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

IMDB: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

Storyline

In this loose adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” George Clooney stars as Ulysses Everett McGill, a Depression-era convict who breaks free from a chain gang and sets off on a quixotic journey to find a hidden treasure. Alongside his dim sidekicks Delmar and Pete, Everett encounters surreal and violent misadventures filled with mobsters, sirens, and cyclopes, all while pursued by relentless lawman Cooley. The film is infused with Americana and bluegrass music, echoing the spirit of the times.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Clooney dons a comedic role in O Brother, Where Art Thou? directing a departure from his typical dramatic roles. His performance as the pomade-loving, smooth-talking Everett has been praised for his comedic timing and charm. The character of Everett serves as an effective vehicle for Clooney’s distinctive charisma, emphasized by the film’s unique dialogue and stylistic choices.

The film has garnered a cult following and Everett is considered one of Clooney’s most memorable characters. Clooney won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for this role, acknowledging his deft blend of humor and drama. His performance reveals his range as an actor, morphing effortlessly from suave heartthrob to slapstick antihero.

2. Up in the Air (2009)

IMDB: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

Storyline

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer and frequent flyer, travelling the country doing the dirty work of others, laying off employees when their bosses can’t or won’t do it in person. Meanwhile, Bingham is pursuing a personal milestone—reaching ten million miles flown. But his life is thrown off course when he falls for fellow traveler Alex and a young upstart threatens his job.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Emotionally layered and affectingly understated, Clooney’s acting in Up in the Air showcases his ability to convey complex characterization with minimalism. His portrayal of the initially unappealing Bingham walks a fine line of sympathy and detachment, and his transformation into a more empathetic character is subtly performed, emphasizing the film’s introspective themes.

Clooney received an Academy Award nomination for his work, attesting to his performance’s undeniable impact. Both critics and fans applaud his nuanced, introspective performance, proof of Clooney’s ability to deliver compelling drama that forges a connection with audiences despite the character’s introverted nature.

3. Michael Clayton (2007)

IMDB: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

Storyline

George Clooney plays the titular Michael Clayton, a “fixer” working for a large law firm in New York City. Clayton is tasked with handling legal disasters that require discretion and smooth operation. When the firm’s star litigator has a major breakdown amid a class-action lawsuit, Clayton is pulled into a web of corporate treachery, betrayal, and danger.

Why it’s a Major Performance

The role of Michael Clayton is one that proves Clooney’s cinematic merit, his layered and captivating portrayal of a man in profound moral conflict taking center stage in this legal thriller. Displaying a raw and powerful performance, Clooney’s portrayal of a man torn between his loyalty, instinct, and conscience gave audiences a look at the depth of his acting abilities.

This role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, accentuating how pivotal this performance was in catapulting him from the status of a movie star to a critically-acclaimed actor. All these factors qualify Michael Clayton as a milestone in George Clooney’s illustrious career.

4. The Descendants (2011)

IMDB: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Storyline

George Clooney portrays Matt King, a land baron trying to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife falls into a coma following a boating accident. Simultaneously, he grapples with the decision of whether or not to sell his family’s land, handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.

Why it’s a Major Performance

In a departure from his usually confident characters, Clooney in The Descendants delivers a vulnerable, nuanced performance that resonates deeply with audiences. This endearing portrayal of a beleaguered father on the brink of several life changes while coming to terms with his own failures and regrets is both poignant and relatable, thanks to Clooney’s affecting achievement.

His remarkable work in The Descendants earned him an Academy Award nomination, signaling his ability to encapsulate various facets of the human experience. Clooney’s raw, nuanced performance adds depth to the character of Matt King, making it a major milestone in his acting career for its display of emotional range and depth.

5. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

IMDB: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Storyline

George Clooney commands the screen as charming con-man Danny Ocean in this star-studded heist film. Fresh out of prison, Ocean plans a sophisticated theft of three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously during a boxing match, assembling a team of eleven specialists, including his right-hand man Rusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt. With obstacles coming from all sides, the team must deliver a flawless execution.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Clooney’s effortless charm, charisma, and style are on full display in Ocean’s Eleven, solidifying his spot as a top leading man in Hollywood. His portrayal of Danny Ocean is a masterclass in nonchalant cool and charm. The fast-paced delivery, quick wit, and the smooth navigation through the intricate plot showcase Clooney’s potential in leading an ensemble cast with aplomb.

Above all, his energetic chemistry with an ensemble cast of big Hollywood names like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon is what kept audiences hooked. The Ocean’s series is a standout in his career, establishing Clooney’s status as a leading man and delivering spectacle-quality entertainment that complements his charisma as an actor.

6. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

IMDB: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Storyline

In this historical drama, George Clooney plays the role of CBS news producer Fred Friendly. The film revolves around the real-life conflict between veteran radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow, portrayed by David Strathairn, and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, especially relating to the Senator’s anti-Communist crusade.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Through the lens of history, Clooney offers a performance in Good Night, and Good Luck that showcases his talents as a character actor and his aptitude in handling material that doesn’t rely on persona or charm alone. Working behind the camera as the film’s director and co-writer, and in front of it, Clooney accurately captures the intensity and paranoia of the Cold War era in his character’s sotto-voce performance.

In this bold and compelling drama, Clooney’s restrained and nuanced performance earned him wide critical acclaim, emphasizing his versatility as an actor. His role in the film reinforced his stature as one of the industry’s most talented multi-hyphenates, raising his profile as a director and producer while further solidifying his reputation for challenging and substantial acting roles.

7. Syriana (2005)

IMDB: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Storyline

George Clooney stars as Bob Barnes, a veteran CIA operative who becomes a scapegoat in the political machinations surrounding the oil industry in the Middle East. The film, spanning multiple continents and narratives, depicts a compelling web of intrigue that includes corporate corruption, government malpractice, and the global effects of oil consumption.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Beyond the physical transformation he undertook for the role, George Clooney delivers a deeply affecting performance in Syriana. His bracing portrayal of a world-weary, dispirited operative navigating a complex geopolitical landscape is both stirring and thought-provoking. His embodiment of Bob Barnes shows depth, complexity, and a resilience that resonates with audiences, demonstrating his commitment to the character and the narrative’s broader themes.

Clooney’s dedication didn’t go unnoticed, as he went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Syriana. The win confirmed his ability to handle roles requiring substance and gravitas, and can be viewed as a testament to his development as an actor, illustrating the complexity and depth of his craft.

8. The Ides of March (2011)

IMDB: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Storyline

Focused on the power struggles within a political campaign, Clooney takes on the role of Governor Mike Morris, a progressive Democratic presidential candidate in the run-up to the Ohio primary. The gripping story follows campaign strategist Stephen, who learns a harsh lesson in dirty politics and betrayal when he gets caught up in a scandal that could wreck Morris’s bid for the presidency.

Why it’s a Major Performance

In The Ides of March, Clooney delivers a striking portrayal of political charm and ambition as Governor Mike Morris. Yet it is the subtlety of his on-screen charisma and the depth of his performance as a man who isn’t all that he appears to be that makes this performance so noteworthy. His precise balance of charm and intensity makes the character’s dramatic arc even more engaging to watch.

As both actor and director in this political drama, Clooney effectively portrays the complexities of the character and the political scene, successfully conveying the high-stakes atmosphere of campaign politics. His performance emphasizes the film’s exploration of power, corruption, and idealism, underlining Clooney’s acting finesse and subtle depth.

9. Burn After Reading (2008)

IMDB: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

Storyline

In Burn After Reading, Clooney takes on the role of Harry Pfarrer, a womanizing, paranoid, and somewhat dim-witted federal marshal. The dark comedy revolves around a disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ending up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Burn After Reading sees Clooney once again reunite with the Coen Brothers, offering a performance that further reveals his comedic abilities. His portrayal of the confused and love-struck Pfarrer adds levity to the narrative’s overall escalation of misunderstandings and misadventures, and contributes significantly to the film’s darkly humorous tone.

His eccentric yet endearing performance was praised by critics and viewers alike, emphasizing Clooney’s range in handling a variety of tones and genres. From his flawless comedic timing to his physical comedy, Clooney’s performance in Burn After Reading attests to his talent for finding depth in even the most absurd situations.

10. Gravity (2013)

IMDB: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Storyline

Lying between sci-fi and drama, Gravity features Clooney as Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut commanding his final mission on the space shuttle Explorer. When a storm of space debris severely damages the shuttle and kills the rest of the crew, Kowalski and medical engineer Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, are left isolated in space, engaging in a dramatic fight for survival.

Why it’s a Major Performance

Despite not being the main character, Clooney leaves a strong impression in Gravity. His portrayal of the gregarious, storytelling Kowalski serves as an emotional anchor for Bullock’s character and the audience, offering a humane touch amidst the film’s tense and often suffocating atmosphere.

Clooney’s performance is a study in measured restraint and subtlety, showcasing his ability to convey charisma and depth even in a supporting role. His chemistry with Bullock further heightens the film’s emotional stakes. Despite the limited screen time, his performance stands out, embodying a reassuring presence in a situation of heightened desperation and fear.