As one of America’s most talented and distinctive character actors, John Goodman has thus far had a career filled with both unforgettable starring performances as well as plenty of scene-stealing supporting roles. While he has been in numerous classics over the years, he luckily also packs an uncanny ability to excel no matter what standard of movie he may find himself in.
Going back through much of his back catalogue, there were undoubtedly plenty of occasions where he proves to be the best thing in an otherwise extremely mediocre film. Due in no small part to his considerable frame, Goodman packs a powerful and commanding screen presence which sees him able to portray both gentle-giants and intimidating brutes with equal assurance.
While he has enjoyed a stellar movie career so far, it was of course on TV where Goodman first made his name and in recent years he has also returned to the small screen to great effect with roles in prestigious dramas and cult sitcom favorites. His warm and wholesome Missouri drawl has also lent itself to a whole host of iconic voice-over roles down the years too with Disney and Pixar regularly casting him in their pictures. It’s a rich and varied body of work to choose from, but here are 25 of the very best John Goodman performances.
25. The Flintstones
Regardless of how we may feel about the film as a whole, one can’t deny that Goodman was the perfect choice for the role of Fred Flintstone in this live action take on the beloved family cartoon. Cheerful, loud and prone to occasional ill-advised bouts of stubbornness, his take on Fred is one of the film’s few redeeming features and he brings a vibrant charm to proceedings while also offering a fitting tribute to the iconic Hanna-Barbera character.
24. The Big Easy
Jim McBride’s cult hit wasn’t a big commercial success but remains a critical favorite with its sexy neo-noir tale of police corruption fitting neatly into the easy-going nature of New Orleans. Dennis Quaid is the film’s leading man and as one of the several fellow cops in his precinct, Goodman is merely a supporting bit part player. However small his role may be though, Goodman stands out from the crowd and as the police scandal begins to expand and engulf the precinct; he has a large part to play in how events finally play out.
23. One Night At McCool’s
This comedy crime caper sees Liv Tyler’s Jewel twisting several men around her sultry little finger. One of those men is John Goodman’s lonely detective Dehling, a lovelorn cop who falls for Jewel in a big way. The film tells its tale from the viewpoints of several different men, meaning that in one version Dehling is a bothersome, uncompromising detective, whereas in his own version, which he recites to great comic effect to his priest friend, he is a noble hero saving a damsel in distress. It’s a comedy that doesn’t quite nail its Rashomon-esque conceit, but the cast have a lot of fun along the way with Goodman pulling off both chivalrous cop and love-blind sap to great effect.
Fallen is a serviceable supernatural thriller in which Goodman shows yet again that when it comes to portraying the best buddy of the central character in a cop movie, there’s really nobody better.
Here he plays Jonesy, partner to Denzel Washington’s detective John Hobbes. When Hobbes gets immersed in a dangerous supernatural case that sees his name tarnished, Jonesy does what he can to help him through. As the film races to a dramatic resolution involving a demon, Denzel and a remote country cabin, Goodman’s character has a large role to play and once again his everyman persona is utilised to great effect.
21. The Artist
As studio boss Al Zimmer in this smash hit silent romantic comedy, Goodman was able to repeatedly showcase his incredible physicality. The Artist was always an ambitious project and the whole cast really threw themselves into the challenge, with Goodman being no exception. He has said since in interviews that part of what attracted him to the movie was the film’s unconventional nature and his enthusiasm for the project really shines through. Goodman, with his broad smile and incredibly reactive features, stands out amongst the cast and delivers a brief but memorable turn that was brimming with silent gusto.
20. The Emperor’s New Groove
I absolutely love The Emperor’s New Groove and while Patrick Warburton’s Kronk is unquestionably the star of the show, Goodman’s Pacha is the good-natured heart of the story that sets the vain Emperor on the right path. Like in most of his voiceover work, Goodman’s character is in the gentle giant mould with Pacha being every bit the loveable hulk you might expect. The bulk of the film turns into a buddy caper between him and the Emperor, and both he and David Spade absolutely nail the comedy beats as their adventure unfolds. It’s an underrated Disney gem and a sterling Goodman performance.
19. The Babe
This biopic of American baseball legend Babe Ruth is certainly not without its flaws, it doesn’t so much dabble with sentimentality as it does plunge headfirst into it and by all accounts it takes plenty of liberties with historical accuracy. As the larger than life, fun-loving Bambino though, Goodman undoubtedly excels. Whatever may be wrong with the direction or screenplay, one cannot fault Goodman’s performance as he throws himself into the role, charting Babe’s shift from fun-loving and childlike man of the people, to a much sadder figure spat out by the sport he had given so much to. He makes Ruth an extremely flawed hero, an often selfish man who mistreats his wife for many years, but also captures exactly what it was about him as a man that made him so popular.
One of Goodman’s finest recent TV appearances came in the rather excellent Community in which he played Greendale Community College’s Vice Dean, and head of their Air Conditioning Annex, Robert Laybourne. It’s his ongoing pursuit of Troy Barnes that makes for one of the best storylines of the show’s third season. Goodman fits in to the Community dynamic perfectly and he clearly thoroughly enjoyed his return to TV situation comedy. He bounces of Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton particularly well, with the two of them standing in direct opposition when it comes to both leadership style and general workplace acumen.
17. Red State
Kevin Smith’s thriller/horror was a chaotic and bloody melting pot of a movie. Goodman plays ATF Special Agent Keenan who is tasked with investigating strange dealings at the church led by bigoted extremist, Abin Cooper. Keenan’s job gradually gets more and more difficult until he is given orders from superiors that are so extreme it causes him to think twice about following them. This is a full on straight part for Goodman in which he is essentially forced into the role of action hero once matters at the church escalate.
16. The Gambler
The Gambler itself is a bit of a mediocre by-the numbers crime drama but as is customary, Goodman still shines in a role that is far grittier than he would normally play. He plays the enigmatic Frank, an imposing loan shark who Mark Wahlberg’s Jim decides to borrow a large sum of money from. This is an all the more intimidating and threatening side to Goodman than we are used to and he pulls off the dangerous gangster role brilliantly. When he fixes Jim with a cold hard stare and threatens to kill everyone Jim knows if he doesn’t get his money back, you know he’s not joking around.
15. Inside Llewyn Davis
Another all-to-brief cameo from Goodman here and it’s one of his many collaborations with the Coen brothers. In their melancholic comedy about Oscar Isaac’s struggling folk musician, the troubadour finds himself travelling to Chicago alongside Garrett Hedlund’s beat poet Johnny Five and Goodman’s bumptious jazz artist, Roland Turner. Goodman’s character cares little for folk music and takes great pleasure in letting Llewyn know exactly that. Picking apart everything from Llewyn’s musical choice, his choice of pet and his name in general, Goodman goes full malcontent here to great effect.
One of Steven Spielberg’s lesser known directorial efforts, this romantic comedy drama is a remake of 1943 melodrama A Guy Named Joe.
The plot revolves around Richard Dreyfuss’ Pete and his girlfriend, Dorinda (Holly Hunter). When Pete tragically dies early on in the film, he returns as a ghost seeking to help his girl find future happiness. Goodman is on hand as Al, Pete’s loveable best friend. Most of the film’s best comedic moments come from the scenes between Al and Peter both while the latter is alive as well as dead. While he effortlessly nails the comedy side of things as expected, Goodman also shows a great deal of heart as he pines for his lost buddy and also looks out for the woman he left behind. While the film does suffer slightly from over sentimentality, Goodman is once more in fine scene-stealing form.
13. Raising Arizona
This was one of Goodman’s earliest big screen appearances and the first of many he would make for the Coen brothers. A bona fide cult classic, this dark comedy stars Nic Cage as reformed hold-up man Herbert I. McDunnough. Once Herbert comes out of prison and settles down with his new lady love to raise a family, everything appears to be changing for the better. A spanner is thrown in the works however when Gale and Evelle Snoats, two of his former prison mates, show up. Goodman’s Gale does his best to tempt Herbert back to the life of crime and along with his brother soon demonstrates that he is far from being a criminal mastermind himself. Goodman’s inept robber is a memorable stand out character in a movie filled with memorable stand out characters.
He also provides some of cinema’s all-time great screaming scenes, an accolade I do not bestow lightly.
12. Sea Of Love
A lesser known role of Goodman’s here in Harold Becker’s Sea of Love, a steamy thriller that marked Al Pacino’s return to film work after a four year hiatus. While the focus of the story is undoubtedly the relationship between Pacino’s Frank and Ellen Barkin’s Helen, one of the film’s strongest links is the buddy cop dynamic between Frank and Goodman’s Sherman Touhey. Goodman shines as an affable detective who as well as providing comic relief of sorts, also helps Pacino catch a killer via an elaborate lonely-hearts dating scam. The pair of them share great chemistry and have great fun posing as blind-daters in order to try and break the case.
While Robert Zemeckis’ 2012 drama didn’t quite fully hit home with me, the moments in it which I did really enjoy revolved around Goodman’s Harling Mays, drug dealing friend to Denzel Washington’s Captain Whip Whitaker.
This is another brilliant minor role for Goodman and as is often the case, he provides some much needed comic relief during fairly heavy going proceedings. In Harling’s head, he is the coolest cat on the streets, and how others see him matters not one bit. His crowning glory comes towards the film’s climax when his unique set of skills and expertise are called upon in a hotel room and he revels in the moment completely. He may not be working the most honest of jobs, but he’s damn good at what he does.
Ben Affleck’s Oscar winner was a powerful thriller that had moments of incredible nail-biting tension. Part of what made the movie so inherently watchable though was the sense of fun and warmth that still shone through thanks in large part to the ongoing actions of Goodman’s Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers and Alan Arkin’s producer, Lester Siegel. While the drama in Iran was cranked up to 11, these two offered much needed comic relief with their satirical take on the Hollywood movie making process standing in stark contrast to events overseas.
One of Goodman’s funniest turns comes in Frank Marshall’s comedy horror Arachnophobia. When a small American town gets infested with an army of poisonous spiders, everyone understandably starts to get a little nervous. The exception to this rule though is Goodman’s Delbert McClintock, an unflappable bug exterminator who takes it all in his stride. One of the movies’ funniest moments saw a dramatic garden showdown between one of the spiders and an expertly prepared Delbert. With the latter armed with his special spray and a trusty boot, there was only ever going to be one winner.
8. O Brother Where Art Thou?
Another fine scene-stealing performance in a Coen brothers movie here by Goodman, as he plays one-eyed bible salesman ‘Big Dan’ Teague. Big Dan has the gift of the gab and wins over the hapless heroes with his light-hearted spiel when their paths cross at a fancy restaurant. It’s only once the group head out in the country to enjoy a nice picnic that his true colors emerge however and he uses his brute force to overwhelm and mug the pair as well as killing their beloved toad. It’s an enigmatic and unforgettable turn and one which plays to Goodman’s major strengths of inherent likeability and sheer imposing size.
Goodman first rose to prominence as Roseanne Barr’s husband, Dan Conner, on the hit American TV sitcom, Roseanne. As the easy-going, working class everyman, Goodman helped create a character that was not without flaws, but who was always loving and loyal to his family. Being on the show for as long as he was, Goodman had time to refine his part and by the time his spell on the show came to an end, he knew the character inside out. He and Roseanne shared a great chemistry and while she was the clear star, it was Goodman’s Dan who became the family’s emotional center. In recognition for his great work on the show, he even won the 1993 Golden Globe for best actor.
6. The West Wing
As a West Wing obsessive, it was inevitable that Goodman’s turn as President Glen Allen Walken would make its way on to this list. Goodman showed here once again that he can turn his hand to serious drama when required as he plays a key role in the gripping finale to season four of the show. Coming in to replace President Bartlet when the latter’s daughter gets kidnapped, the then Speaker of The House, a steadfast Republican, assumes the Presidency due to there being no Vice President to fill the spot.
Throughout his brief term, Walken is shown to be a strong willed but practical leader, not backing down from stamping his authority on the situation at hand. Ultimately though, he is a good and honest man who just wants to do his duty as best he can. His entrance at the climax of season four’s final episode is a particularly great moment, with Walken stalking through the White House as Bartlet’s loyal staffers look on concerned. It’s a strange feeling when, after being sworn in inside the Oval Office, he turns to Bartlet and utters the words none of us thought we’d ever hear, “You’re relieved, Mr. President.”
See also: The West Wing’s finest season 1-2 episodes, and finest season 3-7 episodes
5. King Ralph
It’s no major revelation to suggest that King Ralph is far from a perfect comedy. The fish-out-of-water concept is a simple one, American schlub becomes King of England, and while it sounds like a winning idea, the execution is slightly lacking. That being said however, John Goodman is far and away the best thing about it. His warm and loveable turn as rock and roll musician Ralph is infectious and it’s no surprise to find that he is the source of all the best comedic moments. This was Goodman’s first top-billed starring role and he also provided all his own vocals for the scenes where Ralph performs a raucous rock and roll number for his bemused high society guests. Goodman more than proved he could carry a movie in his own right with this charismatic and larger than life performance.
4. Monsters Inc.
Goodman has lent his distinctive voice to many an animated movie over the years, but the one he will always be synonymous with is Pixar’s Monsters Inc. As James P. ‘Sulley’ Sullivan, Goodman fits perfectly in to the role of the kind-hearted, calming side of the partnership alongside Billy Crystal’s hyperactive Mike Wazowski. He imbues Sully with a caring and affectionate demeanour, despite being rightfully considered the company’s scariest Monster. There’s something about Goodman’s deep yet relaxing vocals that lends itself perfectly to this gentle giant.
An underrated movie here from director Joe Dante in which Goodman plays enterprising film maker Lawrence Woolsey (based loosely on real-life director, William Castle) who is bringing his latest sci-fi schlocker to Key West, Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film itself is an enjoyable family comedy which revels in its period setting. Goodman’s character is an effervescent ball of energy driving events along, an unwaveringly upbeat trailblazer who seeks to inject some fun and frivolity into a tense and nervous time. It’s Goodman at his loveable best.
2. Barton Fink
Barton Fink is a funny, dark and twisted tale that is dominated by two terrific central performances by John Turturro and John Goodman. Turturro plays the titular character, a writer pitching up in Hollywood in the early 1940s, with Goodman appearing as his overbearing neighbour Charlie Meadows. The Coen’s wrote the role of Charlie with Goodman in mind, very aware that his warm and friendly image could be played upon to make Charlie’s eventual true nature all the more impactful. There’s always a tension surrounding Charlie’s presence on screen, even when he’s seemingly being friendly towards Barton. The closing scenes, where Charlie makes a grand entrance and delivers a particularly striking speech, allows Goodman to subvert his traditional persona and make Charlie one of the Coen’s most memorable characters.
1. The Big Lebowski
Goodman’s fruitful relationship with the Coen brothers was at its peak when he played the fiery Vietnam War Vet, Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. As Walter we see Goodman showcasing both the physically intimidating side of his range as well as the lighter and more caring side. One minute he’s smashing up a car with a crow bar to teach a kid a valuable lesson, but then later he’s offering a touching eulogy to a fallen friend.
Goodman accentuates Walter’s faults, his aggression and his distaste for pacifism to name but two, but he also gives the character a warmth and loyalty to his friends that you can’t help but love. Throughout the movie, he is the stormy yin to The Dude’s relaxed yang and while Jeff Bridges may be the star, so many of my favorite moments in this movie revolve around Walter and his unique approach to life. Oh, and if you ever need a toe, he can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude.