The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 50 Brad Pitt

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Wide Screen

Starting today and over the remaining 50 weeks of 2014, Yahoo Movies is counting down Hollywood's very best working actors and actresses. Come back to Yahoo Movies every Thursday to see who makes the cut.

Age: 50

Stating the Case: Few entertainers of this era have balanced such an astronomical level of celebrity with such a thoroughly consistent professional career. Pitt's personal relationships may have made him an overexposed tabloid sensation, but it's his commanding screen presence and impeccable choice of roles that have earned him respect. Pitt has been attracted to edgy and gritty projects since the moment his star began to rise, headlining '90s future classics "Se7en," "Twelve Monkeys" and "Fight Club," imbuing each of his characters with a sense of magnetic depravation.

Even as his star exploded into the '00s, Pitt continued to challenge himself, offsetting traditional box-office fare like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and the "Oceans" trilogy with character-driven dramas like "Babel" and "The Tree of Life," and finding those that fall squarely in between, like "Moneyball" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." There's a reason why auteurs like David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino come to Pitt. These are filmmakers not looking for a pretty face to sell tickets — though let's face it, Pitt has unnaturally good looks, too — these are filmmakers looking for that guy with a knack for continually surprising us.

Breakthrough Role: If the Oklahoma-born, Missouri-raised Pitt was looking to break into the sex symbol business from get-go, he couldn't do much better than the 1991 feminist road drama "Thelma & Louise," in which he turned up for one act to seduce (and steal from) Geena Davis. (We never saw his work as a chicken-suited El Pollo Loco mascot before making it big, but we're sure he was great in that, too.)

The Best of the Best:

5. "Inglourious Basterds" (2009): It wasn't a traditional lead role (there's nothing traditional about Quentin Tarantino films), but it's hard to imagine anyone else proclaiming, "We in the killin' Naaazi business" with such grunty, twangy perfection.

4. "Snatch" (2000): The most off-the-wall Brad Pitt performance (which is saying a lot… see No. 1) is also his most literally incoherent. Attempting to decipher the actor's unintelligible gypsy dialect is one of the most fun parts of Guy Ritchie's wickedly fun crime flick.

3. "Moneyball" (2011): Here is Pitt starting to show his age: His over-the-hill jock Billy Beane is likable, cocksure, funny, flawed and you just know the role Kevin Costner would've played a decade or two earlier, but quite possibly not as well.

2. "Fight Club" (1999): Brad Pitt haters (you're out there, we know) need to ask themselves one question: What Would Tyler Durden Do If He Hadn't Been Played By Brad Pitt? We don't care to fathom.

1. "Twelve Monkeys" (1995): Pitt's best performance remains the one that convinced the world he could really act: The wigged out, erratic, finger-flicking mental patient Jeffrey Goines in Terry Gilliam's mind-bender. His performance is crazy good.

The Biggest HIT: Moviegoers flocked like hordes of zombies to Pitt's 2013 summer blockbuster, "World War Z," which racked up over $202 million domestically. So much for all those widely reported "production issues."

With Honors: Pitt has been nominated for five Oscars — thrice for acting (Best Actor nods for "Moneyball" and "Benjamin Button," and Best Supporting Actor for "Twelve Monkeys") and twice for producing Best Picture nominees ("Moneyball" and "12 Years a Slave"). He hasn't won one yet, but that very well could change this year with "Slave" considered the frontrunner. (The Golden Globes have nominated him five times.)

Trademark: Have you ever noticed how much he eats in movies?

Best Fan Tribute: Of course there's a Tyler Durden cross-stitch, available for sale on Etsy:

Brad Pitt cross-stitch

Most Underappreciated Achievement: "Thelma & Louise" may have put Pitt on the map, but it was his uproarious turn as burnout Floyd in Tony Scott's 1993 thriller "True Romance" that first made cinephiles pay attention.

Nobody's Perfect: Pitt's Irish accent in "The Devil's Own" has often not-so-flatteringly been referred to as "sounding like a Leprechaun"; "The Mexican," his joint star vehicle with Julia Roberts, was a hot mess, as was his stint as Death in "Meet Joe Black"; then lastly, there's the epically lambasted "Troy," but which at least according to this writer, is vastly underrated.


Moonlighting: Pitt's carved out a nice side business as hot-shot Hollywood producer, too, with impressive/surprising credits that include "The Departed," "A Mighty Heart," "Kick-Ass," "Eat Pray Love," and most recently, "12 Years a Slave," which he also appeared in.

Reader Feeback (Pro): Bert says, "Kid is more than just a pretty face... 'Monkeys' was awesome, his turn in 'Slave' is way more memorable than two of the Best Actor nominees this year. He can handle comedy, drama, sci fi, and epic equally... We know it's him, but he becomes the part. He should be higher on the list, but I'm glad he has been recognized."

Reader Feedback (Con): Jonathan M. says, "No thanks. Brad Pitt is more famous for appearing on magazine covers and having silly titles like 'Sexiest Man in the Universe' conferred upon him than for any particular film role. In other words, he's a celebrity -- not an actor."

And For His Next Act: November's "Fury" will find Pitt as an army sergeant named Wardaddy leading a five-man tank crew (including Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman) behind enemy lines during World War II; He'll also co-narrate Terrence Malick's next existential WTFer, "Voyage of Time," with Emma Thompson.

What qualifies actors for a slot on Yahoo Movies' running list of the 50 Greatest Actors Alive? First, we limited the pool to actors who are still currently working. Other factors taken into consideration: Pure skill in the craft; their ability to disappear underneath the skin of the characters they portray; versatility and the range of their roles; ratio of strong performances to weak ones; quality of films acted in; quality of recent work; awards and accolades from peers.