John Goodman is among the greatest character actors of our time, known primarily for his fantastic collaborations with the Coen brothers on a wide variety of their projects. In addition to an extensive and diverse filmography, Goodman has also maintained a notable career in television through appearances on popular shows like Community.
Born in Missouri, Goodman had a lot of artistic influences during his formative years – ranging from Marvel comics to Mad magazine and bebop. While he had won a football scholarship and had an active sports trajectory, he decided to become an actor after suffering from an injury that ensured he could never play football again.
Starting out with off-Broadway productions and bit parts in minor films, Goodman eventually went on to make a much more significant impact in prominent productions. He first collaborated with the Coen brothers on Raising Arizona and went on to work with other acclaimed figures like Steven Spielberg and Aaron Sorkin.
John Goodman’s six definitive films:
True Stories (David Byrne, 1986)
A fantastic cult comedy by David Byrne, True Stories is set in a fictional town in Texas called Virgil where Byrne plays the role of a strange cowboy who runs into an eclectic mixture of truly strange characters with their own bizarre idiosyncrasies.
John Goodman is fantastic as Louis Fyne, a cleanroom technician who has a passion for country music and experiences a lot of struggles when it comes to the domain of love. Despite being one of the many characters, this is often cited as Goodman’s breakthrough role.
Barton Fink (Coen brothers, 1991)
Barton Fink is definitely among the crowning achievements of the Coen brothers’ brilliant filmography, starring John Turturro who plays the role of a pretentious New York playwright trying to capture something “real” within the Hollywood system.
During his stay at a strange hotel where he desperately tries to come up with a competent screenplay, he befriends Charlie Meadows (Goodman) – an insurance salesman who lives in the adjacent room and turns out to be a Nazi sympathiser.
Matinee (Joe Dante, 1993)
A weird little period comedy by Joe Dante, Matinee is actually a tribute to the old monster movies that Dante loves. Goodman plays the role of a minor horror director who decides to travel to Florida for the promotion campaign of his latest work.
Contextualised within the sociopolitical developments of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Matinee follows Goodman’s character as he realises that the monsters in his film are being outdone by the real-life horrors of living under the shadow of annihilation.
The Big Lebowski (Coen brothers, 1998)
The most iconic role in Goodman’s career and his finest collaboration with the Coen brothers, The Big Lebowski features him as Walter Sobchak – a crazy war veteran from Vietnam who is extremely loyal to his slacker best friend The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges).
Partially based on the persona of screenwriter John Milius, Walter Sobchak is one of the best parts of The Big Lebowski and Goodman’s on-screen partnership with Bridges is a major reason why the film is considered to be a neo-noir comedy masterpiece.
Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, 2001)
In addition to his appearances on cinematic gems, Goodman has also done voice acting on a number of occasions but none of them have surpassed the cultural impact of his work on the 2001 Pixar film Monsters, Inc. which gave him one of his most recognisable roles.
Goodman provides the voice for Sullivan, a huge monster in an alternative world where monsters are employed to scare children in order to harvest the energy of their screams. Even though he is one of the most efficient monsters around, he has a soft heart.
10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)
Featuring one of the finest performances by Goodman in recent years, 10 Cloverfield Lane revolves around the horrifying experiences of a woman who survives a car crash only to find herself in an underground bunker with two strange men.
Goodman is truly scary as Howard Stambler, a crazy survivalist who tries to convince the woman that everyone outside the bunker has been wiped out due to an alien invasion. While the film itself is flawed, Goodman delivers a horrifying performance as a dangerous man.