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)
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)
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.