The 10 Best John Goodman Movie Performances

5. Matinee (1993)


Director Joe Dante, who at this point was best known for his cult Christmas classic “Gremlins” and its chaotic sequel, has always focused on developing offbeat family oddities.

This extends to “Matinee,” an underrated and unique lover letter to B-Movie horror films, which tells the tale of the small time filmmaker Lawrence Woolsey, as he releases a low-budget horror film-within-a-film, “Mant,” capitalising on the Cuban missile crisis. Full of nostalgia and compassion for the medium of film, “Matinee” revels in its 1960’s backdrop, as it tells the compelling tale of one man’s dream.

Courageously determined, Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), who is loosely based on the real life director William Castle, boldly looks to take advantage of a tense and nervous time in history, utilising the scenario to bring entertainment and joy to the locals of Key West, Florida, through means of low-budget cinema.

Absorbingly depicting the 1960’s era, Dante’s philosophical “Matinee” shows the impact of Cold War apocalyptic scenarios had on society, and how some impudent filmmakers took advantage of the distressful time by turning people’s fear of attack into trashy horror and science fiction entertainment for the masses.

An enjoyable family feature, “Matinee” is faultlessly controlled by an energetic John Goodman who, much like his onscreen personality, never wavers or falls short of purpose or determination in delivering awe-inspiring entertainment. This is no doubt one of the seminal actor’s most loveable creations to date.

Goodman is full of gusto and flair as Lawrence Woolsey, which is breath-taking to witness. Rarely has he ever looked as compelling as this, and it’s hard not to smile throughout this essential performance by the actor.


4. Monsters Inc. (2001)

Monsters Inc. (2001)

While John Goodman has consistently proven to be a success in several live action family films, such as “The Flintstones”, “The Borrowers” and “King Ralph”, he has also become an acclaimed voice actor in a host of child-friendly animated films. Most notably, his voice work is easily identifiable in Disney classics like “The Princess and The Frog,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” and two of Pixar’s cornerstone franchises, “Cars” and, most importantly, “Monsters Inc.”

Pixar has never failed to smartly create exceptional and intricate worlds and tales, but “Monsters Inc.” stands as one of their greatest achievements in regards to engineering unique entities and heartfelt stories that can be enjoyed not only by children, but adults as well.

At the heart of the film are its two lead characters, Mike Wazowski and James P. ‘Sulley’ Sullivan, voiced expertly by Billy Crystal and John Goodman respectively. The distinctive pair of very different monsters work for the titular company, Monsters Inc., an establishment with access to the human world via children’s closets. The company initially harvests the fear and screams of infants in order to engineer a renewable energy source.

A Pixar double-act that is only rivalled by that of Buzz and Woody in “Toy Story,” Mike and Sulley’s sentimental companionship is truly enchanting, a friendship that was later enriched through further back story developments in the film’s equally impressive prequel, “Monsters University.”

Whilst Billy Crystal’s one-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski is arguably the most comically satisfying, it is the depth and complexity of Goodman’s loveable Sulley that is the strongest character. A bear-like monster of staggering height and mass that is fundamentally in charge of terrifying children as a professional career, yet at its heart, is a kind and compassionate creature whose true colours show when he bonds with a human toddler known as Boo.

John Goodman never fails to bring the necessary laughs to his role as the blue monster, but it is his emotional connection with the tiny human Boo and subsequent reformation that serves as the essential core of the film.

His bond with Mike and Boo, as well as his character’s growth, is endearing to watch throughout and provides substantial emotional punch in the third act, something Pixar wouldn’t achieve quite so often without its skilfully written screenplays and its dexterous choices in voice actors.


3. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

The announcement of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the indirect sequel to found-footage monster movie based in in New York City, “Cloverfield,” was no doubt a surprise to everyone.

Following its predecessor, “10 Cloverfield Lane” kept information to a bare minimum and a lack of clarity to what the piece would actually be about, outlining that it was indeed set in the same universe as “Cloverfield” but was an entirely different kind of beast. That beast is none other than John Goodman, who plays Howard, an ex-Navy operative who worked with satellites, now residing in his remote farm house with a concerning penchant for conspiracy theories and end-of-world scenarios.

When such a scenario does rear its apocalyptic head, much to his unsurprised smugness, Howard decides to hide in a nuclear fallout bunker which he cautiously prepared earlier, allegedly saving the lives of two other survivors too.

The two other leads make great sparring partners for Goodman, in the form of Mary Elizabeth WInstead’s car crash victim, Michelle, and the local underachiever who assisted in the bunker’s construction, Emmet, played by John Gallagher Jr. What follows is an intense psychological rollercoaster that constantly twists and turns, keeping audiences guessing throughout.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is impressively achieved by first time director Dan Trachtenberg who flawlessly delivers a very simple premise in a very effective manner. A phenomenal John Goodman is highly unpredictable and terrifying as the survivor and end-of-the-world enthusiast Howard, as he never stops feeling like a loose cannon, while his motives and attitude to the dilemma are very difficult to pinpoint.

It is clear he is a man on the edge, and while Howard at times appears rational and calm, he obviously has an inner-anger constantly and uncontrollably bubbling just below the surface. He is never more than a fraction away from his next eruption.

An absolute marvel to behold, Goodman is enthralling, having a lot of fun being able to let loose with such an unhinged creation. He relishes in playing the apparently composed and caring individual, yet is evidently hiding a number of deep dark secrets that he refuses to explain, merely covering over them with an inner burning anger that s out as he struggles to contain it. His faultless rendering of Howard will keep audiences guessing from the very start until the end credits role.


2. Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink

In a list that could be predominantly filled with the talented actor’s performances in The Coen Brothers’ films alone, John Goodman has unquestionably produced his finest work under the acclaimed siblings, now having starred in five of their films, as well as narrating 1994’s bizarre comedy “The Hudsucker Proxy.”

One of his greatest achievements working with the pair was the depiction of Charlie Meadows, Barton Fink’s neighbour as he takes up residence in the eerie and rundown Hotel Earle. Fink encounters not only severe writer’s block but a handful of peculiar and curious individuals, and none more so than Goodman’s haunting Charlie Meadows.

No doubt depicting the Coens’ own experiences of writer’s block, the film focuses on the struggles of writing as well as the culture of the filmmaking industry, and despite the irony of the film being unsuccessful commercially, it has since found home as a cult classic piece of cinema and adored by fans of the Coen’s in the succeeding years. Initially noticed by international film critics, “Barton Fink” picked up a number of high-calibre awards during festival season.

As was the case with most roles for “Barton Fink,” the part of Charlie Meadows was specifically written with John Goodman in mind, and rightly so, as the end result is captivating. The character, also known as ‘Madman Mundt’ is an escaped serial killer with a peculiar proclivity for keeping his unfortunate victims decapitated heads.

The tormented soul of Charlie Meadows is fascinating to witness, astoundingly captured by the actor as what stands as one of Goodman’s greatest achievements in dark complexity. The chilling lack of remorse yet sympathetic attitude was a long way from his usual family friendly comic roles that he was principally renowned for in the 1990s. John Goodman himself once described this psychopathic hotel-dwelling character as “a homicidal maniac, but kind of a nice guy.”


1. The Big Lebowski (1998)

the big lebowski walter

The Coen’s immediately-quotable and universally loved comedy “The Big Lebowski” marked the fourth collaboration between the brothers and John Goodman, having previously acted in “Raising Arizona,” “Barton Fink,” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”. Therefore, along with Frances McDormand, John Goodman stands as the most frequent collaborator with the siblings to date.

The film that made being a jobless slacker with a keen interest in bowling and White Russians look like a decent career path, “The Big Lebowski” is effortlessly cool, with an intriguing script and packed with smart, witty dialogue, as well as being full of a rich and diverse supporting cast, including star turns from Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the unforgettable John Goodman as Walter Sobchak, a Vietnam War veteran, who has no end of quotable lines throughout the film. His character was partially based on screenwriter, John Milius, and is now cemented in internet history as a frequent meme.

An irreplaceable entity within the classic comedy, he is a conflicted character that at times shows signs of psychological trauma due to his experiences in the war, not afraid to exercise his right to bear arms, pulling out his gun as an argument settling device on the bowling alley lanes and displaying anger towards everyone who comes across his path.

With a number of standout scenes, most notably one in which he destroys a car with a metal bar, screaming profanities with absolute madness throughout the act, Goodman has stated that this is his favourite film that he stars in. Without question, one of the Coen’s finest character creations, masterfully portrayed by John Goodman in one of his greatest comic parts for the brothers, you could not imagine anyone else playing Walter Sobchak, a truly remarkable role that will no doubt go down in cinema history.

Honorable mentions to consider are: his compelling performance as Agent Joseph Keenan in cult director Kevin Smith’s underrated “Red State,” and his early turn as Gale Snoats in “Raising Arizona,” Goodman’s first role in a Coen Brothers’ film, as a persuasive convict trying to convince Nicolas Cage’s reforming H.I McDunnough to reenter the prosperous world of crime.

Author Bio: Dan Carmody, born and raised in Doncaster, England. When not working full time as a Civil Engineer, his one true passion is cinema, relating back to the early 1990’s when his mum showed him a lot of horror films way before he should have been allowed, an avid follower of all film genres, both classical and modern.  Also enthusiastic about video games, travelling, making lists and cheese.