There are movie stars and then there is George Clooney. The actor, who turned 60 years old on 6 May, 2021 is the epitome of old style charm and charisma and he has been compared to Cary Grant on so many occasions that it would be superfluous to do so here. I’m going to take a look at his (sometimes controversial) career in order to have an overview of his work as a director, producer and Oscar-winning actor.
This isn’t going to be a totally biographical piece. It’s not going to analyze his life or critique his early work such as failed television pilots like Sunset Beat (which featured a young, mullet-sporting Clooney as a cop by day and a rocker by night) or horror movies like Grizzly II or Return Of The Killer Tomatoes. Instead we’re going to look at Clooney as he took his first tentative steps from ER to movie stardom. Clooney is an actor who is unafraid to take risks. He’s used his star power to bring non-commercial and controversial pieces of cinema to the screen. Not since the 1970s has an A-list actor put his weight into producing such a varied portfolio of work.
However, in 1996 things started off so differently. At the time Clooney had become a huge star as Doug Ross on the hugely successful Medical drama ER. Like most actors the opportunity of big screen success came knocking and Clooney was offered roles in the Michelle Pfeiffer romantic comedy One Fine Day and the Robert Rodriguez-directed and Quentin Tarantino-penned horror/thriller From Dusk Till Dawn. While neither film set the box office alight, they were both successful in their own way and they showed that Clooney was an actor who could appeal to both men and women.
In 1996 it was announced that Clooney would be replacing Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman & Robin – the fourth instalment in the Warner Bros. hugely successful Batman franchise. Clooney would share the screen with box office titan Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone and the returning boy wonder Chris O’Donnell. It looked like Clooney was about to do what the likes of Don Johnson, Tom Selleck and David Caruso had failed to do – have a viable cinematic career.
Batman & Robin opened in the summer of 1997 to dismal reviews and lackluster box office (it barely crossed $100 million in the US). The poor performance of the film mothballed the Batman franchise until 2005 when it was resuscitated by Christopher Nolan – it also cooled some of Clooney’s heat and made some entertainment watchers believe that Clooney’s charisma wouldn’t transcend the limitations of the living room. In the Fall of ’97 the trend continued when Clooney starred alongside Nicole Kidman in the action thriller The Peacemaker, the first live action film from the then-fledgling DreamWorks. Again, The Peacemaker opened to less than stellar reviews and mediocre box office, again calling into question Clooney’s potential star power.