By Julie Miller at Movieline

In Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life,' Brad Pitt assumes the role of 1950s disciplinarian whose no-nonsense form of parenting complicates the evolution of his own offspring. How did Pitt transform himself from the free-spirited cowboy hitchhiker in 'Thelma & Louise' to the stern father who escorts his sons to church every Sunday in this weekend's Palme d'Or-winning drama?

You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. Hit the jump to check out nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of Brad Pitt.

'Dallas' (1987)
After landing a few bit parts in projects like 'Less Than Zero' and 'Growing Pains,' the Missouri native landed his first recurring role on the CBS soap opera 'Dallas.' For five episodes, the future A-lister played the idiot boyfriend of Priscilla Presley's onscreen daughter. It was also on 'Dallas' that Pitt had his first onscreen kiss, with co-star Shalane McCall.

'Thelma & Louise' (1991)
Four years later, Pitt scored his first breakout part as the scene-stealing shirtless cowboy who charms his way into Louise's convertible and Thelma's hotel room before making off with Louise's life savings. The career-boosting role was originally supposed to go to Billy Baldwin, who had to drop the project when he was cast in 'Backdraft.'

'A River Runs Through It' (1992)
Following a starring role in the ill-received Tom Di Cillo indie 'Johnny Suede,' Robert Redford cast Pitt as his lead in this Academy Award–winning period drama. As a rebellious minister's son whose own interests don't necessarily align with his father's, Pitt was finally given the chance to showcase his talent (and not just his looks) onscreen. This role is often cited as Pitt's career-making performance.

Watch the trailer for 'A River Runs Through It.

'Legends of the Fall' (1994)
Just a month after his Anne Rice adaptation 'Interview with a Vampire' hit theaters, Brad Pitt returned to the multiplex for 'Legends of the Fall.' Like in 'A River Runs Through It,' the actor again portrayed a free-spirited brother in a period film, this time opposite Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn and Julia Ormond. His role in this forbidden romance earned him his first Golden Globe nomination and almost as important to his career (if not more so), the title of People's Sexiest Man Alive.

'Meet Joe Black' (1998)
Following a gruesome role opposite his then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in David Fincher's 'Seven,' his first Oscar nomination (for Terry Gilliam's ''12 Monkeys') and his banishment from China (because of 'Seven Years in Tibet'), Pitt reunited with Anthony Hopkins in Martin Brest's 'Meet Joe Black.' Boldly playing the role of Death in the most expensive non-special-effects-driven movie ever made, Pitt and the three-hour film both received mixed reviews.

Watch the trailer for 'Meet Joe Black.'

'Fight Club' (1999)
A year later, Pitt reunited with David Fincher for the controversial adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel. Like in '12 Monkeys,' the actor explored the psychologically disturbed with his portrayal of Tyler Durden, Edward Norton's uber-violent onscreen alter ego. Pitt flexed his muscles again two years later as a bare-knuckle boxing champ in Guy Ritchie's crime film 'Snatch.'

Watch the trailer for 'Fight Club.'

'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' (2005)
Six years and one (literally) epic $175 million misfire ('Troy') later, Brad Pitt was back in theaters with his most successful romantic comedy to date. After failing to generate much heat with his 'Mexican' co-star Julia Roberts in 2001, Pitt's off-screen chemistry with Angelina Jolie (and the tabloid's interest in his deteriorating marriage) buoyed the film's worldwide box office gross to nearly $500 million.

'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' (2007)
The previous year, Pitt launched his producing career with the documentary 'God Grew Tired of Us.' A year later, Pitt would enjoy dual credits for the first time as he produced and starred in this limited release Western thriller. Since 'The Assassination of Jesse James,' Pitt's Plan B production company has gained momentum with projects including 'The Time Traveler's Wife,' 'Kick-Ass' and 'Eat Pray Love.'

Watch the trailer for 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.'

'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2008)
For the third time in his 24-year (and counting) career, Pitt reteamed with David Fincher for this effects-heavy drama about a man who ages in reverse. The actor, who spent his career raising speculation that he would never receive the actor-ly praise he deserves because of his good looks, was finally able to shed the bone structure and body that both boosted his career and detracted from his credibility. Perhaps after this project -- which nullified his good thanks to generous CGI and make-up -- and over three decades worth of improving performances, Brad Pitt will finally be able to win the Oscar that some believe he deserves.

Watch the trailer for 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'

Get More Movie Coverage at
The Tree of Life
PG-13 2011
Based on 43 critics

A man (Sean Penn) tries to reconcile his complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Read More

Watch on DVD