He's been dubbed the "sexiest man alive" by People magazine; like Cary Grant or Sean Connery in their heydays, female fans swoon at the sight of him in a tuxedo; and, although he often takes roles that cast him as a likable scoundrel, he is a movie star of the first order. Not only can he act -- he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for 2005's "Syriana" -- but he also likes to write and direct.
But can he single-handedly open a movie?
Clooney's latest film, the legal thriller "Michael Clayton," goes wide this weekend. The film did well in limited release last weekend, earning an average of close to $50,000 per theater. But looking at Clooney's overall career, one can't help but notice the box office disparity: Clooney's eclectic tastes mean that he has starred in as many flops ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" made $16 million) as blockbusters.
All combined, his films have grossed more than $1 billion in ticket sales. Yet Clooney's box office averages $53.6 million, falling behind, say, Matt Damon, whose films have averaged $84 million, according to boxofficemojo.com. And his biggest films have been in the ensemble "Ocean's" series costarring Damon and Brad Pitt. His other blockbusters were the effects-laden thrill ride "The Perfect Storm" and the comic-book action film "Batman & Robin."
Still, you can never count Clooney out -- either when he's making a popcorn movie or an intensely personal character-driven film.
"He's a master of the tightrope," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking firm Media by Numbers. "He can do anything. He can direct, be a leading man, can play comedy, drama. He's sort of an old-style actor like Humphrey Bogart but also an actor with contemporary appeal."
But being a risk taker, he said, means that not everything is a blockbuster. He's not just looking at a flow chart and saying, "Here's what is going to be best for the box office. He's looking at projects that speak to him in his gut."
A look at Clooney's ups and downs at the box office:
"Ocean's Eleven," "Ocean's Twelve," "Ocean's Thirteen"
The Steven Soderbergh-directed trilogy was a hoot, raking in $426 million at the North American box office, but let's remember, it wasn't only Clooney's appeal that made the movies hits. Two other actors by the names of Pitt and Damon had something to do with it too. And Julia Roberts didn't hurt when she came on board for a while. As film critic Roger Ebert noted when reviewing "Ocean's Eleven," Clooney "can be powerfully impassive better than almost anybody," and he proved it playing Danny Ocean.
"The Good German"
Did anyone outside Hollywood's awards voters -- who got free screeners -- see this Soderbergh-directed film? It grossed an anemic $1.3 million domestically. Pauly Shore does better than that on his worst days. But maybe audiences simply weren't in tune with Soderbergh & Co.'s attempt to re-create the same atmosphere as "Casablanca"? Or maybe they were turned off by Clooney's character, an American war correspondent, whom Variety noted the actor underplayed "in laconic fashion"? Ouch.
He won best supporting actor for his role as a CIA agent in this politically charged thriller. The Stephen Gaghan-directed film grossed $50.8 million domestically. Could Clooney be blamed for its lackluster box office performance? Not really. Everyone knows American audiences often avoid films that dabble in politics -- and this one also had a plot that was difficult to follow.
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
This searing drama, filmed in black and white, about CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and the McCarthy era was a critics' favorite, and at no time did it ever have pretensions of being a box office breakout. The fact that it grossed $31.6 million was beside the point. Clooney, known for his liberal political views, made this film from personal conviction.
This Coen brothers film, a battle-of-the-sexes farce that starred the all-too-gorgeous duo of Clooney as a womanizing divorce lawyer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a revenge-minded gold digger, simply didn't click with audiences. The box office tally: $35.3 million. Proving that even Cary Grant could star in some clunkers.
It wasn't "Alien" and certainly wasn't "Star Wars." In fact, one critic said it was like taking Nembutol. But give Clooney credit for his intensity. The Soderbergh-directed film grossed just $15 million. So, if Clooney is such a hunk, where were the female fans? Chalk it up to space dust, we guess.
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Clooney proved he was adept at comedy in this Coen brothers classic. He also looked good in suspenders. The film grossed $45.6 million theatrically in North America. And the Grammy-winning soundtrack made $75 million.
"The Perfect Storm"