Through a cruel twist of fate, American actor Sam Elliott came to films at just the point that the sort of fare in which he should have thrived was dying at the box office. A born cowboy star if ever there was one, the stage-trained Elliot made his debut in a tiny role in the 1969 western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Within a few years, the western market had disappeared, and Elliot had to settle for standard good-guy roles in such contemporary films as Lifeguard (1976). Never tied down to any one type, Elliot's range has embraced sexy "other men" (Sibling Rivalry ) and vicious rapist/murderers (the TV movie A Death in California ). Still, one yearned to see Elliot playing frontiersmen; fortunately, the western genre had not completely disappeared on television, and Elliot was well-served with such hard-riding projects as The Sacketts (1977), I Will Fight No More Forever (1981), The Shadow Riders (1982), Houston: The Legend of Texas (1986) and Conagher (1991), in which he appeared with his wife, actress Katherine Ross. When westerns began showing up on the big screen again in the 1990s, Elliot was there, prominently cast as Virgil Earp in Tombstone (1993) and the made-for-cable sagebrusher The Desperate Trail (1995). Awarded Bronze Wrangler trophies for his involvement in Conagher, The Hi-Lo Country, and You Know My Name, Elliot also made an impression on Cohen Brothers fans with a memorable performance as the laid back Stranger in the cult hit The Big Lebowski.
A featured role in the 2000 made for television remake Fail Safe found Elliot hanging up his duster to revisit rising Cold War tensions, and later that same year he would finally make the leap into the new millennium with his role as a presidential aid in Rod Lurie's Oscar-nominated hit The Contender. Rewarded with a double hernia as a result of his intense training efforts to prepare for a role in the 2002 Vietnam War drama We Were Soldiers, the then fifty-seven-year-old endured the pain through the entire production and put of surgery until shooting had wrapped. Though Elliot would remain in the armed forces to portray a military general hell-bent on destroying the Hulk in 2003, his onscreen authority would weaken somewhat when he was cast as a cancer-riddled Marlboro Man in the 2005 comedy Thank You for Smoking. After traveling to the far corners of the globe to carry out a little vigilante justice in the 2006 made for television thriller Avenger, Elliot would next break a little new ground by venturing into the world of animation by lending his distinctive voice to the character of Ben the Cow in Steve Oedekerk's rural family romp Barnyard. He co-starred with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig in The Golden Compass (2007), a film adaptation of the first installment of the wildly successful book series from author Philip Pullman. In 2009 he took on a role in the award winning comedy drama Up in the Air, and co-starred as an eccentric billionaire in director Tony Krantz's The Big Bang in 2011. He joined Robert Redford and Julie Christie to play a supporting role in 2012's comedy drama The Company You Keep.