Jeff Goldblum, in my book, can do no wrong. The actor and musician has succeeded in cultivating the much sought-after idea that he is just another normal guy. Unlike his silver-foxed compatriot George Clooney, it’s easy to imagine Goldblum wandering around doing normal everyday things like riding a bike, pulling socks out of a tumble dryer, or perhaps even biting the top off a french stick on his way back from the shops. He is one of Hollywood’s most amicable and comforting faces. Without Jeff, not only would the first Jurassic Park have been a humourless raptor-fest, but the world would be a much darker place.
Jeff Goldblum was born in West Homestead, Pennsylvania, in 1952, to a mother who was a radio broadcaster and a father with a successful career in medicine. His older brother, Rick, was an important figure in Jeff’s early life – taking it upon himself to teach his younger brother about jazz. When he died in 1971, at the age of 23, after contracting dysentery in Morocco, Jeff became determined to live the best life he could imagine, to “save myself and survive”.
For Goldblum, the world of show business must have seemed ever-so-slightly out of reach. His father had nearly studied acting before deciding to pursue medicine. But, at 17, Goldblum decided to move to New York and commit to the dream his father had never had the courage to chase. As a young actor in the big city, he performed in a variety of theatre roles while studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse under the guidance of the renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner.
After making his Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning rock opera The Two Gentleman Of Verona in 1971, Goldblum looked set for a life on the stage. But, in the mid-1970s, he started appearing in a number of films and TV dramas, including the 1974 thriller Deathwish – in which he plays a particularly lanky home invader – as well as Woody Allen’s romantic-comedy, Annie Hall. Then, in 1978 he landed his first big supporting role. It’s here that our list begins…
Jeff Goldblum’s six definitive films:
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Many of Jeff Goldblum’s roles, as you will discover, feature him up against all manner of aliens and monstrous creatures. The actor’s first encounter in this regard was in 1978 with this updated version of the 1958 sci-fi classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. It was this Phillip Kauffman-directed flick that gave Goldblum his first proper supporting roll, seeing him star alongside Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy.
Sutherland plays a public health inspector who discovers that the citizens of San Francisco are being replaced by alien doppelgangers one by one. As well as being a fascinating commentary on cultural paranoia and Cold War-era anxiety, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers also features Goldblum at his sarcastic best.
The Fly (David Cronenberg,1986)
After starring in a string of flops, David Cronenberg‘s disturbing sci-fi horror film offered Goldblum a role he could really sink his teeth into. He plays the brilliant scientist Seth Brundle, who invents a machine that can teleport inanimate objects. After one of his experiments with the “telepods” goes wrong, Brundle finds himself gradually transforminging into a grotesque fly-human hybrid.
Cronenberg’s adaptation of the original 1958 film won enormous critical acclaim and was celebrated for its subtle exploration of the AIDS crisis. Cronenberg. however, has never claimed this was his intention. Goldblum’s performance is sensational and was lauded at the time, helping to make The Fly one of the most successful films of Cronenberg’s career.
Jurassic Park (Steven Speilberg, 1993)
There are few films in which Jeff Goldblum is more gloriously acerbic than in Speilberg’s original Jurassic Park. Goldblum plays Dr. Ian Malcolm, who is apparently the only scientist with the foresight to imagine that a theme park featuring real-life dinosaurs might come to bite (pun very much intended) humanity on the ass.
Aside from the gigantic, nerve-shattering T. Rex, Jeff Goldblum is by far the biggest personality in the cast, bringing just the right amount of aloofness and sex appeal to the role. Judging from the unique way Goldblum was reported to have learnt his lines, it’s no surprise he stole the limelight so often. Adriana Richards, the actor who portrayed one of John Hammond’s grandchildren recalled: “I was struck by the fact that he wasn’t studying it like most people I’d been around that were actors, who’d study quietly [and] kind of unobtrusively…He was speed-reading them out loud!”
Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996)
By the late ’90s, Jeff Goldblum was a household name, but with this 1996 disaster movie, he achieved latent cult status. Regarded as marking a turning point in the history of the Hollywood blockbuster, Independence Day follows a group of survivors who accumulate in the Nevada desert following a worldwide attack by an alien species.
Jeff Goldblum plays the New York satellite technician David Levinson, who discovers an alien plan to attack Earth before joining Will Smith in a battle against the invaders. Goldblum has some beautifully deadpan lines in this film, one of the best of which comes when Levinson is accused of punching the US President, to which he replies: “He wasn’t the president yet.”
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)
In 2004, Goldblum began a long and fruitful collaboration with the director Wes Anderson. This Jean Cocteau-inspired comedy is the first of three Anderson films that Goldblum has made with the filmmaker and hopefully not the last.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou sees Goldblum star alongside Bill Murray who plays the titular Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer who – with Melvillian intent – attempts to track down the “jaguar shark” that ate his partner Esteban. Goldblum plays Zissou’s smug nemesis, Alistair Hennessey, from whom the crew of the Belefonte steal tracking equipment before they embark on their quest to exact revenge on the shark.
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017)
Goldblum’s role in Thor: Ragnarok saw his career come full circle. He’s spent a lifetime either battling monstrous creatures or becoming them. In this Taika Waititi-directed superhero flick, it’s the latter. With the help of a fantastic screenplay by Eric Pearson and the slapstick directorial style, Ragnarok has proved to be one of Goldblum’s finest performances in recent years.
He plays the grandmaster, the eccentric and sadistic overlord of Sakaar who pitches random prisoners in deadly battles against his champion gladiator, Hulk. Jeff Goldblum’s presence in this film – just one of the countless Marvel films released of late – helped to bring new life to the franchise.
Indeed, four years and innumerable Marvel films later, Thor: Ragnarok remains a firm fan-favourite. His performance is all the more impressive when you consider that, in 2014, Goldblum also successfully re-invented himself as a jazz musician with his band, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.