cinematography.
12. <i>Hail, Caesar</i> (2016)
The Coen brothers' Old Hollywood farce Hail, Caesar boasts a murderer's row of dramatic actors in comedic roles, including Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, and Tilda Swinton. Perhaps the funniest among them is Clooney as Baird Whitlock, an arrogant leading man who's kidnapped from the set of a Ben-Hur-style biblical epic. Clooney's lighthearted, self-indulgent mannerisms suggest that Baird is totally oblivious to the danger he's in, and his repeated failure (or refusal) to read the room clarifies that his ego trumps all, even matters of life or death. His final scene builds to one of the movie's best punchlines, perfectly exploiting Clooney's movie star charisma to mock just how ridiculous movie stars can be.
11. <i>Up in the Air</i> (2009)
Jason Reitman's dramedy enlists Clooney to play a character with the most unenviable job in his entire filmography: a constantly traveling professional whom companies hire to fire their employees. He's quickly put on the back foot, however, when his young coworker (Anna Kendrick) reinvents their business strategy and offers a new perspective while they're on the road together. Suddenly, his silver-tongued, aging bachelor lifestyle seems to be going out of style in the modern workplace, revealing a lonely, empty core below the easygoing surface. It's rare to see an actor deconstruct their usual persona to look this out-of-step, unsavory, and melancholy, but in Clooney's hands, it feels seemless.
10. <i>Out of Sight</i> (1998)
In his first film with longtime collaborator Steven Soderbergh, Clooney plays a bank robber who escapes from prison and tries to rob his former boss (Albert Brooks). Along the way, he's pursued by a persistent U.S. marshal (Jennifer Lopez) with whom he shares overwhelming romantic chemistry. The charged flirtation between Clooney and Lopez makes for a uniquely exhilarating game of cat and mouse, as the combination of the characters' opposing career goals and interpersonal attraction creates a beautiful tension.
9. <i>The Descendants</i> (2011)
Alexander Payne's drama casts Clooney as a troubled lawyer in Hawaii who, while struggling to connect with his daughter (Shailene Woodley), learns that his comatose wife was having an affair. As the premise suggests, it's one of Clooney's meatiest roles yet, rife with inner turmoil and conflicting emotions. The actor skillfully embodies his character's many layers of grief, externalizing the complex combination of loss, betrayal, and fear of a future that will leave his family changed forever. It might also be his most tearful performance, quietly showing much more vulnerability than he typically projects on screen.
8. <i>One Fine Day</i> (1996)
With his sarcastic disposition and the constant romantic twinkle in his eye, Clooney is an ideal lead for rom-coms. And though he's absolutely endearing in movies like Ticket to Paradise and Intolerable Cruelty, his most swoon-worthy work came early in his career with One Fine Day. Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer play two frazzled single parents who reluctantly join forces to juggle their kids and careers for one hectic day in Manhattan. In addition to his excellent chemistry with Pfeiffer, he also works wonderfully with his on-screen daughter (Mae Whitman) as he continually expresses the odd mix of frustration, anxiety, and overwhelming love that comes with parenting a young child.
7. <i>Fantastic Mr. Fox</i> (2009)
There's no actor better equipped than Clooney to play a cunning, impulsive fox who dabbles in professional thievery. In Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved book, the actor voices the central critter, whose selfish behavior brings his entire community into conflict with three maniacal farmers. Though it's an animated movie aimed at younger audiences, Fantastic Mr. Fox still boasts wonderfully complex characters, expanding a would-be rudimentary children's tale into a thoughtful examination of masculinity, midlife crises, and family dynamics. (There's also hilarious behind-the-scenes footage of the actor physically performing many of the movie's key scenes as he records his dialogue.)
6. <i>O Brother, Where Art Thou</i> (2000)
In the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou — a loose Appalachian retelling of The Odyssey — Clooney portrays an empty-headed version of Odysseus who struggles to make his way home after escaping from prison. The 1930s setting allows the actor to channel his inner Clark Gable or Cary Grant, using both his leading man sensibilities and his comedic chops to create a ridiculous parody of Golden Age talent. Though his singing is dubbed by folk musician Dan Tyminski, Clooney enthusiastically performs each musical number with every inch of his body, making the Soggy Bottom Boys' success hilarious (if not slightly surprising).
5. <i>ER</i> (1994-2009)
Clooney's breakout dramatic role came through the hit medical series ER, Dr. Doug Ross for the first five seasons and securing two Emmy nominations in the process. Ross is an arrogant ladies' man, and his headstrong cockiness often leads to conflict with his coworkers and superiors. With patients, however, the pediatrician is a saint — he speaks with authority but maintains a calm and gentle demeanor, which makes for a perfect bedside manner with nervous children. Clooney's natural, sing-songy cadence also helps complicated medical jargon sound easy on the ears. (He and costar Noah Wyle notably guest starred as laughably similar characters who briefly date Monica and Rachel on Friends.)
4. <i>Solaris</i> (2002)
Clooney delivers his most intimate performance in Steven Soderbergh's remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 psychological sci-fi drama, playing a psychologist who travels to a space station and is haunted by a specter of his late wife (Natascha McElhone). The film hinges on the actor's ability to silently emote complicated ideas with his face and body language. When he first arrives on the ship, he's haunted and exhausted from grief, moving with puzzled curiosity as he silently explores his new surroundings. Later, in flashbacks, Clooney conveys overwhelming warmth and joy upon seeing his future wife from a distance — and that affection persists throughout numerous brief moments of pure, tender romance. Yet when they're reunited through supernatural means, he's tearful and afraid, spending the rest of the film in a tense inner conflict between love and reason.
3. <i>Burn After Reading</i> (2008)
This Coen brothers' political farce consists of an all-star cast — including Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovich — playing selfish idiots whose stupid endeavors intersect in a hilarious manner. The most ridiculous among them is Clooney as a paranoid U.S. marshal and serial womanizer. His character is so self-important that he errantly believes the whole world is out to get him, but he also has no remorse for his impulsive, destructive behavior. Though absorbed in the fabricated persona he's invented for himself, he also fears that everything could come crashing down at any moment — and it's Clooney's funniest performance to date.
2. <i>Ocean's Eleven</i> (2001)
In Steven Soderbergh's ensemble action classic Ocean's Eleven, we're treated to Clooney's most powerful turn as a pure bonafide movie star. He's cool, calm, and collected, oozing a confidence that gives the movie a breezy energy unlike any other heist film. While commanding your attention in every scene, he also shows off a fantastic understanding and rapport with everyone in the massive crew — Brad Pitt, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, and Bernie Mac in particular — that makes it feel like they've all been planning crimes (and acting in movies) together for decades. And his palpable chemistry with Julia Roberts creates the perfect dynamic for an ex-spouse seeking reconciliation, speaking with slight bitterness, melancholy, admiration, and care in every line of their conversations.
1. <i>Michael Clayton</i> (2007)
Tony Gilroy's legal thriller casts Clooney as a no-nonsense corporate fixer who's not afraid to get his hands dirty for the company — until he realizes he might be playing for the wrong team. The titular character isn't the smartest guy in the room, or the most morally upright, or the most powerful (though the actor plays all of these hyperboles well in other projects). He is, however, the most driven (due to circumstance) and the most suave (by nature). As Michael Clayton, Clooney's failures look more composed than most people's successes, even if his microexpressions suggest he's out of his depth and totally winging it. The result is an astounding performance that sees him dominate the screen more than any role that's come before or since.