Home Movies Movie Lists

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)

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Play video
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.

Show Comments