Brad Pitt’s latest film, World War Z, had all of the makings for a box office flop. There were reportedly severe tensions between Pitt and director Marc Forster throughout filming, as well as between Forster and cinematographer Robert Richardson. Fans of Max Brooks’ book, on which the film was based, were frustrated because it didn’t follow the original material closely. The original cut of the film had audiences so frustrated by the ending that producers decided to re-write and re-film much of the last third of the movie, pushing the release date back over six months. It was a mess.
Yet when the film opened in theaters this weekend, it more than surpassed analysts’ expectations, pulling in a near $112 million internationally, due largely to Pitt’s extensive promotional tour that saw him personally previewing the film to select audiences around the world, appearing in as many as four cities in one day. The film’s initial success—it still has a little ways to go before it makes any profit on its rumored $200 million budget—is a testament, surely, to the star power that Pitt commands.
In honor of his effort, we’ve decided to count down our list of Brad Pitt’s 10 best roles.
10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Benjamin Button
Pitt got a little help by this storyline so rich in charm and conflict that you’d swear it’s almost cheating, but his performance as the backwards-aging main character who falls in love with a normal, beautiful dancer (Cate Blanchett) was enough to earn him his second Academy Award nomination. Perhaps some credit is due to the film’s impressive CGI effects, but Pitt was every bit as convincing as a young-minded 70-year-old as he was a young kid plagued by Alzheimer’s.
9. Burn After Reading (2008) – Chad Feldheimer
Some may have thought that Pitt overdid his portrayal of the simple-minded personal trainer who tries his hand at blackmail, but it’s undeniably one of the funniest characters Pitt has played in his career. His ability to play dumb while also seeming so utterly confident in his schemes makes it hard not to fall in love with his character, which makes a certain scene with George Clooney halfway through the film all the more effective.
8. True Romance (1993) – Floyd
Pitt has admitted to spending much of the ‘90s high, content to sit on somebody’s couch rather than make the most of his career. That ended up making him the perfect pick to portray a guy who spends most of his time getting high on a couch in this too-often forgotten romantic crime thriller written by Quentin Tarantino.
7. 12 Monkeys (1995) – Jeffrey Goines
This was one of the most important roles in Pitt’s career. Coming right off of the romantic epic Legends of the Fall, where he played the handsome, troubled son of Anthony Hopkins, Pitt unexpectedly changed gears to play the wild lune in this sci-fi mystery starring Bruce Willis. His decision to play the enigmatic character with almost no restraint earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
6. Se7en (1995) – Detective David Mills
Thanks to a riveting plot, Se7en is one of Pitt’s earlier films that still gets some much-deserved attention. His performance as the overconfident, impulsive detective who works alongside the calm-as-ever Morgan Freeman can almost be annoying at times, but when the film’s last moments come to a close, viewers are finally able to fully appreciate the character Pitt was crafting.
5. Inglourious Basterds (2009) – Lt. Aldo Raine
This may have been the most dangerous role in Pitt’s career. Had he played the Nazi-hunting Lieutenant with a little more freedom and humor, critics would have labeled him unbelievable. Had he been much more reserved, they would have said he was forgettable. Instead he navigated that thin line and created a character whose believability and longevity seem more tied with Pitt’s own artistic instincts than perhaps any other in his career.
4. Snatch (2000) – Mickey O’Neil
It’s impossible to forget Pitt’s Mickey O’Neil in Guy Ritchie’s comedy-crime jigsaw puzzle Snatch. The tattooed and ballsy Mickey is memorable and mesmerizing for two reasons: One for his relentless attitude. And two, for his incoherent but spot-on Irish accent that still has us asking “What the hell did he just say?”
3. Tree of Life (2011) – Mr. O’Brien
We can already hear the backlash from putting this movie near the top of the list, but regardless of what you think of Terrence Malick’s polarizing, experimental and indisputably beautiful Tree of Life, you can’t deny that Pitt played his part of with precision. His portrayal of a cynical, competitive 1950s husband, though overlooked by the Academy for his performance in Moneyball earlier that year, left those of us who grew up in militaristic homes more than a bit uncomfortable, exactly as it was supposed to.
2. Moneyball (2011) – Billy Beane
As the washed-up general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Pitt’s chemistry with Jonah Hill’s geeky and unconfident assistant Peter Brand made for one of the best, if not the best movie of the year. No, Pitt didn’t do anything crazy in this role, but that’s what makes his effort in Moneyball all the more impressive. It’s one of the first times where his character looks totally comfortable on screen, and the movie’s success can be directly attributed his Oscar-nominated performance.
1. Fight Club (1999) – Tyler Durden
Well, there’s not much commentary needed on this one. Pitt’s portrayal as Tyler Durden—the unflinchingly confident, perfect-bodied, insanely cool soap maker—played a huge part in giving the film the cult status for which it’s known. Think about it. Who else could have combined the physicality, arrogance, persuasion, and mystery of that character and had the same result? Certainly not Cruise, Clooney, DiCaprio, or any other A-list hunk of that time. Edward Norton’s character was captivated by just about everything Durden did in the film, and over 10 years later, we still are too.