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Bradley Cooper’s 10 Best Roles

In honor of his 47th birthday, we're looking back at his eclectic career

Bradley Cooper Best Roles
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    The career of Bradley Cooper is a truly wild one, when you zoom out. Starting off as a supporting player in television, Cooper eventually transitioned to supporting roles in film (oftentimes as the asshole), which eventually led him to The Hangover. That role allowed him to be both the star and the asshole, a special kind of heat that has since propelled him towards receiving (to date) four Academy Award nominations for acting, not to mention a butt-ton of acclaim for his directorial debut, A Star Is Born.

    Cooper’s proven himself to be an adaptable and fiercely committed performer, something which has drawn the attention of filmmakers like David O. Russell, Clint Eastwood, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and more.

    In honor of Cooper’s 46th birthday today (January 5th), we’re celebrating 10 of his greatest roles across both film and television — roles that either led him to becoming the actor he is today, or roles that exemplify his unique power as a performer.

    Liz Shannon Miller


    10. Alias (2000-2002)

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    The important thing to know about Bradley Cooper’s role in Alias is that he’s not even the romantic lead — he’s a supportive pal of grad student/superspy Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) who yearns to escape the friendship box she’s put him in, but instead finds himself drawn into her own world of intrigue.

    Will Tippin never quite worked as a character, in part due to Cooper’s leading man energy, and Cooper eventually asked to be written out of the series, but it’s fascinating to go back and watch the first two seasons of the show, seeing the potential he had on full display, in between the scenes of Garner kicking ass in pleather. — L.S.M.

    09. Wedding Crashers (2005)

    Many of Cooper’s early roles leaned on exploiting his ability to go asshole, and Wedding Crashers may feature the platonic ideal of that aspect of his persona. As Zachary “Sack” Lodge, Cooper hides the soul of a sociopath behind a big white smile and pastel polo shirts, playing the sort of unremarkable villain role typical to broad romantic comedies like this, but with his own special swagger. It takes a lot to make a character like “Sack” feel dangerous, in this context. Cooper makes him scary. — L.S.M.

    08. American Sniper (2014)

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    While American Sniper was far from his first prestige picture, it was the one that confirmed him as prestige-level talent, taking on the challenge of making the hero at the center of Clint Eastwood’s war story feel human and relatable. Cooper’s innate charisma goes a long way towards that objective, even as the character (based on the real-life “deadliest marksman” in the history of the U.S. military) gets brought low by PTSD. It’s a story with a tragic ending, but Cooper’s performance helps it soar above that. — L.S.M.

    07. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

    Legend has it that Bradley Cooper missed his graduation from The Actor’s Studio to film his sex scene in Wet Hot American Summer — his film debut and a cult classic — and it’s safe to say that decision paid off. Cooper’s portrayal of drama counselor Ben is supremely wholesome, and his delightfully awkward love story with Michael Ian Black is as pure as the movie gets. Even more dynamic is his performance in Wet Hot‘s 2015 prequel series, where he indulges in another helping of hilarious rapport with Amy Poehler and Co. — Paolo Ragusa

    06. Kitchen Confidential (2005)

    While it’s currently unavailable, every once in a while this short-lived Fox comedy pops back up on streaming, and when it does, you really should check it it. Not only does the supporting cast include greats like John Cho and Frank Langella, but Cooper shines as Jack Bourdain, a loosely-drawn version of Anthony Bourdain, whose 2000 breakout memoir is the ostensible source material. Arguably his first real starring role, Cooper not only nails the bad boy chef persona but finds the depths within it, balancing the pathos of a great artist with the pirate sensibility that Bourdain captured in his book. — L.S.M.

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    05. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

    Bradley Cooper is not usually a go-to voice actor, but his performances as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy and ensuing MCU projects challenges that notion a great deal, as Cooper gives Rocket a hardened, lived-in feel that sounds like he smoked a pack of cigarettes and then took down an army all on his own.

    Rocket is certainly one of the more humorous and eccentric characters in the Guardians franchise, and Cooper’s comedic chops help to anchor the film’s irreverent tone while also capturing some of the character’s innate pathos. And thanks to a popular TikTok voice-to-text feature that allows any bit of text to be in Rocket’s bombastic voice, we’ll have plenty of Bradley Cooper’s raunchy raccoon in 2022. — P.R.

    04. Licorice Pizza (2021)

    Paul Thomas Anderson’s relatively meandering look into the 1970s in Los Angeles explores many different pockets of the city — two young people, local politics, failed business ventures, the fringes of fame. Bradley Cooper injects an unhinged breath of energy into the later half of the movie as Jon Peters, hairdresser to the stars and lover to Barbra Streisand (that’s Streisand, kid). Cooper plays Peters as an agent of chaos, providing a sense of danger for our young protagonists. He’s a standout in a movie packed to the brim with excellent performances. — Mary Siroky

    03. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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    While it was Jennifer Lawrence who took home the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, the movie wouldn’t have worked without Bradley Cooper. It’s hard to remember, knowing what we now know of Cooper, but this was a bit of a breakout moment for him that was initially met with skepticism — the handsome guy from The Hangover is going to take on a delicate, layered role that would require Cooper to inhabit a much more vulnerable space?! When the movie was released, though, Cooper’s performance as Pat Solitano spoke for itself. — M.S.

    02. The Hangover (2009)

    The Hangover was a major turning point for Bradley Cooper — not just as a comedic actor, but as a leading man. Cooper runs the show in The Hangover, and his bewilderment, joy, and despair serves as a canvas for our own emotions throughout the wild ride. When they’re in too deep, Cooper’s hilarious and heartfelt attempt to control the situation is an honest and realistic depiction.

    This is outlined perfectly in one of the film’s most iconic scenes: Stranded in the Mojave desert, a despondent Cooper phones Doug’s fiancee to let her know that they simply can’t find him, and the way he breaks down is both hilarious and remarkably authentic. Cooper’s headlining performance in The Hangover may not have had the irreverence of Zach Galifianakis or the straight-laced character humor of Ed Helms, but it’s his authentic, every-man approach and his leadership on-screen that impacted us in the long run. — P.R.

    01. A Star Is Born (2018)

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    There can be 100 people in a room, and 99 of them may have seen Cooper’s passion project, and almost all of them will agree that they were teary by the end. The actor’s directorial debut was truly impressive, anchored by the electric central romance with Lady Gaga.

    Gaga’s contributions to the film, both in her revelatory performance and in the songs she penned for the movie, were absolutely essential — it’s no wonder there were so many eyes on Cooper and Gaga for months, seeing as their professional partnership was so successful. Beyond the scope of what was required to bring the film to life on a technical level, though, Cooper’s performance as the grizzled, broken Jackson Maine alone was worth the rapturous reactions. — M.S.

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