The Last Picture Show (1971)
The Role: Duane Jackson
Why It’s The Best: Having cut his acting teeth during the late '50s making appearances alongside his brother Beau on father Lloyd’s show Sea Hunt , Jeff landed his first major role in this ‘70s classic.
Starring opposite Cybill Shepherd, he played Duane, a high schooler who’s coming of age in an isolated Texas town that is dying a painful death. Bridges landed his first ever Oscar nod for the role.
Iconic Moment: “I don’t think you did it raaht!” Duane’s all puffed up after a session in a motel room with Jacy. She quickly deflates him.
Jeff Says: “It was a great experience. I was 19 or 20 years old, getting to do kissing scenes with Cybill Shepherd... Everyone was in love with her.
“I always felt that Tim Bottoms never got enough acclaim for his work in that picture. He's a wonderful actor.
"My favourite scene in that movie is the last scene between he and Cloris in her kitchen. Peter had such courage as a director to let the silence in the scenes just hang there. It was amazing.”
Fat City (1972)
The Role: Ernie
Why It’s The Best: An underappreciated gem. Jeff only landed the part when his brother Beau (who was director John Huston’s first choice for Ernie) suggested his sibling as a younger alternative.
Based on the boxing novel by Leonard Gardner, City follows the troubled lives of two boxers – one just entering the industry, the other just leaving. The New York Times celebrated it as “too full of life to be as truly dire as it sounds”.
Iconic Moment: The newbie and the oldie share a coffee together. “Maybe we’re all happy,” muses the oldie. Yeah, we don’t believe him.
Jeff Says: “On Fat City , [ John Huston ] really didn’t go out of his way - this is my own impression of him and, as a matter of fact, I never talked to him about it - he knew that I was in awe of him. He was a master and here I was working with the stars, relatively new at the game.
“He really didn’t go out of his way to make me feel especially comfortable. I think he liked that little edge he was getting, kind of keeping me on my toes.
“Working with him as an actor, he went out of his way to let everyone know he was just one of the boys, one of the players, and he was very respectful of the director - really terrific to work with. I really admire him.”
Bad Company (1972)
The Role: Jake Rumsey
Why It’s The Best: Bridges dons a cool hat and heads west with a group of Civil War-dodging runaways. Stellar example of an ‘acid Western’, replete with bullet-riddled clashes.
Iconic Moment: The film’s stand-out gunfight in the woods. According to Bridges, the scene had to be reshot after the film was ruined in the lab. Probably a good thing.
Jeff Says: “This was Robert Benton's first film, another first-time director that I had great success with. Gordy Willis shot it, you know, the guy who shot The Godfather.
"This one takes place in the 1860s. It's about two guys, myself and Barry Brown (a wonderful actor who's no longer with us), that are running away from the draft of The Civil War, so they decided to go West.
“An interesting sideline to that; we get a band of guys that fall in with us, John Savage is one of those guys, and who do we run into during our travels but David Huddleston. You know who he is... the Big Lebowski!”
The Iceman Cometh (1973)
The Role: Don Parritt
Why It’s The Best: Another overlooked masterpiece, set in a Greenwich Village saloon in 1912, where the alcoholic punters all while away their days in each others’ company.
Bridges play Don, the youngest barfly of that motley crew.
Iconic Moment: That devastating climax. We won’t give it away.
Jeff Says: “Actually, I turned down The Iceman Cometh originally. The director I had just worked with, Lamont Johnson, called me and read me the riot act: How could I turn down this incredible opportunity?
“I kind of rethought the whole thing, and said, ‘I understand professionals have to work when they don’t feel like it, and I certainly don’t feel like it. So maybe this will put the nail in the coffin for my acting career.’ So I did it, and I ended up having a wonderful time.”
Thunderbolt And Lightfoot (1974)
The Role: Lightfoot
Why It’s The Best: A second Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy greeted this sublime crime saga, which pitted Bridges against the towering superstardom of Clint Eastwood.
Lightfoot is a young car-stealing vagabond who stumbles into an assassination attempt on the life of a minister, who’s really a bank robber known as Thunderbolt (Eastwood). Clint himself revealed he felt upstaged by his young co-star.
Iconic Moment: Dust and bullets fill the air as Lightfoot gets caught up in a humdinger of a car chase .
Jeff Says: “[ Clint Eastwood ] was wonderful. That was [ director ] Michael Cimino’s first film. And of course Michael is famous for many, many takes. Clint, you know, he likes one or two takes.
“And Cimino, you know, was doing what the boss wanted him to do. We were doing two or three takes at the most. I was the one who would always say, ‘Oh, Mike, I got an idea!’ and he would say, ‘Well, I have to talk to the boss’.
"Clint would always say, ‘Give the kid another shot’. I always appreciated that.”
Cutters Way (1981)
The Role: Richard Bone
Why It’s The Best: Selected specifically by the studio after they approved of dailies from his 1980 film Heaven’s Gate , Bridges was hired to play Richard Bone in this adap of Newton Thornburg’s novel Cutter And Bone .
When Bone's car breaks down one night, he inadvertently witnesses a murder and becomes the prime suspect in the investigation.
Iconic Moment: Stuck in the pouring rain, Bone sees something dodgy occurring through the misty curtains.
Jeff Says: “I think [ it’s underrated ]. Ivan Passer directed it, who's wonderful. We shot it up in Santa Barbara, which is when I really fell in love with it. Ivan was, I don't want to say passive, but he said very little and created this wonderful sort of atmosphere where it could all take place.
“Jordan Cronenweth shot it beautifully and Jack Nietzsche did a beautiful score done entirely with German women playing champagne glasses. It was amazing. John Heard gave a really remarkable performance. He should have been nominated for an Academy Award.”
The Role: Kevin Flynn / Clu
Why It’s The Best: Way ahead of its time both in terms of ambitious visuals, and in its creation of a computer world – way before the internet existed.
Bridges plays Flynn, a game programmer who gets sucked into a computer and must fight for survival. Apparently Bridges had to wear a dance belt in order to keep his crotch area kid-friendly in the computer outfit.
Iconic Moment: "Who you calling programme?!" Flynn gets rough treatment and a crash course in this deadly new world.
Jeff Says: “It was a mammoth undertaking. It was shot on 70 mm, black and white, then hand-tinted in Korea. At the time it was very innovative, although I think it looks kind of dated now. Wendy Carlos did a great score for it.
“It was maddening, man. It was a long shoot, four months. I had to go to work every day and put on a dance belt, which is like a jock strap with only one strap - right up your ass! So sitting down or doing any sort of... it was terrible, man.
“All the sets were black velvet and we were wearing white clothes. After a month in there... I wish they'd explored the love triangle a little more.”
The Role: Starman
Why It’s The Best: All our suspicions are confirmed – Bridges is really from outer space. Or, he is in this mostly horror-free offering from Halloween director John Carpenter. Bridges plays Starman, an alien who takes on the form of a widow’s dead husband on Earth.
In a nice trivia link, the Starman pays for a Cadillac with cash – something Bridges’ character in Thunderbolt And Lightfoot expressed a desire to do one day. It was also on Starman that Bridges first started taking behind the scenes snaps on his movies.
Iconic Moment: “Do people eat people?” asks Starman, as he surveys the carcass of a dead deer. And then brings it back to life .
Jeff Says: “I approach most parts the same, looking at aspects of yourself that you can draw on. And then I look at friends that I know personally that remind me of this guy.
"One of those guys was a fellow named Russell Clark who was a dancer and had these interesting movements, so I thought I’d hire him to teach me some dance and kind of approach this thing like a dancer.
“I felt if I cracked that opening scene, then it would be a process of just becoming more human as the film went on. It was almost like imagining that I was somebody in a human body as if it was a ride, not myself. Like I was driving it around.
“And then it was impersonating. So Starman would see that and rather than knowing why you did it he would do it and it wouldn’t be for the purpose, it would be kind of a bad impersonation.”
Jagged Edge (1985)
The Role: Jack Forrester
Why It’s The Best: Bridges bagged this role when Kevin Costner turned it down. He's Jack Forrester, a man accused of murder when his wife is brutally killed in a remote beach house.
Hiring Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close) as his defence attorney, he becomes romantically involved with her as she fights to prove he’s innocent.
Iconic Moment: After the trial is over, all seems well with the world. Until Barnes starts to suspect that things might not be as tied up as she suspected…
Jeff Says: “I read a book by M. Scott Peck called People Of The Lie . And it was his study of evil people and what evil was all about. It was about selfishness, putting the self above everything else. So that book helped me a lot.
“As far as people I modelled him after, I really looked into myself, my own dark side for that. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a sociopath.
“There's something about that idea that's very attractive to most of us, to do just exactly what you want to do. To just satisfy your own impulses. To me the theme of that character was what that kind of evil costs, because ultimately what we all want is love. To be loved and to express love.
“Of course when you're that evil and self-concerned, you're the most unlovable that you can be. What you really want, you can't have, because you can't let somebody know who you really are.”
Tucker: The Man And His Dream (1988)
The Role: Preston Tucker
Why It’s The Best: Bridges is transported back the 1940s, playing real-life car entrepreneur Preston Tucker, whose innovations proved revelatory in car design progression.
To get into character, Bridges even wore cufflinks that were once worn by the real Tucker.
Iconic Moment: During a radio broadcast, Tucker’s latest car is raked over the coals and condemned as “the car that didn’t back up”. Sad faces all round.
Jeff Says: “I remember coming on to the set, and it wasn’t like [actor dad Lloyd] was laughing and giddy, but there was just this joy of what we were all here to do, and that we were all blessed to be doing it.
“My father was so in love with showbiz, all the different aspects – what we’re doing here, making the movies, everything about it. And he really encouraged his kids to go into showbiz, and specifically movies.”
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
The Role: Jack Baker
Why It’s The Best: One of Bridges’ favourite movies, and the one that pairs him on-screen with older brother Beau.
The duo play jazz pianist siblings who take on a female singer as their act starts to flounder in the face of overwhelming competition. But their new singer changes their lives completely – both for better and worse.
Iconic Moment: Jack tinkles the ivories as a never-hotter Michelle Pfeiffer dons a sexy red dress and husks the lyrics of ‘Making Whoopee’.
Jeff Says: “That was a dream, both to get to work with Beau, and also with Michelle [ Pfeiffer ]. Steve Kloves, the director, must have written that when he was about 24 years old. It's one of my favourite films that I've ever done.
“I try to not engage, and resist as much as I can. And then, what I can’t resist is what I end up doing. I think that’s served me pretty well.
“There were a couple of movies like that. The Fabulous Baker Boys was like that. That really jumped off the page for me. Every once in a while, the movie will transcend your own expectations. The Fabulous Baker Boys was one like that.”
The Fisher King (1991)
The Role: Jack
Why It’s The Best: More Golden Globe nominations are slung Bridges’ way, as he stars opposite Robin Williams as an arrogant radio host whose on-air chatter prompts a depressed caller to commit multiple murders.
James Cameron was originally in line to direct, but was too busy with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Terry Gilliam took the job instead.
Iconic Moment: Jack and homeless man Parry head out to the park after dark. The latter promptly gets starkers. Jack goes a bit nuts.
Jeff Says: “When we were doing Fisher King , we’d have long hours, like 14-hour days. We’d go late into the night and, it’d be like 4 o’clock and everybody’s dragging and we’ve got important scenes to do and Robin [ Williams ] would just plant his feet and do a half hour of improv.
"Some directors would look at their clock: ‘We’ve got work to do, it’s 6 o’clock in the morning, come on!’ Terry would do the opposite.
"He would egg him on and make him go longer and we had such fun and such laughter, and then when it stopped everyone was [ snaps ] energised. We’d get a second wind.”
The Role: Max Klein
Why It’s The Best: Generally applauded as one of Bridges’ finest ever performances, Fearless finds him playing the survivor of an airplane crash who becomes obsessed with existential questions.
New Yorker critic Pauline Kael lauded Bridges as “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived”.
Iconic Moment: Max stands on the roof of a very tall building, right on the very edge , and screams.
Jeff Says: “It was a really remarkable experience working with Peter [ Weir ]. He such a wonderful person and a wonderful director. He's very inclusive, really encourages the actors to give as much as they can to the project.
“He also assembled a lot of people who had survived plane crashes for us to speak to, and that was very helpful. Also, speaking about role models, another fella who was very helpful during that was Gary Busey, who's an old buddy of mine.
“He had read the script and was very moved by it, and wanted to be a part of it because he felt he'd been given a new chance at life after his motorcycle accident. He helped me out a lot.”
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Role: Jeffrey Lebowski
Why It’s The Best: The defining role of Bridges’ illustrious career, and the one that will mean people forevermore refer to the actor as The Dude.
Bridges plays Jeffrey aka The Dude, an unemployed layabout who lives to bowl. When he meets his millionaire namesake, The Dude’s hired to get back the wealthy Jeffrey’s kidnapped wife.
Iconic Moment: The entire film is one big iconic moment. But for argument’s sake, here’s a whole load of dudes .
Jeff Says: “That film is such a wonderful, wonderful movie. It’s one of my favourites. I know I’m partial, but even if I wasn’t in the film it would still be one of my favourites. It’s a great movie to watch.
“I mean, every time you see it you see more detail and something that you missed last time. And then there’s these Lebowski fests. I went to one not too long ago and I had my Beatle moment and I got a little band together and played one of these fests.
“You know, played to a sea of Dudes, they’re all dressed up like The Dude… and bowling pins… they went crazy. I think it’s a wonderful thing that happened to Lebowski. When it first came out it wasn’t that successful but it’s gained success each year.”
The Contender (2000)
The Role: President Jackson Evans
Why It’s The Best: By now, Bridges has worked his way up to wielding the power of a movie president, playing fictional US leader Jackson Evans. Naturally, he’s a bowler.
When the president is tasked with selecting a new VP after the death of the previous title holder, a young candidate’s sexual deviancy is shockingly exposed.
Iconic Moment: President Evans has us all on tenderhooks as he delivers a power ballad of a speech . We’d have Bridges as pres any day.
Jeff Says: “That was a world that Rod [ Lurie, director ] knew so well and his enthusiasm, again, that’s so important. It’s contagious.
“He came up with a brilliant script. I saw another piece of his that he directed that I was very impressed with. Rod got into the business with the idea that he would become a filmmaker, so he became a critic first, taking the same route as François Truffaut and Peter Bogdonavich.”
The Door In The Floor (2004)
The Role: Ted Cole
Why It’s The Best: Based on John Irvin’s novel A Widow For One Year , this has Bridges at his emotional best playing one half of a struggling married couple.
Iconic Moment: Ted looks rather like a squash-playing God as he dons a swaddling outfit during a match.
Jeff Says: “I hadn't read the book, but I knew of it. My wife had read it. And I read it in preparation for the role. I love John Irving's stuff. It's that marriage of comedy and tragedy that he manages to do. It's really terrific.
“Kip had such a great adaptation of it. That was a big plus for me when I'd heard that John was being supportive of it. He called Kip, or I guess that's he going officially as Tod, but I think that Tod bought the rights for $1 from John.”
The Role: Noah
Why It’s The Best: Signing on to again work with Terry Gilliam, Bridges plays rocker Noah, who flees to his mother’s home with daughter Jeliza-Rose after his wife dies from an overdose.
Jeliza-Rose then escapes her traumatic experiences by entering into her own fantasy world.
Iconic Moment: All we’ll say is: chair, sunglasses, dead. Creepy and hilarious at the same time.
Jeff Says: “Terry is a very enthusiastic director. He loves to get all your ideas. He wants you as involved as you can be. It’s wonderful when directors call on you.
"Some directors can cause people to get very tight. Terry’s certainly not that way. Tideland is the weirdest movie I’ve ever done. I think it’s the weirdest movie Terry’s ever done.”
Iron Man (2008)
The Role: Obadiah Stane
Why It’s The Best: It’s Bridges in a comic adaptation! The actor lends his gravitas to the film’s central villain, shaving off his hair and using that deep rumbling voice to ground-shaking effect.
He’s Obadiah Stane, second-in-command at Tony Stark’s business and his eventual nemesis. Bridges apparently looked up the Book Of Obadiah in preparation for the role.
Iconic Moment: Obadiah suits up himself and faces Stark in a metallic smash-up to end all metallic smash-ups.
Jeff Says: “With Iron Man we were so lucky to have Jon Favreau at the helm and, of course, Robert Downey Jr. was so splendid in the part.
“They had no script, man. They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say.
“We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, ‘You got any ideas?’ Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on.”
Crazy Heart (2009)
The Role: Otis ‘Bad’ Blake
Why It’s The Best: Finally an Oscar! Bridges bagged his first ever golden baldie playing alcoholic rocker Bad Blake, who’s seriously lost his way in life.
When he meets journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he decides it’s time to start cleaning up his act. But can old dogs learn new tricks?
Iconic Moment: Who can forget the scene in which Bad has a very intimate encounter with Jean?
Jeff Says: “You always kind of start with yourself, see what aspects of yourself can fuel the part. I’m a musician and songwriter myself, so I looked at how I related to music and the part.
“I’m a country music fan. It was just a dream come true, doing the music, working with my dear friends.
“I’ll always come onto a set looking for comrades who’ll, you know, throw kindling on the fire and get this fire going pretty quick so we can get some good stuff going.
"And there’s some people you can just tell are up for it and approach it the same way, they’re not too concerned with ego and how they’re coming off.”
True Grit (2010)
The Role: Rooster Cogburn
Why It’s The Best: Taking on a role once played by John Wayne himself is no mean feat, but Bridges made Rooster Cogburn entirely his own in his re-team with the Coen Brothers.
When 14-year-old Mattie Ross’ father is killed, the determined young thing hires Cogburn to help her track down the man responsible and bring him to justice. A sweeping, gorgeously crafted tale.
Iconic Moment: Cogburn attempts to prove what a great shot he is – even with only one eye – by using food supplies for target practice.
Jeff Says: “When the brothers told me they were making the book, not a remake of that movie, that was a big relief, because I didn’t want to have to pretend to be John Wayne!
“So when they said they were referencing the book that’s what I did, I took them up on that direction and I just looked at it like a totally fresh thing.”