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The Dude Abides: Every Jeff Bridges Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

From charming rascals to old coots, ‘The Last Picture Show’ to ‘The Big Lebowski’ – the iconic actor’s greatest hits (and misses)

For decades now, Jeff Bridges has been one of our greatest American actors. But he’s also been, at times, one of our quietest – a workhorse of a performer who rarely draws attention to himself. (Did you know that he appeared in three movies this year?) He is known for his modesty in real-life, and he’s managed to convey that onscreen as well – even when he’s played villains.

But what’s most remarkable about Bridges is how his profile has transformed. When he came of age as an actor in the 1970s, he was the rare, easygoing All-American type in an era defined by forceful, brooding figures like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. Bridges was energetic without being intense, likable without being pleading, vulnerable without being wounded.

But as he got older, he changed: His characters became more gruff, bitter, plainspoken – without ever quite losing the laid-back style that defined his underlying persona. That’s partly why he was so good in movies like The Big Lebowski, True Grit and Crazy Heart (for which he won an Oscar); these were characters who had quietly given up on the world and needed to be brought back into the realm of the living.

And through it all, he has maintained a consistent level of excellence as an actor. There’s no one specific period in which Jeff Bridges shone; he’s had some serious highs (and the occasional lows) in every decade since he first stepped in front of a film camera. Here are all of Jeff Bridges’ movie performances, ranked from the very worst – R.I.P., R.I.P.D. – to the very best.

(Editor’s note: We’re focusing on his big-screen live-action movies, and not his TV movies or animated-movie voiceovers. All apologies, Last Unicorn fans)

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13

‘Bad Company’ (1972)

Playing the leader of a group of Civil War-era teens
wandering the frontier and living off what they can steal, Bridges is a
grinning, scheming Tasmanian Devil of mischief in Robert Benton’s revisionist Western. His bark is certainly worse than his bite; like many a precocious
child, he knows a lot less than he lets on. This is a character who can be chummy one minute, then stab
you in the back without breaking his smile. And somehow, we can’t keep our eyes
off him.

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12

‘Hearts of the West’ (1975)

One of Bridges’ most interesting takes on the Western came
during this Depression-era comedy-drama in which he plays an Iowa farmboy with
dreams of becoming an aspiring dimestore novelist. The young man goes West, of course, falling in with a group of movie cowboy stunt riders and
background actors led by Andy Griffith. What started off as a pseudo-horse opera becomes something of a showbiz satire, as our hero starts to achieve fame on
his own and finds nothing but disillusionment. The movie maintains a
surprisingly reflective tone throughout, suggesting that those days of yore were never quite as romantic as some may think.
And Bridges – going from wide-eyed innocent to jaded cynic – is wonderful.

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11

‘The Last American Hero’ (1973)

“Jeff Bridges may be the most natural and least
self-conscious screen actor who ever lived,” Pauline Kael wrote in her review
of Lamont Johnson’s 1973 racing epic. “If he has a profile, we’re not aware of
it.” The very openness of Bridges’ presence – highlighted by those inquisitive
eyes and that half-smile that forever seems like it could turn into either a
grimace or a guffaw – is one of the reasons why this movie, about a young
Southern moonshine runner-turned-stock-car racer, is so damned unforgettable. The actor goes from outlaw to
eager beaver to superstar to bitter romantic with what appears to be minimal
effort and maximum impact. It’s an early indicator of his extraordinary range in just one role.

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10

‘Fat City’ (1972)

In a recent WTF podcast, Beau Bridges talks about going out for John Huston’s understated drama of down-and-out boxers in
California. He was told he was old for the part; you should meet my younger brother then, Beau replied. Jeff ended up with the part of the 18-year-old up-and-comer to Stacy Keach’s alcoholic
has-been, and his character isn’t the kind of
cocky, ambitious type one often sees in these types of stories. He’s got sweet-science talent, but he doesn’t know if he’s doing the right thing. His attempt at a
boxing career goes awry, and the picture captures this man at the
moment when he realizes things aren’t going to turn out okay – that sometimes, the underdogs are destined to remain underdogs. 

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9

‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ (1989)

Welcome to Jeff Bridges at both his sexiest and his saddest. He’s one-half of a family jazz piano act, alongside
his real-life brother (Jeff, a bigger star than his older kin at this point, insisted that Beau play his screen sibling – thus paying back the Fat City favor). They’ve
been playing the same standards for decades, stuck in a rut as their audiences
get smaller and smaller. Then into their lives walks sassy, sexy Michelle Pfeiffer,
who transforms the act. Playing a man who keeps his emotions close to the vest, Bridges seems like the epitome of cool – even as we reject his chronic cynicism. And some serious sparks fly between The Dude and La Pfeiffer; watching their slow-burn
confrontational relationship turn into a romance is mesmerizing. 

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8

‘Starman’ (1984)

One of Bridges’ greatest strengths is his ability to
look thoroughly bewildered, and in John Carpenter’s romantic sci-fi drama about an alien stranded on Earth (who’s assumed the body of Karen Allen’s
dead husband), he manages to combine confusion, calm and resolute befuddlement. His man who fell to Earth is lost in a
world where everything is totally unknown to him. The result is one of his most
compelling performances — and well-deserving of the Oscar nomination he
received for it.

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7

‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971)

Bridges achieved an early breakthrough as a high school
football hero in a dead-end Texas town in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971
coming-of-age masterpiece. He’s not the lead – that honor goes to melancholy
Timothy Bottoms – but Bridges is arguably the film’s most representative character:
A good-looking, poor, happy-go-lucky kid who doesn’t seem to realize that
his relationship with the richest, most beautiful girl in town is doomed. There’s an undercurrent of
anxiety beneath the actor’s surface charm and confidence, but it’s a very
gentle one: He seems largely content to let the world pass over him, like so
many young people in Nowheresville, America. A star is born.

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6

‘Crazy Heart’ (2009)

The actor won his long-overdue Oscar for his unforgettable
turn as Bad Blake, a washed-up, alcoholic country singer-songwriter slowly
making his way through a series of dead-end gigs. As a film, Scott Cooper’s indie drama is the stuff of cliché
– yes, our hero hooks up with a beautiful younger woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal),
and yes, he plays surrogate father to her kid until his drinking screws things up royally. But Bridges is so tender in this part. Even in
his quietest moments, when he’s not really doing anything except sitting there,
he absolutely is Bad Blake. (The
actor also did a lot of his own singing, and our man’s got a great C&W voice.) It feels
like a part he was born to play – even if his persona in the early years of his
career was nothing like this broken, raspy deadbeat.

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5

‘Hell or High Water’ (2016)

This sleeper-hit nouveau Western/crime thriller gave Bridges’ one of his greatest roles: a
crotchety, politically incorrect modern-day Texas Ranger tracking down a
pair of bank robbers. His Ranger Marcus Hamilton is a man who appears to be living in the past –
imagining himself as a cowboy going after wild outlaws on the frontier, with his devout, straight-arrow Mexican-Indian-American partner by his side. But he also knows that the old myths have become empty. The actor captures that
delicate mix of delusion and disillusion superbly – giving the character a real
dose of humanity, even as the suspense of the chase keeps going. And that last scene between him and Chris Pine is already a Hall-of-Famer.

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4

‘American Heart’ (1992)

Ex-con Jack Kelson (Bridges) is just out of the joint. He’s also suddenly burdened
with the teenage son (Edward Furlong) that he long ago abandoned. As the tragic
tale of desperate living on the margins in Seattle unfolds, father and son try
to understand one another. Bridges balances both the
immediacy of his character’s struggle for survival, as well as the slowly
gathering regret or a life that was never really given a chance – a broken, haunted man who would set the stage for more gritty, lyrical roles, many of which would get greater acclaim. Criminally underseen, it’s still consistently amazing and more than deserving of this spot – in many ways, this role, and not Rooster Cogburn or Lebowski, is the key to much of his later work. 

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3

‘True Grit’ (2010)

He may have began acting at a time when the Western was
dying, but Bridges appeared throughout his career in a number of bold, daring takes
on the genre – everything from The Last
Picture Show
and Hearts of the West
to Rancho Deluxe and Wild Bill. His presence in these films
was rarely that of a typical oater actor, however – he usually played a
character who was aware that the times had passed him by. So how appropriate
that one of his greatest roles came in the part that had once won John Wayne an
Oscar. As Rooster Cogburn, the former Texas Ranger turned broken-down bounty
hunter enlisted to track down a murderer, Bridges initially appears as a rough
wreck of a man. But as the story proceeds, we come to know him in all his
complexity – his ruthlessness, his bitterness, his humor, his compassion, and
ultimately his heroism. It is an absolutely riveting performance, and it makes
you wonder what an actor like this might have done with the Western in its
heyday.

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2

‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)

Here it is: The one that ensured that Bridges will always be thought of as “the Dude” – that bowling-league all-star, White
Russian-loving, recovering idealist who gets harassed by a group of nihilistic
goons as a result of a cosmic case of mistaken identity. And the man plays
every note perfectly as the lead of the Coen Brothers’ cult classic. He’s a
stoner who takes his time understanding things, but this amateur gumshoe in a bathrobe is also kind of surprisingly
relentless. Lebowski lets the world wash over him, and yet, he’s also a deeply loyal
friend. Although it’s very funny, this movie has a very serious core: The comedy is ultimately about how the ideals of the 1960s came crashing against the
hard-brutal reality of capitalism and political power, and about how the Boomer
generation missed their chance at greatness. Throughout his career, Bridges has
regularly played characters who have quietly felt the world passing them by,
and this might be the purest expression of that. In its own way, The Big Lebowski is as complex and sad a
film as Chinatown, and the greatness
of the actor’s performance lies in the fact that underneath all that
pitch-perfect humor, he strikes a deep vein of melancholy. And if you don’t agree with that, well, like, that’s your opinion, etc.

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1

‘The Fisher King’ (1991)

Yes, The Big Lebowski
features his most iconic role … but this one is of the greatest acting jobs
by anybody, anywhere. True, Terry Gilliam’s modern-day fable is usually
discussed in terms of Robin Williams’ admittedly wonderful performance as a
former academic who’s lost his mind, but what anchors the movie is Bridges. He plays a mouthy,
shock-jock DJ whose live rants inspires a listener to go on a shooting rampage;
he then finds himself brought cosmically low, stripped of his money and fame,
living out his days as a suicidal alcoholic. Then one fateful night he’s
saved by Williams’ holy fool, and everything changes. The director’s expressionistic style
and Richard LaGravenese’s magical script turn late-Eighties New York into something
out of a fairy tale, but none of it would work without Bridges’ deeply
engaged, end engaging, presence: He has to take this man who seems like the
worst kind of real-life monster and transform him into someone we can not only
relate to, but in whose survival we feel we have a stake. It’s a terrifying,
hilarious, appalling, touching and tense performance. It’s the best of Bridges. Long live the King.

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