10 Best Chris Cooper Movies, Ranked


A veteran actor of uncompromising grace, Chris Cooper is one of the industry’s most underrated stars. There’s an appreciated, understated manner in how Cooper delivers his performances. He doesn’t seek attention, which is maybe why he doesn’t always get the credit that he deserves.

Nonetheless, Cooper’s more-than-impressive resume certainly proves why he is a great actor. Beyond his Oscar-winning turn in Spike Jonze‘s Adaptation, Cooper’s filmography is versatile and comprehensive, including comedies, dramas, thrillers, and everything in between. Cooper rarely does the same thing twice and is the type of actor who can always give a memorable performance, even if he’s only on screen for a brief amount of time. These are Chris Cooper’s best movies, confirming his status as one of Hollywood’s most chameleonic and reliable performers.

10 ‘Little Women’ (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Greta Gerwig outdid herself with Little Women. Although the 2019 film is hardly the first adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Gerwig’s version does a better job of defining the romance between Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) and Amy (Florence Pugh) than previous versions. Cooper has a supporting role as Laurie’s grandfather, the gentle Mr. Laurence. While he’s only in the film for a few scenes, they are critical to showing where Laurie came from, and how his upbringing was different from the March sisters.

Gerwig’s version of Little Women adds more depth to each of the characters and uses its non-linear narrative to create surprising emotional revelations and moments of empathy. While Mr. Laurence doesn’t necessarily get a lot of screen time, the more nuanced depiction of Laurie makes Cooper’s interactions with Chalamet more interesting.

Poster for Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Little Women

Release Date
December 25, 2019



Watch on Starz

9 ‘Seabiscuit’ (2003)

Director: Gary Ross

Chris Cooper as Tom Smith looking to the distance in Seabiscuit
Image via Universal Pictures

Seabiscuit may not do much to upend the inspirational sports movie formula, but that doesn’t make Gary Ross’ 2003 drama any less charming. Based on the incredible true story, Seabiscuit follows the racing career of the titular thoroughbred racehorse. After the car salesman Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) acquires Seabiscuit, he hires the horse trainer Tom Smith (Cooper) to prepare his new horse for a career in racing.

Cooper shows the genuine care that Smith has for the horses he trains; he does not see them as merely a way to earn a profit. Seabiscuit is a film that follows a tried-and-true “inspirational sports movie” formula, but the cliches aren’t irritating when the film is so empathetic to each of its characters. A wholesome crowdpleaser, Seabiscuit is among the highest-grossing sports movies and an endlessly rewatchable feel-good gem.


Release Date
July 22, 2003



Watch on MGM+

8 ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Chris Cooper as Jerry Vogel walking down the street in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood isn’t a traditional biopic. Instead of focusing on the life of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the film shows how the beloved children’s show host changed the life of the cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). After spending time with Rogers and learning about his worldview, Lloyd is encouraged to reach out to his ailing father, Jerry (Cooper). Although the two men have had their differences, Rogers’ teachings allow father and son to reconcile.

Jerry could have easily been depicted as a generic “bad dad,” but Cooper brings a sensitivity and nuance to the character that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. The film shows how Jerry and Lloyds’ inability to open up to each other has caused havoc in both of their lives, making their reconciliation all the more proud. Although ostensibly about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood speaks to universal themes about positive masculinity and the capacity for kindness.

Watch on Starz

7 ‘The Bourne Identity’ (2002)

Director: Doug Liman

Chris Cooper as Alexander Conklin sitting in an office looking somewhere off-camera in The Bourne Identity
Image via Universal Pictures

The Bourne Identity is one of the most important action films ever made. Although the 1990s saw the debut of many over-the-top films that became increasingly unbelievable, The Bourne Identity revitalized the action genre by adding an element of realism. Director Doug Liman used handheld camera techniques to make the action sequences feel even more authentic. One of the more memorable battles within the film is a brawl between Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and the Treadstone agent Alexander Conklin (Cooper). It results in Bourne’s victory, but Conklin does not make it easy for him.

Cooper is brilliant in The Bourne Identity because he embraces averageness and even relatability to craft an intimidating and effective portrayal. The Bourne films take place in a mirror to reality, and Conklin represents a more authentic depiction of an espionage agent. While the Bourne franchise would introduce many more villains, Conklin was the perfect first antagonist for Bourne to face off with in his initial adventure.

The Bourne Identity Poster

The Bourne Identity

Release Date
June 14, 2002



Watch on Amazon

6 ‘Capote’ (2005)

Director: Bennett Miller

Chris Cooper as Alvin Dewey looking intently at someone off-camera in Capote
Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Capote analyzes the public fascination with crime stories through the perspective of one of the most famous true crime authors of all time. Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an Academy Award-winning performance) interviews two suspected murderers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), while conducting research for his newest book. Cooper has a brief, yet essential role as Alvin Dewey, an investigator that does not appreciate Capote prying into an active case.

Ostensibly a true crime thriller, Capote analyzes why the public becomes so enamored with tragic stories and attempts to paint the suspects in a more nuanced light. The film engages in an open dialogue about its intentions, making Dewey’s perspective essential. Having an actor as powerful as Cooper offering a critique of the film’s titular character made Capote a stronger biopic.


Release Date
September 30, 2005

Allie Mickelson , Kelci Stephenson , Philip Seymour Hoffman , Craig Archibald , Bronwen Coleman , Kate Shindle



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5 ‘The Town’ (2010)

Director: Ben Affleck

Chris Cooper as Big Mac Macray talking through a prison phone in The Town
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

The Town is a deep study of what motivates criminal behavior. The film follows bank robber Douglas MacRay (Ben Affleck), who ends up falling in love with bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) after she is caught in the middle of an attempted robbery. The Town pries into Doug’s past through a scene between him and his father, Stephen (Cooper). Knowing Stephen’s cruelty somewhat explains Douglas’ actions without excusing them.

While it’s clearly indebted to heist movie classics like Thief and Heat, The Town crafts a path of its own by exploring the psychology of crime and how it pertains to Doug’s robberies. While Doug is motivated by economic reasons, the interactions he shares with his father suggest that he is still trying to rebel against any force of authority that has ever lied to him.

The Town

Release Date
September 15, 2010



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4 ‘The Company Men’ (2010)

Director: John Wells

Chris Cooper as Phil Woodard looking at someone off-camera while a woman stands besides him in The Company Men
Image via The Weinstein Company

The Company Men is an underrated film about the financial crisis and shows the human cost that the economic depression had on working-class men. Cooper co-stars as the senior manager Phil Woodward, who has dedicated nearly his entire life to the shipbuilding corporation Global Transportation Systems. Losing his job forces Phil to rethink his life; has his entire career amounted to nothing? Watching Phil sink further into depression is absolutely heartbreaking, thanks to Cooper’s sensitive performance.

One of the better films about the 2008 financial crisis, The Company Men shows how challenging it was for many people to adopt an entirely new profession and change their attitudes on workplace culture. While younger men like Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) can make the necessary adjustments, Phil is unable to change the course of his life in the aftermath of his termination.

The Company Men

Release Date
October 21, 2010



Watch on Max

3 ‘American Beauty’ (1999)

Director: Sam Mendes

Chris Cooper as Col. Frank Fitts in a car looking to his right in American Beauty
Image via DreamWorks Pictures

American Beauty is a film about misjudged expectations; each of the characters in the film proves to be more than what they initially seem. Cooper’s character, Colonel Frank Fitts, initially appears to be nothing more than a grumpy, prejudiced loner who hates his son, Ricky (Wes Bentley). However, Fitts reveals that he is actually a closeted homosexual, hiding his true feelings behind an aggressive facade. Cooper does a great job of masking Fitts’ real intentions so that his true nature comes as a complete surprise at the end of the story.

One of the most talked-about Best Picture winners in recent years, American Beauty remains a thoughtful and clever portrait of the deceiving nature of suburbia. Director Sam Mendes shows how each figure within the story is motivated by personal desires that they have chosen to keep secret. Funny but impactful, American Beauty is an effective satire and condemnation of the so-called American dream.

american beauty

Release Date
September 15, 1999



Watch on Pluto TV

2 ‘Lone Star’ (1996)

Director: John Sayles

Chris Cooper as Sam Deeds crouching and examining something in his hand in Lone Star
Image via Columbia Pictures

Lone Star is a brilliant neo-Western and one of the few films where Cooper actually plays the lead. The 1996 mystery follows small-town sheriff Sam Deeds, who’s investigating a mystery tied to his father (Matthew McConaughey). As Sam pries deeper into the case, he learns surprising things about his father’s past that force him to reconsider his role in law enforcement.

Cooper does a great job of showing how Sam reckons with the legacy of a man he never quite connected with. Lone Star is a nuanced deconstruction of how the Western genre has become mythologized and how the lionization of past heroes has led the public to have inordinate expectations about law enforcement. In one of his best performances, Cooper excels at playing a sensitive, compassionate sheriff who represents a very different type of heroism than his father.

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1 ‘Adaptation’ (2002)

Director: Spike Jonze

Chris Cooper as John Laroche smiling while standing in a road in Adaptation
Image via Sony Pictures

Adaptation is a hilarious and surprisingly incisive examination of how challenging the search for inspiration can be for writers. Nicolas Cage stars as a fictionalized version of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who attempts to adapt the novel The Orchid Thief as his next project. After Kaufman fails to earn approval from the novel’s author, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), he approaches the book’s subject, John Laroche (Cooper). The film becomes quite emotional when it is revealed that Laroche is both Orlean’s inspiration and secret lover.

Cooper’s performance earned him an Academy Award trophy for Best Supporting Actor. Some “character actors” like Cooper receive Oscars that feel like accolades for their body of work and not necessarily a specific performance. However, his win for Adaptation was not simply a career victory, as he created a complex and defining character that few other actors could’ve tackled.


Release Date
December 6, 2002



Rent on Amazon


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