Ever since he memorably removed his shirt and stole our hearts in 1991’s Thelma And Louise, Brad Pitt has rarely strayed from the top of Hollywood’s A-list.
No mean feat and, while he’s less frequently seen in front of the camera nowadays, this year we’ve already relished his bromance with Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Now it’s only days before his latest movie, Ad Astra, shoots Pitt off into space in search of his renegade dad (Tommy Lee Jones). The movie premiered at the Venice Film festival to critical acclaim, with many lauding Pitt's introverted yet moving performance as a career best.
After that breakthrough role in Thelma and Louise, Pitt’s rise was meteoric, proving those good looks were just part of the package. Robert Redford came calling for A River Runs Through It (1992), leading to collaborations with such luminaries as David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino.
But at the same time, Pitt was developing a whole new career for himself behind the camera, as a producer. More of that in a moment…
For now, and in anticipation of Ad Astra, here’s five of the best performances from the actor who said "Heart throbs are a dime a dozen." He has a point.
1. Se7en (1995)
Pitt’s first collaboration with Fincher is probably his best and probably his most famous. This brutal, brooding thriller sees his naive rookie cop paired with Morgan Freeman’s world-weary veteran to track down a sadistic serial killer, whose modus operandi is the seven deadly sins.
An unforgettable experience as a film, it allows Pitt to combine arrogance and sincerity with an innocence that ultimately makes him sympathetic as he’s drawn into a lethal game of cat and mouse with the killer.
And this screen persona was utterly essential when it came to delivering that final devastating scene, one that’s a true cinematic gut punch.
2. Fight Club (1999)
Pitt was back with Fincher for a performance that proved even more controversial than Se7en.
A unique film – radical, compelling and original – Fight Club casts him as maverick Tyler Durden, who attracts the attention of the more pedestrian Edward Norton, and they form an underground fight club. But the scenario changes to something more sinister, with the two wrestling for control of the club before a shocking twist is revealed.
Pitt’s performance bursts off the screen: funny, attractive yet badass and threatening to the point of terrifying, and he fully embraces the character’s darker side. Cult classic, crazy, insane even – there are any number of ways to describe Fight Club, but it’s Pitt who brings the chaos.
3. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
Pitt’s third and, to date, last film with Fincher – plans for World War Z 2 fell apart – earned him an Oscar nomination.
In this romantic yet melancholic fairy tale, he plays a man who ages in reverse, all the while falling in love with a beautiful dancer (Cate Blanchett) who grows older in the conventional way.
With the help of impressive and ground breaking visual effects, Pitt carries this emotional journey from start to finish, whether he’s a wizened 70-year-old baby or an eerily de-aged, young-looking (but old) man a la his appearance in Thelma and Louise.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
In his first collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Pitt finds himself in his element, having a blast as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, the leader of a small band of Nazi hunters.
Pitt is ruthless, jingoistic, funny at times and even surprisingly charming as the man behind the “Basterds”, guerrillas whose brutal treatment of their Nazi prey becomes notorious.
Christoph Waltz may have walked away with the acting plaudits, but Pitt more than had his moments, camping it up with that ludicrous accent and those quintessential Tarantino monologues.
5. Moneyball (2011)
At first sight, the story of the man who changed baseball for ever doesn’t exactly leap off the page. However, the deliciously crisp dialogue of Aaron Sorkin, the talents of director Bennett Miller, and a winning performance from Pitt turn Moneyball into a genuine crowd pleaser.
As Billy Beane, the manager of Oakland Athletics who uses maths to build a team for next to nothing, Pitt turns in another Oscar-nominated performance as a man with vision, prepared to risk everything on something new that he believes to be right.
Working in perfect harmony with acclaimed co-star Jonah Hill, Pitt helps ensure this is a classic sports movie.
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But acting is only one side of Brad Pitt's career...
1. The Departed (2006)
Pitt’s first feature as a producer meant he hit the ground running. Fistfuls of awards nominations came the way of Scorsese’s Boston mafia drama, and resulted in four Oscars and a Golden Globe. This included recognition for its all-star cast including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.
Pitt very often acts in the films he produces, but not in this case: scheduling conflicts meant that, although he’d originally been on the cast list, he was busy filming Babel elsewhere. But it set a precedent for his production company Plan B’s ability to choose films that ticked all the boxes, both in terms of quality and the box office.
2. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
Another Best Picture Oscar winner, and a ground-breaking cinematic achievement, Steve McQueen’s searing portrait of American slavery saw Pitt pull double-duty as both producer and actor.
In the movie, Pitt makes a small but pivotal appearance as Samuel Bass, the sympathetic carpenter who helps persecuted slave Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) achieve his freedom.
At the film’s LA premiere in 2012, Ejiofor credited Pitt with getting the film made: "It just goes to show what an individual could do when they have that kind of reach and they’re prepared to use it to support filmmakers. I’m deeply grateful to him for allowing this film to be made."
3. The Big Short (2015)
In Adam McKay’s savagely funny indictment of the 2008 financial crash and the people behind it, Pitt again took on a supporting role, playing a financial expert who memorably trades from his laptop in a Devon pub.
More importantly, his character is one of the few to understand and care about the ramifications of the system’s risky behaviour, the one time the film comes close to having a moral compass.
The Big Short had another high calibre cast (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale) and was another Oscar winner (Best Adapted Screenplay). It also continued Plan B’s tendency towards supporting films with a moral message and a conscience.
4. Moonlight (2016)
Talking to Interview magazine in 2012, Pitt said, "I’d rather be behind the camera. As a producer, obviously, you’re part of a team that brings the story to the screen. It wouldn’t be there if you didn’t champion it or if you and a group of people weren’t championing it. I like that."
It’s the perfect description of Barry Jenkins’s three-part indie film sensation that went on to take the Best Picture Oscar. A meeting with Pitt helped Jenkins get the funding and distribution deal he needed for what turned out to be one of the most significant films of the second half of this decade.
And the two worked together again on this year’s acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk, with Pitt serving as executive producer.
Freda Cooper is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.