Following his graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. His initial years were not easy, but he did not give up. He began appearing on television during the mid-1960s, acting in several episodes of ‘Gunsmoke’ between 1963 and 1968.
In the mid-1960s, his theater career took off and he enjoyed a stint in Broadway. After gaining experience as theater artist he made his first film appearance in ‘Fearless Frank’ in 1967.
In 1969, he was cast as ‘Joe Buck,’ a naive male hustler, in the drama film ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ The film, which explores the poignant friendship between the two main characters, played by Voight and Dustin Hoffman, proved to be a critical success. It also launched Voight’s film career.
He played ‘Ed Gentry’ in the dramatic thriller ‘Deliverance’ in 1972. The movie was a critical success. Voight’s performance received great critical acclaim and became popular with the audience.
During the 1970s, he appeared in several hit films like ‘Conrack’ (1974), ‘The Odessa File’ (1974), ‘End of the Game’ (1976), and ‘Coming Home’ (1978). In 1979, Voight played an alcoholic ex-heavyweight in the remake of the 1931 film ‘The Champ’ which went on to become an international hit.
His career suffered a setback during the 1980s. For many years, he went without appearing in any notable film but finally made a mark with his role as ‘Oscar "Manny" Manheim’ in the survival-thriller film ‘Runaway Train’ in 1985 for which he was nominated for an ‘Academy Award.’
In the 1990s, he became active on television, appearing in the television movie ‘Chernobyl: The Final Warning’ in 1991, followed by ‘The Last of his Tribe’ in 1992. He also acted in ‘The Rainbow Warrior’ in 1992. Directed by Michael Tuchner, the made-for-television drama film was based on the true story of the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior.’
In 1996, he shared screen space with Tom Cruise in the action spy film ‘Mission: Impossible’ which went on to become a blockbuster. In 1997, he appeared in films like ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Most Wanted’ and was nominated for ‘Razzie Award’ for ‘Worst Actor’ for both these films.
He delivered critically acclaimed performance in many biographical films during the 2000s. In 2001, he portrayed the famous sportscaster ‘Howard Cosell’ in 'Ali.' His performance earned him a nomination for an ‘Academy Award.’ His television career continued to thrive with many award-winning performances.
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In 2004, he played ‘Patrick Gates’ in the Nicolas Cage-starrer adventure film ‘National Treasure.’ He reprised his role as ‘Gates’ in the film’s 2007 sequel ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets.’ He continued to play supporting roles in films like ‘Pride and Glory’ (2008), ‘Beyond’ (2012), and ‘Dracula: The Dark Prince’ (2013). He then played football coach ‘Paul William "Bear" Bryant’ in ‘Woodlawn’ (2015).
In 2016, he played ‘Henry Shaw Sr.’ in the fantasy film ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’ Directed by David Yates, the movie went on to become a massive box-office success and received positive reviews.
He then appeared in movies like ‘Same Kind of Different as Me’ (2017), ‘Surviving the Wild’ (2018), and ‘Orphan Horse’ (2018). From 2013 to 2020, he played ‘Mickey Donavan,’ the father of the titular character in ‘Showtime’ crime drama series ‘Ray Donavan.’
He is all set to play ‘Warren E. Burger’ in the upcoming American political legal drama film 'Roe v. Wade.' Directed by Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn, the film also stars Nick Loeb, Stacey Dash, Jamie Kennedy, and Joey Lawrence in important roles.
His portrayal of ‘Luke Martin,’ a paralyzed ‘Vietnam War’ veteran, in the drama film ‘Coming Home’ is one of his most memorable works. His poignant portrayal of a traumatized war veteran who falls in love with a married woman earned him several accolades, including an ‘Academy Award.’
He played ‘Howard Cosell,’ an American sports journalist, in the biographical sports drama film ‘Ali.’ The film was based on the story of famous boxer Muhammad Ali. He was nominated for an ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ for his performance.