He’s a seasoned comedic actor — a man who made a name for himself on one of the most memorable sitcoms of the 1990s, but still sustained an impressive career in the decades that followed. John Goodman has endeared himself to audiences and a host of Hollywood filmmakers like the Coen Brothers who love to showcase his talent. Some buck the system; others are essential keeping it going. He’s played heroes and villains, and many, many men who fall somewhere in between.
The 63-year-old Missouri native rose to fame playing Dan Connor, the easy-going blue collar husband to the titular character on Roseanne. He’s returned to television on more than one occasion, turning in a powerful performance in HBO’s underrated Treme and acting as a frequent host of Saturday Night Live. But he’s also made an indelible impression as a movie actor. Last weekend, he co-starred in the critically acclaimed 10 Cloverfield Lane. And he’s slated to appear in more than half a dozen more upcoming films, including next year’s Kong: Skull Island. These films will join the long list that make up Goodman’s impressive resume. Here are five of his best movie roles to date.
1. Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
This Coen Brothers classic is, by and large, about the Dude himself, Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). But few fans would disagree that The Big Lebowski just wouldn’t be the same without John Goodman and his unforgettable performance as Walter Sobchak. He’s Lebowski’s best friend, and partner in crime during the titular character’s kidnapping-rescue-turned-ransom-theft caper. And as the increasingly bizarre story unfolds, Walter delivers many of the film’s most memorable moments. Goodman creates a character that feels familiar — a man long past his glory days, whose simmering discontent at how his life has played out often manifests in extreme bouts of anger. He also makes Walter feel realistic, never taking his over-the-top reaction to the world around him too far. And yet he somehow always fits perfectly inside the absurd and unforgettable reality that the Coens create.
2. Lawrence Woolsey, Matinee
An underrated gem of the mid-1990s, Matinee is part coming-of-age-during-the-Cuban-Missile-Crisis story, part exploration of Hollywood exploitation. John Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, a B-movie director who thoroughly subscribes to the idea that any press is good press, as far as his films are concerned. As Woolsey, Goodman positively nails boisterous Hollywood egotism, creating a character who works hard to make himself seem larger than life. But throughout Matinee, we also get the feeling that he loves making movies — even if they are about mutant ant men and the scantily-clad women who are trying to escape them. Goodman strikes a perfect chord, creating a character that works on multiple levels; for nostalgia, as social commentary, and as a truly entertaining anti-hero.
3. Delbert McClintock, Arachnophobia
John Goodman is often at his best when he’s playing to his comedic strengths. And that was certainly the case with his performance in Arachnophobia, Frank Marshall’s comedy horror and homage to the classic “creature features” of the mid-20th century. Goodman has a supporting role as Delbert McClintock, a hyper-masculine exterminator who rises to the occasion when enormous spiders infest small town America. Though Delbert’s not the most skilled bug killer you’ll ever encounter, he’s incredibly dedicated to the task at hand. Goodman does a lot with the little time he has in Arachnophobia, creating a man who’s so unaware of his own shortcomings — and so passionate about his dead-end job — that he’s one of the most memorable characters in the film.
4. John Chambers, Argo
Argo was a critical darling, not only because it gave Ben Affleck a chance to prove he has staying power as an actor and director, but because it was a gripping film with a near-flawless ensemble. John Goodman plays John Chambers, a Hollywood special effects artist who plays a critical role in helping Tony Mendez (Affleck) craft and execute an outrageous plan to rescue Americans in in Tehran. As Chambers, Goodman is endlessly endearing — a jolly, affable figure whose industry savvy and goodhearted willingness to help out his friend put him smack in the middle of a CIA plot. In a film full of white-knuckle tension and life-and-death stakes, Goodman’s scenes provide a vital levity that keeps Argo balanced.
5. Sully, Monsters Inc. and Monsters University
He’s a terrifying monster with a heart of gold. And he’s one of the most memorable characters that Pixar has ever concocted. In Monsters, Inc. (and the sequel, Monsters University), Sully is a seasoned pro — a closet-dwelling creature capable of scaring even the toughest of children. But he’s the farthest thing from a bad guy; rather he’s a monster who’s just as happy being around his friends as he is when he’s doing his job. He’s the straight man to the wacky one-eyed monster Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). He’s a vigilant opponent to wrong-doing of any kind. John Goodman infuses the larger-than-life Sully with an undeniable gravitas and warmth that’s essential to the success of both the Monsters films.
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