Thirty-five years ago, a strange little sci-fi comedy called Earth Girls are Easy premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to not-very-good reviews. Watching it today is to fall into a time warp back to the 1980s where perms reign supreme and Jim Carrey was but a fledgling young comedian. It's flimsy but sweet and full of some fun musical numbers. However, there is one scene that feels like an undeniable exemplification of one of our enduring obsessions. The basic plot follows three colorful furry aliens who land in California and befriend Geena Davis in full valley girl mode. As is befitting a 1980s comedy, there is a makeover scene for the aliens. Once their fur is shaven away, the leader of the group emerges shirtless from a tanning bed and wouldn't you know it, it turns out he's Jeff Goldblum. And boy, does that rock Geena Davis's world.
Watching that scene, where he steps out of the light and into the world of inimitable allure that Goldblum has personified for his entire career, is basically the perfect description for Goldblum's distinct brand of sex appeal: geeky, just weird enough, and wholly self-aware. 35 years later, Goldblum still has us all in a tizzy.
Jeff Goldblum is now 65, but it seems he’s never been more popular. After decades in the business, working with auteurs and blockbuster favorites alike, he has settled into a fascinating niche as a quirky character actor and meme fuel to the masses. He plays jazz piano, he dresses in a delightfully spiffing manner for red carpets and magazine editorials, and he’s giving the most gif-friendly interviews to everyone who will listen. Not only has he remained beloved, but he’s maintained an impeccable level of geek cred well into the superhero age. It doesn’t hurt that he’s remained ridiculously attractive over the decades, aging into his silver fox-era like it was his purpose from birth.
So, what is it about Jeff Goldblum that is so distinctly attractive? Why does he remain so loved and lusted after across generations of fans and geek fandom?
Well, first there’s the obvious: he’s just straight-up handsome. That discussion could merit its own thesis. Yet plenty of men in Hollywood are just as handsome as Goldblum but have failed to hold onto that spark over the course of as many decades as our fave. Goldblum’s attractiveness goes beyond mere aesthetics and is heavily rooted in his expressiveness. It’s all in the smirk, the grin, the hands that converse as loudly as his voice. Goldblum wears his emotions on his ever so fashionable sleeve. He always seems like he’s having the time of his life in everything he does, and we’re a sucker for a guy who doesn’t cloak his emotions in faux stoic seriousness.
That array of expressive glee carries over into Goldblum’s roles, where he’s long established himself in a variety of iconic geek characters. Think of the clear-eyed obsessiveness of Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, a quality that makes him so alluring even as his body betrays him. There’s also the intellectual showboating of Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park franchise, a genius cynic who still finds time to woo the ladies while dinosaurs tear his companions apart limb from limb. In Independence Day, Will Smith may be the traditional movie hero, but it’s Goldblum as David Levinson, a genius with zero patience and all the determination who the film lavishes its focus on. So often with Goldblum, it’s the geek who saves the day.
Rarely for such characters, Goldblum is also frequently heavily sexualized. We’re all so very familiar with that moment in Jurassic Park where Dr. Malcolm lounges on his side with his shirt open, a pose so inviting and blatantly orchestrated for maximum impact. It’s the kind of position that Prince would take in a music video, not the chaos theory expert who almost got eaten by a T-rex. In The Fly, he famously strips off for a moment of gloriously monstrous female gaze. Even the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok, a veritable kaleidoscope of hedonism and style, is dressed far more feminine than one would imagine such a figure. Film has gotten better at pure, unabashed male objectification in such movies, but Goldblum’s cinematic life was years ahead of the game.
Yet none of these reasons entirely answer the question of Goldblum’s long-term appeal. If he had this exact filmography but none of the off-duty charm then it simply wouldn’t work. Goldblum’s geek sexiness has only strengthened as he has leaned into that specific image. This is the man who happily ranks other people’s tattoos of his face and does so without a hint of cynicism. He will look at all the Goldblum memes and embrace the silliness of it all. Goldblum will wear brightly patterned shirts and read your thirst tweets and play along with the “daddy” jokes. Everything that makes him so inimitably Goldblum has only gotten purer with age. It’s all ridiculously geeky and that’s what remains so appealing. Even when “geek” was a strained stereotype in cinema, Goldblum went above and beyond those limitations, both on and off the screen.
Is it pandering? Of course, but that doesn’t diminish his giddiness or our gratefulness. He’ll put on a show because he knows that’s what people want. There’s something to be said for a celebrity who puts in the time and effort to appeal to his fan-base, especially when they’re so inextricably tied to geek culture and skew heavily female. Jeff Goldblum’s geek sexiness is the result of a potent combination of unabashed weirdness, adherence to the female gaze, savvy awareness of genre fiction in the industry, and a glorious willingness to be the Jeff Goldblum people want him to be. What more could we ask for?
Aside from the obvious, of course…