Born in the Bronx and raised in Los Angeles, Gooding started his career as a dramatic actor in films such as Boyz n the Hood and A Few Good Men. He later became known for starring in comedies like Rat Race, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip and Daddy Day Camp. In The New '10s, he returned to his dramatic roots in The Butler and Selma and won acclaim for his performance as O.J. Simpson in The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Gooding's father, Cuba Gooding Sr., was lead vocalist for the '70s soul/R&B group The Main Ingredient, known for their hits "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely". He is also the older brother of Omar Gooding, known for his roles in Wild and Crazy Kids and Smart Guy.
- Boyz n the Hood (1991): Tre Styles.
- A Few Good Men (1992): Corporal Carl Edward Hammaker.
- Judgment Night (1993): Mike Peterson.
- Lightning Jack (1994): Ben Doyle.
- Outbreak (1995): Major Salt.
- Jerry Maguire (1996): Rod Tidwell.
- As Good as It Gets (1997): Frank Sachs.
- What Dreams May Come (1998): Albert Lewis.
- A Murder of Crows (1998): Lawson Russell.
- Men of Honor (2000): Carl Brashear.
- Pearl Harbor (2001): Doris Miller.
- Rat Race (2001): Owen Templeton.
- Snow Dogs (2002): Ted Brooks.
- Boat Trip (2002): Jerry Robinson.
- Radio (2003): James Robert "Radio" Kennedy.
- Home on the Range (2004): Buck (voice)
- Shadowboxer (2005): Mikey.
- Daddy Day Camp (2007): Charlie Hinton. (replacing Eddie Murphy)
- American Gangster (2007): Nicky Barnes.
- Hardwired (2009): Luke Gibson.
- Red Tails (2012): Major Emanuel Stance.
- The Butler (2013): Carter Wilson.
- Machete Kills (2013): El Camaleón #2
- Selma (2014): Fred Gray.
- The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016): O.J. Simpson.
- American Horror Story: Roanoke (2016): Matt Miller/Dominic Banks.
- Acting in the Dark: Gooding is on record as being unsure as to whether O.J. Simpson is guilty of murder. So when he took on the role in The People v. O.J. Simpson, he decided to play one take as Simpson being guilty and one take as him being innocent. It is unknown which takes were used in the show.
- Catchphrase: He has been indelibly linked to the phrase "Show me the money!" ever since appearing in Jerry Maguire.