A-list Oscar winner Brad Pitt has built a career as a bona fide movie star, starring in modern classics like Fight Club and Ocean’s Eleven.
With big blockbuster franchises now dominating the box office over A-list talent, actor Brad Pitt is one of the last true movie stars, and he has over 30 years of great films to back that up. After several small roles in the late 80s and early 90s, Pitt finally got his breakout role in the seminal Ridley Scott-directed movie, 1991's Thelma & Louise. Though that performance led to him being typecast as the charming heartthrob in major Hollywood movies, he quickly broke out of that mold and became a respected actor, starring in some of the 90s' most exciting thrillers and sci-fi movies, such as Se7en and 12 Monkeys.
In the time since, Pitt has built a career working with the top tier directors in a range of genres, including mid-budget dramas, war epics, and blockbuster popcorn films like Bullet Train, one of 2022's best action movies. With barely a dud in Pitt's filmography, if his movie isn't a box office hit, it's often a critical and award-winning darling, and vice versa. In 2020, Pitt finally won an Academy Award for acting — a whole 29 years after his performance in Thelma & Louise.
When it was first released, Guy Ritchie's Snatch was a modestly successful Pulp Fiction-influenced British crime comedy. Like the Quentin Tarantino movie, the 2000 film sports an ensemble cast with a multi-stranded narrative, and while there isn't any main character in particular, Pitt is the MVP. The actor plays an Irish underground boxer, and it's by far the best comedic performance of his career. The character came to life after Pitt couldn't do a London accent, and if Pitt did play an Englishman in Snatch, the film might not have gotten the legacy that it currently has.
2008 was a big year for Pitt. As well as Burn After Reading, he also starred in the technologically revolutionary The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but of the two movies, Burn After Reading better stands the test of time. The Coen brothers-directed film is a simple crime caper, something that the directing duo does best, and it features their typical trademarks, such as botched crimes and goofy characters, one of which is Pitt's gym-obsessed Chad Feldheimer. It's another great comedy performance from the actor, and his iconic facial expression right before Chad's surprisingly brutal death is one of the Coens' most darkly funny moments.
While most time travel movies tend to be fun and entertaining,12 Monkeys is anything but. The movie follows James Cole (Bruce Willis), who travels 40 years into the past to find information about a plague that affects life in the 2030s. The only true help he gets is from Jeffrey Goines (Pitt), a psychiatric patient and environmentalist. Jeffrey is one of the most three-dimensional characters that Pitt has played, and 12 Monkeys is one of the mid-90s movies that morphed him into a true actor. It was a huge win for him at the box office too, as the film made $168 million worldwide (via The Numbers).
While The Tree of Life is generally considered one of Pitt's best movies among critics, it's one of the most divisive movies of the 2010s. The movie centers on Jack, a man estranged from his family, but it also tells the whole birth of life and evolution. While not popular among general audiences, The Tree of Life did win the coveted Palme d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and has been the recipient of several other awards. Pitt plays Mr. O'Brien, Jack's father, and though the movie might be polarizing, he gives a fascinating and contemplative performance.
Thelma & Louise follows the two titular women (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) on the run from the police after Louise kills a man in defense, and it's one of director Ridley Scott's best movies. Its ending has been totally cemented in pop culture too, as it has been parodied to no end. The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards and won Best Screenplay, and more notably, it introduced the world to Pitt in a huge way. Pitt plays J.D. a charming drifter and convicted armed robber who violated his parole, and it laid the foundation for the roles that he would be offered in the following years.
From director Steven Soderbergh, Ocean's Eleven is a hugely successful, stylish heist movies franchise, and it even started a weird trend of Pitt eating in movies. As Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) right-hand, Pitt's Rusty Ryan is a character that plays to the actor's charming, smooth-talking screen persona. Few films feature this much A-list talent onscreen together, and Pitt's chemistry with Clooney, Matt Damon, and the rest of the cast is what makes the Ocean's franchise such a fun romp. The heist crew has entertaining adventures in Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen, but nothing compares to the magic of the original.
There have been tons of sports movies about baseball, and while that's essentially what Moneyball is, it looks inwards at the strategy behind trading players. It's the fly-on-the-wall scenes between managers that elicit excitement more than the actual baseball. That's partly thanks to writer Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire dialogue, but it's also thanks to the powerful dramatic performances from the film's cast. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, and it follows him bringing the team back from obscurity with such a limited budget. It was a refreshingly mellow performance from the actor, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for the role.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a surprisingly less bombastic film from Tarantino (for the most part), as it follows aging movie star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Pitt), roaming around Hollywood, either working or going about their daily chores. Compared to the ultraviolence of the filmmaker's other movies, the 2019 release is refreshingly meditative. It also marks Pitt's second Tarantino film, and the actor gives a charismatic yet understated performance, as it's what isn't said about Cliff that makes him more alluring. The supporting role finally won Pitt an Academy Award for acting.
12 Years a Slave is an important and unapologetically realistic depiction of slavery in 1800s Louisiana, and it doesn't shy away from showing the graphic violence and abuse of the time. Pitt plays Samuel Bass, an abolitionist who helps free Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture (winning producer Pitt his first Oscar). Though he didn't win his award, 12 Years a Slave is director Steve McQueen's best movie. It was a huge box office success too, making $187 million (via Box Office Mojo), a rare feat for such a harrowing movie.
Inglourious Basterds was the first collaboration between Tarantino and Pitt and a war epic of the highest order, as the movie follows the titular Nazi-killing gang and its part in killing Adolf Hitler. The film has one of the most intense opening sequences, as Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates the dairy farmer, and it cast several unknowns who became movie stars. Pitt gives a fascinating performance too, as he plays the southern Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds. However, just like Cliff Booth, there's so much mystery surrounding the character, such as his neck scar, something the original Inglourious Basterds TV show plan could have explained.
While Se7en might seem like yet another detective thriller movie, it's so much more than that. The 1995 film was hugely influential and inspired tons of bleak thrillers that weren't anywhere near as good. Se7en was also an important part of Pitt's career because it started a long-running relationship between him and director David Fincher, as the celebrated thriller auteur and actor have worked together on three movies. This film has become a huge part of pop culture simply thanks to Pitt's "What's in the box?" line becoming a viral meme, but that's not to take anything away from Se7en's absolutely mindblowing ending.
Fight Club is undisputedly Pitt's greatest movie. It's the 12th highest-rated film of all time on IMDb, has one of Hollywood's most famous that people who haven't even seen the movie know, and Tyler Durden's (Pitt) outfits and style are absolutely iconic. Pitt displayed how much starpower he had in his second collaboration with Fincher, both as a performer and an underground fighter, acting like a rabid, uncaged animal. The movie underperformed at the box office when it was first released, making just $100 million off a $63 million budget (via Box Office Mojo), but it has since become the quintessential cult classic.
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Currently splitting his time between Madrid and Chicago, Stephen Barker has been a staff writer at Screen Rant since 2020. Since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a bachelor’s degree in Film, Television, and Cultural Studies in 2014, he has written for numerous movie and music websites. Visit Stephen’s personal blog, Quaranste, where he writes about guilty pleasure movies, his latest musical discoveries, and how he stays creative during global pandemics.