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Dustin Hoffman's Career in Pictures

His looks aren’t classic, but his roles sure are. Over 50 years, he has constantly challenged himself … and his costars

Early Years

En español | College dropout Hoffman kicked around L.A. and New York theater for a couple of years (befriending fellow struggling actors Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall) before landing his first TV roles in the early 1960s. If you were a fan of Naked City or The Defenders, you probably caught sight of Hoffman playing troubled young men.

AP Photo

'The Graduate,' 1967

"Mrs. Robinson," Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock mumbles to his sexy older neighbor (Anne Bancroft), "you're trying to seduce me." Yep, she was. And Hoffman's mesmerizing take on post-collegiate angst (he was nearly 30) beguiled a generation of movie fans.

Everett Collection

'Midnight Cowboy,' 1969

Like a U-turn on a jammed city street, Hoffman's ferocious performance as bitter, crippled Ratso Rizzo was a surprise. Limping angrily alongside Jon Voight, playing a naive hustler, Hoffman changed movie history in a way that made guys like Al Pacino and Mickey Rourke possible.

Everett Collection

'Little Big Man,' 1970

When we meet Hoffman's Jack Crabb, he's 114 and recalling his life: Raised by American Indians, adopted by a missionary family (including his amorous "mother," played by Faye Dunaway) and later serving under the command of Gen. George Custer. Portraying the span of one man's extended life, Hoffman stretched the limits of the actor's craft.

Everett Collection

'Lenny,' 1974

Lenny Bruce had been dead for barely eight years when Hoffman tackled this gritty biopic about the rise and fall of the notorious "sick" comic — and his troubled marriage to his wife, Honey (Valerie Perrine). After years of creating unforgettable new characters, his evocation of a controversial public figure netted Hoffman's third Oscar nomination.

Everett Collection

'All the President's Men,' 1976

The real Watergate reporting team of Woodward and Bernstein didn't really look like Hoffman and Robert Redford, but in the public's eye, they always will. Watch this film again to appreciate the masterful give-and-take between the two stars: They constantly modulate their performances, scrupulously avoiding any hint of one upstaging the other. They could have shared a best actor Oscar.

Warner Bros/Everett Collection

'Marathon Man,' 1976

Stories abound about on-set conflicts between old-school Laurence Olivier and young hotshot Hoffman. But the two were fond of each other; after filming, Olivier presented Hoffman with a copy of Shakespeare's works. P.S.: If dentists freak you out, and you've never seen Marathon Man, steer clear. It's not safe.

Paramount Pictures/Photofest

'Kramer vs. Kramer,' 1979

Hoffman wasn't really known for sentimental roles, but he elicited a Niagara of tears as the determined single dad who first struggles to raise his young son, then fights to keep him in a bitter custody fight with his ex-wife (Meryl Streep). You can still find the battling Kramers' table at the JG Melon restaurant in New York.

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Tootsie,' 1982

Undeniably homely yet unexpectedly fetching, Hoffman turned what could have been a lowbrow Some Like It Hot knockoff into high art in Tootsie. As an out-of-work actor who finds soap opera success pretending to be a woman, Hoffman unwittingly wins the affection of his costar's father (Charles Durning) … and the hearts of movie audiences everywhere.

Everett Collection

'Ishtar,' 1987

It was a notorious box office flop, but prepare for a wave of reassessment when a new Blu-ray edition arrives this year. Genius lurks in writer/director Elaine May's quirky vision, Paul Williams' so-bad-they're great songs … and the teamwork of Hoffman and Warren Beatty as a latter-day Hope and Crosby entangled in North African political intrigue.

Everett Collection

'Rain Man,' 1988

The greatest of the great have tackled roles as mentally and emotionally challenged characters, and too often their efforts have seemed gimmicky or, even worse, insensitive. As the autistic Ray Babbitt, Hoffman not only reveals to us the profoundly frustrated man behind the savant, he draws from Tom Cruise — as the brother whose self-absorption is a perverse parody of autism — the performance of his career.

Everett Collection

'Hook,' 1991

Not since Cyril Ritchard minced about as Captain Hook to Mary Martin's Peter Pan in the 1950s had an actor put such an indelible stamp on J.M. Barrie's villain. Hoffman seldom plays flat-out comedy, but it's clear here that it's not for lack of comic chops. He more than holds his own opposite professional madman Robin Williams, as well as a cast of precocious children. From the start, Hoffman has everybody hooked.

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

'Wag the Dog,' 1997

At times an overwrought meditation on mass media's complicity in political spin, director Barry Levinson's dark comedy is still a showcase for Hoffman as a resourceful Hollywood producer helping a D.C. spinmeister (Robert De Niro) concoct a fake war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. He's a first cousin of Alan Arkin's character in last year's Argo, and just as endearing.

Everett Collection

'I (Heart) Huckabees,' 2004

You won't find a quirkier indie comedy than this lark from writer-director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), nor a more delightfully off-kilter couple than Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as a pair of "existential detectives." Hired by a young man who's trying to figure out the meaning of some coincidences in his life, they're nuts, of course. But they're also hilariously committed to their madness.

Fox Searchlight/courtesy Everett Collection

'Meet the Fockers,' 2004

If they'd met onscreen back in the '70s, Hoffman and Barbra Streisand would most likely have starred in some earnest drama dripping with social significance. Here, not so much. As the unregenerate hippie parents of Ben Stiller, the superstar pair send up the Flower Power generation with affectionate abandon.

 

Universal/Everett Collection

'Last Chance Harvey,' 2008

If you imagine Benjamin Braddock 40 years later, finding himself alone and lonely in London, you get an idea of the rumpled, dispirited man whose sad heart is rescued by the radiant Emma Thompson in this lovely story of midlife romance. As the pair tentatively trace each other's emotional boundaries, we marvel not at two actors in their prime, but in the timeless hope of love, just around the corner.

Overture Films/Everett Collection

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Read all about Dustin Hoffman's directing debut, which earned him a Movies for Grownups 2013 Breakthrough Award. And visit the MFG 2013 Awards home page for descriptions of all the year's winners.

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