His first major role came when he appeared as one of the Army misfits in The Dirty Dozen (1967). It was another quirky war film, Robert Altman's MASH (1970), that thrust Sutherland to stardom. In the 1970s, the politically active Sutherland carved out a career as an eccentric character lead, mixing mainstream movies with sometimes risky political films. After starring together in the popular thriller Klute (1971), Sutherland and Jane Fonda co-produced, wrote and directed the anti-Vietnam War film F.T.A. (1972).
Other notable films include Don't Look Now, The Day of the Locust, Ordinary People, JFK, Space Cowboys and the TV miniseries Human Trafficking, for which he earned an Emmy nod.