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Top 10 George Clooney Movies

by Eric Melin on August 31, 2010

in Top 10s

Top 10 George Clooney Movies (movies he starred in or directed)

This weekend A-lister extraordinaire George Clooney continues his 12-year streak of picking movies that are a little left of center with “The American,” a slow-moving drama that’s kind of a throwback to 70s art-house fare. It wasn’t always that way for the man who personifies modern Hollywood, as early roles in “Batman and Robin” and “One Fine Day” prove, but Clooney remains one of the most eminently watchable leading men around. Here’s a look the Top 10 George Clooney Movies. If you have a list you’d like to contribute, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com.

up_in_the_air clooney10. Up in the Air (2009)

DISCLAIMER: I am not including Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” on this Top 10 list because Clooney was merely one of a number of Hollywood leading men reduced to little more than a cameo in that Pacific WWII tone poem. So we’ll start the list with “Up in the Air,” a film that was last year’s early Oscar frontrunner for everything and eventually suffered from too much of that hype. Clooney is the best thing about the film, a dramedy about a professional corporate downsizer who realizes his priorities are all out of whack. He makes it look easy, oozing an aloof charm like only the top movie star in the world can, which eases the pain of a few too overly convenient plot devices.

clooney O Brother Where Art Thou9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The first of Clooney’s three collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is probably best remembered for its unexpected multiple-Grammy-winning soundtrack. Hell, if you look at it that way, the accompanying film could be the most elaborate music video ever. The plot is a mess, loosely adapted from Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” into a Southern Gothic folk tale, but Clooney’s kinetic and vanity-free performance is sheer comic delight and the dusty widescreen cinematography from Roger Deakins is lovely, even if it was famously color-corrected in postproduction. After three consecutive years of Golden Globe nominations for “ER,” Clooney won his first Golden Globe in 2001 as Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical for this film.

clooney good night and good luck8. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

The Clooney-directed “Good Night, and Good Luck” recounts the real-life struggle between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy that took place over the airwaves in the early 1950s. Part nostalgia trip, part cautionary history lesson, all entertainment, it is a briskly-paced, insular movie, shot entirely in gorgeous black-and-white. There is a privileged, fly-on-the-wall quality during the broadcasts themselves. What we don’t see is America actually experiencing the program. The impact of the drama might have been made more implicit by showing the country as it was in 1954, but that may have sacrificed the feeling that you are right there with the characters throughout the crisis. Like the climate of the times it portrays, the film sometimes comes off a little cold and austere, but remains an absorbing movie about integrity and the dangers of living in fear.

burn-after-reading clooney7. Burn After Reading (2008)

Clooney’s third movie for the Coens is egregiously bleak—almost a companion piece to their Best Picture winner the year before. If “No Country for Old Men” left us to ponder the notion of the random and cruel ways that our freedom of choice fits in to the grand scheme, then “Burn After Reading” puts an exclamation point on the pointlessness of it all. Whether you are able to laugh at the gratuitous inelegance that the Coens’ universe depicts will depend on you. The plot is a slow build towards a manic conclusion, full of shocking violence and bizarre revelations. Clooney uses his charm to lure the audience into liking a self-absorbed philanderer—and just when we decide we do, he unveils a perverted sex chair that would make Bruno blush. His third-act hysterics are just that—hysterical—and further proof that Clooney doesn’t only pick roles that bolster his suave factor.

ocean's_eleven_clooney6. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

What did I just say about Clooney not picking “cool” roles? Well this movie established the unflappable suaveness that is Danny Ocean and proved that director Steven Soderbergh could make breezy mainstream entertainment as well as he could make brainier fare. The first of the “Ocean’s” trilogy has everything: an inventive heist, a great underdog romantic subplot, an easy-to-hate villain, and a ton of self-effacing humor from Mr. Clooney and company, who look as if they are enjoying the hell out of themselves on one big vacation. Clooney has a lot to do with why this film is so effortlessly cool, and I rank it high on this list (over his only Oscar-winning performance—for 2005’s muddled “Syriana”) because its efficient fun without any apologies, which is more than I can say for its increasingly labored sequels.

michael-clayton clooney horses5. Michael Clayton (2007)

“Michael Clayton” is about corrupting power and moral choices. It’s a smart thriller that revolves around a corporate cover-up but doesn’t burrow into hair-splitting details and stays away from cliche. Clooney is terrific in a role that asks him to disguise much of the charm and confidence that make him a reliable leading man as a divorcee paying off assorted debts. Reduced to a backroom role in the firm while his peers are all made partners, he refers to his job as “janitor.” What Michael does for a living isn’t pretty, but Clooney makes him a sympathetic and clearly damaged character. Director Tony Gilroy employs a subtle, hands-off approach and lets his actors (Tilda Swinton won a supporting Actress statue) carry the weight of the film.

clooney confessions-of-a-dangerous-mind 4. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Working from a script by absurdist scribe Charlie Kaufman that itself adapted the strange autobiography of “The Gong Show” host Chuck Barris, Clooney’s directorial debut blended wildly divergent tones to create a surprisingly tragic and high-energy film. Using the much-contested premise touted in his book—that Barris (Sam Rockwell) was a hitman for the CIA during his reign as producer of top-rated, lowbrow TV in the 1970s—Clooney forges ahead to tell the story of a man who lost his soul. There’s plenty of room for deadpan comedy, and Clooney in gets in on some of the action as Barris’ CIA boss Jim Byrd, but what’s surprising about “Confessions” is how Clooney portrays his Barris’ swing into depression without missing a beat. In a story that’s just too wild to be true, Clooney makes us believe not only that it could have happened, but that secretly killing overseas agents for the U.S. government was just one part of the puzzle that led to Barris’ downfall. Filming Barris himself before the camera was a bold move that may seem weird on paper, but works beautifully in the context of the movie.

fantastic_mr_fox_clooney3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Clooney riffs off of his Danny Ocean character as the voice of a cocky fox who has promised his wife and son that he’ll stop the risky behavior of raiding poultry farms and settle down in their new tree home. His conflict is one of inner strife. You see, it’s against his predatory nature, so he puts all the other animals at risk as he puts together another heist. Clooney’s wit is as dry as ever here and it’s a perfect match for Wes Anderson’s meticulous set design and stop-motion animation. Adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” just gets better and better with repeated viewings, in no small part because of the self-possessed confidence Clooney brings to Mr. Fox.

 clooney out-of-sight2. Out of Sight (1998)

This film was the first of six Soderbergh/Clooney collaborations (not counting the short-lived HBO series “K Street,” which they co-produced) and the duo hasn’t topped it yet. “Out of Sight,” based on the Elmore Leonard book, pits bank robber Clooney against tough-but-sexy US Marshal Jennifer Lopez in more ways than one. She’s hot on his tail, but the sexual attraction between the outlaw and lawwoman is undeniable. Every moment of “Out of Sight” is an absolute pleasure, from the scene where Clooney and Lopez flirt with each other as captor/victim in the trunk of a car to the absurdly explosive robbery at the end of the movie. Soderbergh corrals a giant cast (Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, and Michael Keaton in a hilarious cameo playing his “Jackie Brown” character) and flashes confidently forward and backward, revealing key details just as they matter the most. It was this movie that convinced Hollywood that they had a leading man with old school charm on their hands. If you haven’t seen it, rent it now and notice how timeless it feels.

three-kings-clooney1. Three Kings (1999)

When asked if he would work with director David O. Russell again after reports of a fistfight between the two broke out on the set of this movie, Clooney responded: “Life’s too short.” Too bad, because this movie works on so many levels and it’s the best film either has made. “Three Kings,” set in the bleached sand of post-Persian Gulf War Iraq circa 1991, is successful as a character drama, a comedy, a war picture, a western, a satire, a visceral action film, a heist movie, and a slice of angry political discourse. It co-stars Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Spike Jonze as a troop of U.S. soldiers who follow an enigmatic Major (Clooney, who else?) on a mission to steal Kuwaiti gold bullion from Saddam Hussein. As with any good anti-war pic, the enemy, it turns out, aren’t so different from us. In one of a ton of bizarre scenes, after the cease-fire is called, Iraqi soldiers run from smoke-filled bunkers carrying huge piles of American jeans. This irony is just one of many that populate a biting film that carries as much weight now as it did then. In “Three Kings,” Clooney starts out all swagger, but the burden of his choices eventually becomes too heavy to ignore. It’s one of his best all-around performances and “Three Kings” is the best movie he’s ever been involved in.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Randall August 31, 2010 at 7:36 am

Great list. I’m a fan of many of these movies (especially the underdog, “Out of Sight”) and thus a fan of Clooney. He chooses his projects well–there’s nearly always something interesting about his movies, even when they don’t turn out as well as the ones on this list. There aren’t a lot of actors whose mere participation in a project piques my interest, but Clooney is one of those rare few.


2 Greg August 31, 2010 at 9:24 am

Hard to quibble with this list. Might go up a few spots with Good Night and Good Luck, up a few with O Brother. Down a few with Ocean’s Eleven. I’m not sure this list shouldn’t ‘go to eleven’ with From Dusk til Dawn. Nice work.


3 Eric Melin August 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Putting them in order was a bit of a challenge, but my Top 5 is about as firm as it gets. I like every movie on this list, but the Top 5 I think are pretty damn solid, whereas there are things that bug me a little about each of the others. The big, overarching point I wanted to make was echoed by Randall above. This guy chooses risky roles. Even movies like Solaris, Syriana, and Intolerable Cruelty (that didn’t make the list) are pretty far out from formula filmmaking. And even when he does that (see “Ocean’s”), he usually comes out unscathed!


4 Josh August 31, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I love 3 Kings and make my friends who have not seen it watch it ASAP, and as far as making the “Risky” films, he is like Johnny Depp, in which he can play so many diiferent characters. And you forgot Men Who Stare at Goats in the risky category.


5 James September 1, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Great list. Clooney really is one of the few actors with just effortless charisma and really reminds you of old school hollywood, though he is alot more daring than people might give him credit for. As you said, playing somewhat of a sleazeball in Burn After Reading, appearing in Michael Clayton which really reminds me of several films within te 70s, to creating a passion project like Good Night and Good Luck, the guy is simply doing interesting work. Even in uneven(the screwball comedy Leatherheads) or poor efforts(The Men Who Stare At Goats), the guy is making solid choices.

Most of those on the list I love, but I gotta admit I’m due for another viewing of Three Kings.


6 jessica maria September 2, 2010 at 8:05 am

Great list – “Out of Sight” is one of my favorite movies ever and it boggles my mind how few people have seen it or even remember it.


7 Eric Melin September 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

Josh – You are right about “Goats” being risky. It’s also uneven, like James mentioned “Leatherheads” is as well. I agree with you both and would rather watch something risky and strange than drab and uninspired!

Jessica Maria – So true – I just don’t get it! Sometimes I think Lopez’s later descent into listless romcoms has soured her reputation enough that people don’t even consider “Out of Sight” anymore. She absolutely sparkles in that movie.


8 jessica maria September 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

Erica – Lopez’s descent into listless romcoms as well as her venture into paparazzi life with Puff Daddy & Ben Affleck – probably had to do with the good roles evaporating. I loved her in Selena & Out of Sight, and thought she was in line for better roles at the point.


9 jessica maria September 2, 2010 at 8:29 am

(And by “Erica” I meant “Eric.” Ha.)


10 mary September 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE all George Clooney movies, let us not forget Solaris, one of his best.


11 Daniel March 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

How could Batman and Robin not be on this list!? MADNESS!!!


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