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Ian Malcolm, Seth Brundle, and more: Jeff Goldblum's 5 best genre roles
Jeff Goldblum is back in one of his best roles in Jurassic World Dominion. He's been in a lot of genre movies, but these are the best five.
Jurassic World Dominion brought back the original Jurassic Park stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum back for one more brush with extinction, and while it was a thrill to see our old favorites reunited and back in action again, the movie also made good on a shortcoming of the previous film, Fallen Kingdom. While Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm does appear in Fallen Kingdom, and was heavily featured in promotional materials for the movie, his appearance testifying before Congress at the end is little more than a cameo. Malcolm is such an incredible character that it was a bit of a letdown, and Dominion thankfully gives him a chance to shine once more.
Ian Malcolm’s return is to be celebrated, but it’s only one of many genre roles that Goldblum has taken — and knocked out of the park — over his long career. Some are more memorable than others. He’s not bad in films like Threshold or Powder, but those are hardly hall-of-fame roles. On occasion, he’s reprised an iconic role to diminished effect, as nothing can ever beat his initial appearances in Independence Day or the first Jurassic Park. And, some movies are on the cusp of being genre but don’t quite have the right stuff to qualify. (The Right Stuff, incidentally, is great and he’s great in it, but it’s more of a historical drama than traditional genre fare.)
These, then, are Jeff Goldblum’s five best genre roles.
5. Thor: Ragnarok
Goldblum doesn’t tend to push himself as much as he used to. A lot of the time when you see him in a new movie, he’s not acting so much as he’s playing “Jeff Goldblum,” because his persona is so established and beloved. It’s typically fun to see, but it’s rarely an especially deep or rewarding performance. Thor: Ragnarok turns this bug into a feature, as The Grandmaster — the dictator who runs a garbage-covered planet and hosts gladiator fights for his friends' (but mostly his own) entertainment — is the perfect character for Goldblum’s usual shtick. It would make sense that The Grandmaster, a smug figure who is resting on his dubious laurels, would have Goldblum’s charmingly lazy vibe. And, you can tell that Goldblum is truly having a fun time playing around in director Taika Waititi’s world.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
In contrast to Thor: Ragnarock, where Goldblum was playing up his established film and public persona, the supremely eerie Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake from the ‘70s features a much younger, much less well-known Goldblum. He’s not the main character, as Jack the aspiring writer is only a friend of Donald Sutherland’s protagonist, but he’s quite memorable in this smaller supporting role. As one of the first people to discover an invading, body-snatching pod person, he’s a sympathetic character, but Goldblum harnesses his innate twitchiness to convey a morose sense of unease even as you feel for the guy.
3. Independence Day
Independence Day culminates with Goldblum’s somewhat neurotic technology wizard David Levinson in an alien cockpit alongside Will Smith’s cocky and boisterous Captain Steven Hiller. They’re a fantastic world-saving Odd Couple, but Goldblum does his best to ensure that David is a character rather than a caricature. It’s clear that his snarky and dry bemusement is, in part, a mask that tries to cover up just how out of his depth David is even as he rises to the occasion. As his on-screen dad, Judd Hirsch, says, “You'd all be dead now if it weren't for my David!”
2. The Fly
David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly is a stomach-churning body horror masterpiece, but it’s also an incredible showcase for Goldblum. For The Fly to work, he needs to make Seth Brundle both arrogant and sympathetic — we need to believe that he’s deserving of his hubris, but we also need to feel bad about his descent into insectoid madness and his eventual tragic end. Goldblum may as well have gotten in a teleporter mishap because he fuses both together perfectly. He is at once pitiful and likable, a monster and a victim.
1. Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park is undeniably Goldblum at his peak. It’s the moment when his “Jeff Goldblum-ness” hadn’t yet pivoted into self-parody. Even by the time you get to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, there’s a sense that he’s just playing the hits, but in Jurassic Park he is an uncanny force of nature, not unlike the dinosaurs he’s warning everybody about. As Ian Malcolm, he’s cool, alluring, and magnetic. Most of all, though, he feels chaotic, as befitting a scientist who studies chaos theory. In later years, we would know what to expect from Goldblum when he appeared on the screen. Not so here, when every choice he makes feels as unexpected — yet deliberate — as the water dropping off of Laura Dern’s hand. Hahahrawrrahaha!
Jurassic World Dominion is now in theaters.