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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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46

‘How to Lose Friends & Alienate People’ (2008)

Toby Young’s gossipy memoir about his days at Vanity Fair gets fictionalized – poorly – in Robert Weide’s bubbly-but-annoying comedy. Simon Pegg plays a British literary journal editor who inexplicably winds up with a job at a big, glossy, legendary American celebrity magazine; Bridges plays his mercurial editor, Clayton Harding (get it?), who tells him off one minute, acts chummy the next, and then forgets who he is right after that. The veteran actor certainly seems to be having fun with the part; he’s even got a hilariously smooth mane of hair (which doesn’t quite look like Graydon Carter’s, but still feels right). There’s only so much, alas, that he can do with such an overall weak attempt at irreverence and snark.

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45

‘The Open Road’ (2009)

Bridges has some touching moments playing a baseball legend and deadbeat dad on a road trip with his estranged son (Justin Timberlake) to go see his ailing ex-wife (Mary Steenburgen). It’s a role totally in the actor’s wheelhouse – a charismatic hotshot wasting away, shirking his responsibilities. But there’s not much Bridges can do with a predictable script that gives him nothing surprising or interesting to do. It’s hard to believe that the actor and Timberlake are in any way related, or that they even care about one another. Close it down.

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44

‘Tideland’ (2005)

Yes, he plays a corpse for much of his Fisher King director Terry Gilliam’s most controversial production – but you have to hand it to Bridges, he’s pretty good at it. He’s the junkie musician father to a troubled, imaginative young daughter; when he OD’s on heroin, she retreats further into a wild, demented fantasy world. The film was divisive – widely derided by many, hailed as a masterpiece by a few. Thankfully, Bridges got off relatively easy, even with all the indignities visited upon his lifeless body.

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43

‘The Giver’ (2014)

Bridges was reportedly trying for years to adapt the first book of Lois Lowry’s acclaimed Y-A dystopia, so it was heartbreaking to see the mess that eventually resulted. He plays the Receiver, soon to be the Giver – a kind of oracle-slash-wise-man who is the only person to have any knowledge of the world or history in the story’s antiseptic futuristic wasteland. And we can see that he’s enjoying himself – he can be as unkempt and gruff and emotive as he wants, because he’s effectively the only character allowed to breathe any real life into this colorless dystopia. Too bad the movie falls apart around him.

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42

‘K-Pax’ (2001)

Kevin Spacey [weary sigh] is a mental patient who claims that he’s a visitor from another planet. Jeff Bridges is the psychiatrist who has to discover what’s actually wrong with him. The marketing for this suggested a kind of sentimental sci-fi movie (think The Fisher King meets Starman) but in truth, it’s a sentimental psychological drama (think The Fisher King meets Awakenings). It’s the kind of treacle that Hollywood specialized in once – and while these types of films were often terrible, you occasionally miss them now. Bridges might not seem like he has a lot to do here since it’s supposed to be Spacey’s show, but look again. He has to show equal parts open-mindedness and skepticism, and ultimately, it’s his character that does the growing – the one who discovers who this strange man really is and has to decide how to handle it. It’s a nice, subtle performance in a not-very-subtle picture.

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41

‘Jagged Edge’ (1985)

A wealthy socialite is viciously murdered, and her husband (Bridges), a powerful publisher, is accused of the crime. He then falls in love with the beautiful, driven attorney (Glenn Close) defending him. For her part, she has to decide if the man that she’s romancing might also be a cold-blooded killer. This is a thriller that is designed to keep us guessing, and as a result Bridges has to be alternately charming, menacing, vulnerable, cold – because every scene in the movie essentially turns on how we feel about him at that very moment. And he pretty much nails every beat: We never know what to make of him. We hope against hope that he’s innocent. And like Close, we can’t help but entertain the very real possibility that he might be a twisted psycho.

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40

‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ (2009)

What if you crossed the Dude from The Big Lebowski with Ron Kovic from Born on the Fourth of July? You might get something like Bridges’ character in this odd little loosely-based-on-fact movie, in which our man plays a Vietnam veteran who develops a method of New Age warfare: use the power of, like, the mind. Bridges is seen mostly in flashbacks, and his scenes might actually be the highlights of this surreal film that doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a drama or comedy. It’s an excellent demonstration of his range – a combination of military-man authority and flower-child sincerity.

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39

‘The Morning After’ (1986)

For some reason, Jeff Bridges made a number of movies in which he has to help out a woman who has wound up in the middle of an unexplained murder. In this one, it’s black-out alcoholic Jane Fonda who needs saving: She’s an actress who wakes up next to a man with a knife stuck in him and has no memory of what happened. He’s an ex-cop who runs into her at her lowest point. She’s a brittle and edgy Hollywood type; he’s loose, happy, and a bit of a bumpkin (not to mention somewhat bigoted). The plot is a bit of a tangle, and director Sidney Lumet seems to know it, so he spends much of his time focusing on the weirdly compelling relationship between his two imperfect leads, who luckily deliver in spades.

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38

‘Tron’ (1982)

Jeff Bridges was the original movie hacker … wait, that can’t be right, can it? As a former programmer-turned-renegade-arcade-owner in Disney’s revolutionary sci-fi classic, he was the very picture of rumpled cool. In fact, when he winds up getting teleported into the video game itself – thanks to a sinister, sentient program that’s begun to control it – he’s still his jokey self. (It’s kind of remarkable just how calm Bridges manages to remain after finding out he’s trapped inside an actual video game.) One might even say that he brings the ideal amount of levity to this ridiculous and entertaining scenario. His sense of humor tempers the fact that everyone else in this movie is largely stone-faced, since most of them are not, y’know, human.

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37

‘Texasville’ (1990)

No, Jeff Bridges was not the lead of The Last Picture Show. By the time this sequel to the original film came about, however, he had become a bigger star and his character Duane had gone from teenage dead-ender to professional oil man. This long-after-the-fact follow-up has none of the power of the original – it feels more like a check-in with the characters than a story in its own right. But Bridges does get to shine in it. As a formerly successful guy who’s now struggling to keep his life and business afloat, he takes his usual affability and sneaks in a hint of slippery con-man charm.

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36

‘Tron: Legacy’ (2010)

Years after the original trapped-inside-a-video-game classic Tron, Bridges co-starred in this aestheticized, brooding, often oddly beautiful sequel. The movie asks quite a bit of him: In its opening scenes, his (awkwardly) digitally altered presence played a younger version of his character. Then, after his grown son Garrett Hedlund is once again teleported into the video game, that same young visage was seen on the film’s chief villain: CLU, a sentient version of himself Bridges had left behind many years ago to watch over the game (and who’s become a digital dictator). And finally, a grizzled Bridges played the older Flynn, the man who has been living inside the game all these years. It’s not as fun a part as the original – it’s a far more stern-faced movie – but the actor still exudes quiet authority.

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35

‘The Door in the Floor’ (2004)

Bridges has to tamp down his usual charm for this adaptation of John Irving’s beloved novel A Widow for One Year. He’s a philandering, self-obsessed children’s book author going through a slow, agonizing break-up with mourning wife Kim Basinger. In the film, however, he’s viewed through the eyes of the young man hired to be his assistant. Hence, we don’t quite know what to think of him, and know even less the more we find out about his past. Basinger arguably out-acts him, but Bridges is impressively physical: He can convey more with a simple gesture or a change of posture than most actors can with reams of dialogue.

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34

‘Lolly-Madonna XXX’ (1973)

Two feuding, dirt-poor rural families come to a violent
impasse when one side kidnaps a young woman passing through town. Director Richard C. Sarafian’s hicksploitation drama is a nasty, gruesome little number,
with passages of odd lyricism thrown in. Bridges plays one of the younger,
saner members of one of the clans; he eventually strikes up a romance with
Season Hubley, their young captive. The movie itself is riveting and repulsive
in equal measure. Playing a likable character in deeply detestable
circumstances, Bridges brings a welcome innocence to his part.

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33

‘The Contender’ (2000)

A female Vice Presidential
candidate (Joan Allen) is hounded by sneering, snarling Republican lawmakers after
sleazy rumors emerge about her past. This may be one of the silliest movies made
about American politics in the last quarter century, but… it’s
got Jeff Bridges playing the President of the United States of America. And
he’s so incredibly refreshing, sensible and charismatic in the part that you
might just walk away from the film wanting him to be your President (now more than ever). The character was reportedly Barack Obama’s favorite movie President, too. It’s
easy to see why.

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32

‘White Squall’ (1996)

Bridges is the very model of authority as a boat captain in
1961 determined to turn a group of prep-school blue-blood boys into men
through his Ocean Academy in this underrated Ridley Scott drama. Sometimes his
character is the quiet voice of reason, sometimes he’s an Ahab-like taskmaster.
It’s a fine turn, both driven and human; thanks to him, it even shines during the peculiar,
monologue-laden trial hearing that ends the film, which could have easily become
self-parody.

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31

‘Wild Bill’ (1995)

If you want to watch Jeff Bridges kill people for 98
minutes, here’s your chance. That’s not actually fair to Walter Hill’s
ambitious, elliptical, ultra-violent re-telling of the Wild Bill Hickok legend.
But the film works on repetition and stasis: Over and over, we watch the gruff,
unchanging Wild Bill gun down anyone who dares cross him. We eventually become
de-sensitized to all this killing – and then Hill turns the tables on us, with
an extended finale in which Hickok faces off against men who’ve
come for retribution. It’s an interesting experiment, but it doesn’t always
work. But Bridges plays the myth more than the man, which seems to be the idea.

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30

‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ (2017)

This recent coming-of-age comedy-drama has Bridges playing a mysterious,
alcoholic writer-sage who gives the jaded young protagonist advice about life
and love. We’re not entirely sure the kid – a spoiled rich brat who laments the
passing of the old New York like any good hipster-in-training – is worth all
that effort, but veteran actor’s sincere take on the mentor role resonates. And there’s a reason for that,
too: As the film proceeds, Bridges’s character begins to take
center-stage, and we get to see just what the star can do. It’s a lovely
performance drifting in a wildly uneven movie.

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29

‘Seabiscuit’ (2003)

As the wealthy businessman and breeder who buys the famous
hard-to-manage horse and helps turn it into an unlikely champion, Bridges mixes brash showmanship with an undercurrent of
pathological relentlessness. His Charles Howard is a man who, for all his
success, has experienced unimaginable loss, and he knows that the struggling
nation – like himself – needs something to believe in. He brings real
heart to his role.

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28

‘8 Million Ways to Die’ (1986)

The late, great director Hal Ashby ended his career on this occasionally
fascinating crime flick, in which Bridges plays a disgraced ex-cop struggling
with alcoholism who gets involved with a deadly prostitution ring. The plot
doesn’t make much sense, but the film is filled with lovely little moments courtesy of Bridges, who brings a casualness to this character
that feels right. So much of the story turns on a dime that his devil-may-care
energy helps sell us on the tale’s weirder elements.

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27

‘Heaven’s Gate’ (1980)

Bridges reportedly took the whorehouse set from Michael
Cimino’s notorious 1980 flop – the runaway production that many credit with
destroying the New Hollywood – and put it up on his ranch after the shoot had
wrapped. You can see why he carries such fond memories of the movie, especially since he
plays one of the few likable characters: a local man who sides with the
immigrants who’ve been targeted by wealthy landowners. The film feels a
lot less phony whenever he’s onscreen, and his dynamic presence is a welcome
respite from the deliberately paced, manicured melancholy of this epic
Western.

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26

‘The Iceman Cometh’ (1973)

John Frankenheimer directed this American Film Theatre version
of Eugene O’Neill’s classic booze-soaked play of disillusionment and delusion;
these were cinematic but faithful adaptations of classic stage works, offering
the chance to see great, veteran actors (like Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Fredric March) in famous parts. And playing the young, troubled anarchist Don Parritt, Bridges gives
a volatile and somewhat theatrical performance. But this film held a special
place for the actor: Before this, despite having an Oscar nomination under his belt, he didn’t
know if he wanted to continue with acting. Working alongside these lions rejuvenated
his love for the profession, he’s said, and reconnected him with his art.

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25

‘Stay Hungry’ (1976)

Bob Rafelson’s amiable comedy casts Bridges as the scion of
a wealthy Alabama family who falls in with the cute receptionist (Sally Field)
and the friendly bodybuilder (Arnold Schwarzenegger) at the gym he’s attempting
to buy. The movie goes a little nuts from there, but its freewheeling
atmosphere is hard to resist, and Bridges embodies its shifting tonalities: His
character drifts through the movie, and comes off as something of a child – a one-percenter who’s never really had to earn a
living and never got a chance to grow up.

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24

‘The Mirror Has Two Faces’ (1996)

Bridges plays a Columbia math professor whose handsomeness
has gotten in the way of his finding domestic happiness – he’s looking to find
a partner who isn’t interested in just sex.
Into his life comes fellow teacher (and the film’s director) Barbra
Streisand, who is ordinary-looking, unglamorous, shy and, naturally, brilliant. A
high concept romance of the sort they don’t really make anymore, this is an
enthrallingly strange movie – but more importantly, it’s a solid showcase for Bridges’ irresistible
dorkiness.

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23

‘Stick It’ (2006)

Bridges as a tough-as-nails gymnastics coach? Sure, why
not. In this rousing, deeply underrated sports movie, Missy Peregrym plays a
young tomboy-slash-disgraced-gymnast who returns to competition under the
tutelage of her hard-ass (but ultimately caring) coach. Though Bridges generally
excels in laconic parts, he’s somehow also a perfect fit for this colorful,
stylized, boisterous film. His no-bullshit style matches up with Peregrym’s
too-cool-for-school demeanor. And he gets one brief emotional moment near the
finale that’s shockingly powerful.

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22

‘Iron Man’ (2008)

After all the mystical and/or intergalactic villains that
Iron Man and the Avengers have had to fight over the years, it might be easy to
forget that his first villain was one of the best: Obadiah Stane. The former partner of Tony Stark’s dad was a ruthless capitalist willing to waste entire
villages and kill countless people in an effort to keep his business going.
Nearly unrecognizable with a shaved head and a big beard, Bridges is an ideal
mix of chummy smarm and snarling cruelty – and a fine foil for Robert Downey
Jr.’s jokey heroics. The cast is one of the main reasons why this is still one
of the best Marvel movies, and Bridges – even though he should have more
screen time – is one of its MVPs.

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21

‘See You in the Morning’ (1989)

Alan J. Pakula’s comedy-drama pairs Bridges and
Alice Krige as two people who start a new relationship after their previous marriages go kaput. He’s a therapist who can’t help but analyze
everything; she’s a photographer
racked with guilt over her pianist husband’s suicide. The film refuses to judge any of these characters, and playing a man who oscillates
between confusion and cold-eyed clarity, Bridges makes his distant doctor relatable.

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20

‘Against All Odds’ (1984)

Taylor Hackford’s cross-breeding of Out of the Past and Chinatown
may not have the smarts to live up to the immense legacy of either of its
forebears. But it’s still a sleazy delight thanks to the sexual tension
between injured football-player-turned-amateur-detective Bridges and rich
girl-on-the-lam Rachel Ward. She’s hiding out in Mexico from her scuzzbucket
boyfriend James Woods; Bridges is hired to find her, and of course, falls head
over heels. It’s a wet, sticky, atmospheric affair – and one of the few
films that makes thorough use of Bridges’ considerable sex appeal.

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19

‘Only the Brave’ (2017)

This year’s powerful firefighter drama, about the tragic
story of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of Arizona, was the kind of film Bridges might have starred in when he was younger. Instead, he got to play
the veteran who served as a mentor to Josh Brolin’s take-no-prisoners fire chief.
It might have been a throwaway gig, but in the actor’s hands it becomes a portrait of restrained bureaucratic authority. Until we get to the breakdown scene near the end, when he learns of
the fates of his men and gives audiences one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in any 2017 film.

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18

‘Rancho Deluxe’ (1975)

Bridges and Sam
Waterston play two modern day cattle rustlers who run afoul of a wealthy,
stuck-up rancher – who in turn sics two dopey, double-crossing ranch hands
(Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bright) and an aging, incompetent
bounty hunter (Slim Pickens) after them. With a plot like that, you’d
expect some sort of rip-roaring, broad comedy, right? But this is the kind of movie where plot takes a backseat to
character and mood, and Bridges is lovably jovial throughout – the wild-man
counterpart to Waterston’s somewhat more serious-minded outlaw.

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17

‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ (1974)

Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for Michael Cimino’s
ambling heist flick, in which he plays a boisterously cocky foil for Clint
Eastwood’s tough-guy bank robber. It’s an odder work than its outlaw-road-movie
reputation would have you believe, filled with homoerotic subtext (Bridges
spends part of the film in drag …and he actually looks pretty good) and a WTF plot
built almost entirely on random, unlikely circumstance. But the performances
make this one stand the test of time – and Bridges in particular is quite excellent,
taking his character’s surface sweetness to at times almost psychotic extremes.

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16

‘Cutter’s Way’ (1981)

Beach bum/gigolo
Jeff Bridges and disabled, embittered Vietnam vet John Heard investigate the
grisly death of a teenage girl and decide that a local oil tycoon is the
culprit. Not quite a mystery and not quite a drama, this is one of those movies
that feels different every time you see it – which may explain why it’s
heralded as a cult masterpiece today, despite flopping upon release. While Heard has
the more showy part, Bridges is fascinating to watch: His usual
languorous, carefree spirit transforms into an apathy and recklessness that’s symbolic
of his lost generation.

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