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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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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