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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Jeff Bridges

@Russellisation

“I don’t have too much time to jam with the rest of Hollywood.” – Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges, more commonly and affectionately known as ‘The Dude’, is a cultural icon of film known for portraying some of cinema’s coolest, most laid back characters. A celebrated actor of modern cinema, Bridges has enjoyed frequent collaborations with some of the finest filmmakers of all time, including the Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, Peter Bogdanovich, Larry Charles, Albert Brooks, Peter Weir and John Carpenter. 

Somewhat of a Hollywood recluse, Jeff Bridges enjoys large stints of time away from the industry spotlight, removing himself from glaring modern blockbusters, with his role in Marvel’s Iron Man a rare foray into big-budget filmmaking. Away from the glitz of the silver screen, Jeff Bridges has enjoyed a life of significant philanthropy, becoming a spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign whilst also supporting environmental causes such as the Amazon Conservation Team.

Slowing down the rate of his acting endeavours in recent years, Jeff Bridges will long be recognised for his collaborations with both Terry Gilliam as well as the filmmaking duo of Ethan and Joel Coen. Establishing himself as an influential figurehead of independent filmmaking, Bridges has enjoyed a healthy filmmaking career spanning 70 years, let’s take a look at the six titles that have defined his celebrated filmography.

Jeff Bridge’s six definitive films:

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

Jeff Bridges’ film career started long before he would have even known what cinema was, featuring as ‘Infant at Train Station’ in John Cromwell’s The Company She Keeps shortly after his first birthday. Later, the actor enjoyed sustained TV success in the likes of Sea Hunt, The Lloyd Bridges Show and In Search of America before his first major feature film role. 

Earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards for his first significant film role in The Last Picture Show, Jeff Bridges gives a standout performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 classic. As if phantoms at their own imminent funerals, Bridges’ character Duane Jackson is a young boy living in the shadows of the past, capturing a dark, wistful nostalgia alongside his co-stars Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman and Timothy Bottoms. 

Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982)

Peter Bogdanovich’s coming of age classic helped to significantly boost the profile of Jeff Bridges in the film industry, co-starring in the boxing film Fat City, directed by John Huston following the release of the film. 

His second Oscar-nomination would come in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot where he starred alongside Clint Eastwood before he appeared in the remake of King Kong opposite Jessica Lange in 1976. In 1982, Jeff Bridges ventured into one of his most significant roles in TRON, however, where he would capture the imagination of audiences worldwide as Kevin Flynn and popularise his image worldwide. 

By far the most commercial film Jeff Bridges has done to date, TRON would act as a stepping stone for the actor to reach even greater heights. 

The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991)

By the 1980s, Jeff Bridges had become a prolific actor in the industry, featuring in Starman by John Carpenter where he’d receive a Best Actor nomination, as well as the major releases, Kiss Me Goodbye, Against All Odds and Fearless

It was The Fisher King from Terry Gilliam that would represent his third most definitive film, however, featuring in a truly underappreciated work from the iconic director where Bridges would star alongside Robin Williams. Showing off an impressive on-screen chemistry, Bridges and Williams shine alongside each other as one of cinema’s most unpredictable duos in cinema history. 

A deeply human tale of love and redemption, Bridges plays a disgraced radio DJ who finds redemption in helping the very person he originally victimised. 

The Big Lebowski (the Coen brothers, 1998)

Where in the 1980s, Jeff Bridges was still establishing himself as an industry mainstay, in the 1990s he would truly flourish into the actor we know and appreciate today with both The Fisher King as well as the highly influential The Big Lebowski later in the decade. 

Certainly his most recognisable role, ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski became a figurehead of ‘90s pop culture thanks to his blasé, bohemian approach to everyday life. With the help of co-stars John Goodman and Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges is allowed to excel as the ultimate cinematic slacker who is mistaken for a millionaire in the Coen brothers classic crime comedy caper. 

Despite the great acting feats of Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski would forever be known as his most glittering achievement. 

Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)

From Jeff Bridges most iconic role to his finest acting achievement, Crazy Heart would be the film to finally award the actor with his long-awaited acting Academy Award, having been nominated several times.

Refusing to give in to the allure of Hollywood after his success with The Big Lebowski, Bridges enjoyed a range of eclectic roles in independent features and oddball high-profile films, from the likes of sports movie Seabiscuit to the animated delight Surf’s Up in 2007. The natural progression for his career was to move onto characters that emulated The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ with a slightly differing edge. 

Playing a faded country music star forced to reassess his life in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges delivers an outstanding performance that shares similarities to his iconic ‘Dude’ in their essence and spirit. 

Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016)

Coming to define the gruff, hardy American individual, Jeff Bridges took his newfound character to the likes of the Coen brother’s True Grit remake as well as the sub-par R.I.P.D. before his modern defining role in Hell or High Water. 

A modern revisionist western, Jeff Bridges would earn yet another Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his character of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton. Assigned to find and take down two bank-robbing brothers. A spiritual cousin to the Coen brother’s own No Country for Old Men, Hell or High Water stars Bridges in a similar role to that of Tommy Lee Jones as a traditional, out of touch elderly man who can no longer keep up with the pace and confusion of modern life. 

Delivering a compelling and nuanced performance, Hell or High Water reminds audiences of Jeff Bridges’ long celebrated greatness as a sympathetic leading actor who continues to mesmerise audiences.