Jeff Goldblum thrives when he plays quirky, eccentric or otherwise odd characters. While some actors rely on too many outside forces to distract from their underwhelming grasp of the craft, Goldblum’s fine-tuned vocal delivery and mannerisms demand attention for all the right reasons, often creating layered characters that audiences can’t tear their eyes from.
In honor of the actor’s 60th birthday, here are 10 of his best roles.
Spoiler alert: This won’t be the only time Goldblum appears on this list as something other than human or with his one-time love Geena Davis, but it is the only one with numerous cast members from In Living Color. The 1988 film starred Goldblum as a blue alien whose ship crash lands into the Valley girl Valerie’s (Davis) pool. Of course the two eventually fall in love, but not before a makeover montage and some musical numbers. The film is much milder than the title suggests, while also being as campy as you’d expect from an ‘80s sci-fi story set in the Valley.
Casting directors must think Goldblum’s nerdy demeanor lends well to characters rooted in the sciences. In this 1995 film directed by Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers), Goldblum plays high-school science teacher Donald Ripley who learns his student Jeremy ‘Powder’ Reed (Sean Patrick Flanery) is not only a genius, but also has supernatural abilities. Though not the star, his character plays an integral part in the film and the performance includes the Goldblum acting trifecta of rapid-fire dialogue, wide eyes and wild gesticulation.
Goldblum plays D.H., the title character’s godfather in this 2002 film directed by Burr Steers (17 Again) and starring Kieran Culkin and Susan Sarandon. While perhaps his least likable role on this list, it’s nonetheless a very layered performance for Goldblum. He doesn’t rely too much on his patented acting techniques, though his presence still captivates the audience whenever he is on screen.
In a season two episode of Portlandia, Goldblum plays Alan, the owner of Artisan Knots. In a city full of eccentrics and retired young people, Goldblum’s knot-connoisseur character doesn’t seem at all out of place. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen play a couple looking for a housewarming gift for their friend. Goldblum’s mannerisms and affected speech patterns work perfectly for the role, not to mention his detailed approach to helping his customers choose the perfect knot.
I’m afraid Goldblum blue himself. The actor has made a number of cameos on the Adult Swim sketch comedy show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, including advertisements for Waitmate and his one-man Jeff GoldBluMan Group, playing the role he was born to play, himself. In a hilarious sketch, Goldblum promises to dazzle audiences with the music, dance and pure genius of his one-of-a-kind event.
Wes Anderson always packs his films with odd characters and 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was no exception. The writer/director went out to sea with much of his usual cast including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston, while also bringing along Goldblum to play Alistair Hennessey, Zissou’s “part gay” professional nemesis. Although not in the film much, he makes the most of his scenes, and his typical Goldblum-ian delivery and unique style made him the perfect fit for Anderson’s whimsical world.
1983’s The Big Chill boasts one of the best movie soundtracks, ensemble casts and nuanced Jeff Goldblum performances. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan (The Accidental Tourist), your parents’ Breakfast Club brought together big names including Kevin Kline, Glenn Close and William Hurt, who reunite at the funeral of their friend. Goldblum’s reporter character is more subdued than ones he’s played previously and since, though he still inhabits the role with his familiar acting repertoire.
Goldblum played second fiddle in a number of ‘90s blockbusters including Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. His MIT-graduate character discovers the countdown to a possible alien attack hidden in satellite transmissions. The brain to Will Smith’s brawn, Goldblum played an unlikely hero protecting the world from an impending alien invasion, among an all-star cast including Mary McDonnell who would later go on to lead a team against an invasion of another kind, the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica.
Adding levity to the otherwise tension-heavy Jurassic Park films, his eccentric Dr. Ian Malcolm accompanies other scientists on a trip to a remote island where dinosaurs roam free. Malcolm often acts as the voice of the audience, especially in the scene where the characters are trying to elude a Tyrannosaurus Rex before it adds them to its dinner plate, and he exclaims, “I’m fairly alarmed here.” While Steven Spielberg went a little overboard with the use of his character in the sequel, it’s still one of the standouts of the films and his career.
The definitive Goldblum performance and the only option to occupy the top stop in a list of his best roles. The actor had a number of bit parts leading up to his breakout performance in David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi spectacle, but this is when people began to take notice. Goldblum starred as Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist whose decision to test his “telepod” invention on himself results in dire consequences, the worse of which is Brundle physically transforming into the film’s namesake. Cronenberg’s cringe-inducing special effects and Goldblum’s impressive acting makes this a performance to remember.