Why 'The Big Lebowski' Is the Best Movie Ever
Some movies are fun to watch once. Others you’ll watch a few times. The rare movie lives beyond the screen.
Not only do we watch it over and over. But we quote it. We let its language seep into our culture. And the whole experience takes on a life of its own.
"The Big Lebowski" has become such a movie. This is why we love the Dude as much today as when we first met them in 1998.
It’s the Coen Brothers
From "Raising Arizona" to "Fargo" and "O Brother Where Art Thou," when Joel and Ethan Coen put their minds to a comedy, they create film genius that goes far beyond a couple of hours of entertainment.
While "The Big Lebowski" bombed at the box office, it has lived on as a cult classic. It was even selected to be enshrined in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
That’s right. It’s now a sacred piece of Americana.
The Cast Loved the Movie
All of the major stars who worked on "The Big Lebowski" loved the movie.
John Goodman told Rolling Stone in 2008 that it was the "favorite thing [he’s] ever worked on." Steve Buscemi has indicated that he watches it whenever it comes on the TV. Tara Reid particularly loves the scene where the Dude gets his head stuffed into a toilet.
The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman told Rolling Stone, "The Dude abides, and I think that’s something people really yearn for, to be able to live their life like that. You can see why young people would enjoy that."
Have You Ever Heard of a Little Show Called 'Branded,' Dude?
The Awesome Voice of Sam Elliott
The first voice you hear in "The Big Lebowski" is the deep, gravely sound of Sam Elliott’s narration. He immediately makes it feel like a western, but then it segues into Los Angeles.
So right off the bat, you have a cowboy narrator that seems mildly confused about the story he’s beginning to tell. At the end of the movie, we see Elliott's character, called "The Stranger," sitting at the bar closing out the tale.
In an interview with "The Playlist," he said he did eight or nine takes. When Elliott asked what the Coen brothers wanted, they admitted he’d nailed it early on. They just enjoyed hearing him do it so they kept doing more takes. It may be a fact that no one can say "sasparilla" like Sam Elliott.
Go ahead. Prove us wrong.
The Big Lebowski Changed Elliott’s Career
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Elliott described how "The Big Lebowski" changed his career trajectory.
Elliott was long known for being a cowboy character actor, and said he was sick of being stuck in "that box."
After Coen’s film, he nabbed a role in "The Contender," where he played chief of staff to Jeff Bridges' role as president.
Everyone Could Use Some Sam Elliott In Their Lives
It’s a Nod to Raymond Chandler Stories
The Coens liked Raymond Chandler’s detective tales. They liked the way the investigator would be drawn deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld, uncovering odd layers as he went.
But instead of a P.I. or detective, they thought it would be fun to have a listless, pot-smoking guy do the dirty work.
They were not wrong.
The Influence of Chandler
"We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story — how it moves episodically and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that's ultimately unimportant," Joel told Indie Wire.
Chandler was one of the most influential detective writers of all time. There are several Chandler influences throughout "Lebowski," including a wealthy old man who hires a detective to track down his wild daughter.
Raymond Chandler Was a Master
We Met Tara Reid
When Tara Reid looked around the waiting room to audition for "The Big Lebowski," she saw Liv Tyler and Charlize Theron. Reid figured she had no shot at becoming Bunny Lebowski. She auditioned anyway and landed the part.
She’s since said, "This is definitely the breakout role that opened up all the areas for me." She went on to "American Pie" in 1999.
Thank you, Coen Brothers.
I’ll Star in Your Movie for $1,000
While Bunny has to live off Mr. Lebowski’s money, "The Big Lebowski" made Tara Reid rather rich in real life.
She now makes lower-budget movies, like the "Sharknado" franchise, where she was paid $125,000 for the fifth film and $175,000 for the sixth installment.
In 2018, she attempted to sue Asylum Entertainment and SYFY for $100 million for wrongfully using her likeness in "Sharknado" slot machines, but she dropped the case in 2019.
Walter and Donny Were Written for John Goodman and Steve Buscemi
The Coen brothers have openly admitted that the characters of Walter Sobchak and Donny Kerabatsos were written specifically for John Goodman and Steve Buscemi.
Walter is an angry, right-wing, gun-toting Vietnam War veteran who is still stuck in Vietnam in his head.
Donny, on the other hand, is a mild-mannered guy who always seems to be two steps behind in the conversation.
The play between the two makes for epic comedy.
'Donny Was a Good Bowler and a Good Man. He Was One of Us.'
Buscemi originally didn’t want to do the role because he saw his character as being pathetic.
“I didn’t get it, I felt bad for the guy,” Buscemi said during a Today interview. “I felt sad, I thought. ‘Why does Walter bully him all the time?' And as I'm reading it, I thought, 'How am I going to tell Joel and Ethan I don't want to do this?'”
But when he got to Donny’s last scene, he realized how much Walter actually cared about Donny.
People Are Very Serious About ‘The Big Lebowski’
Donny Is Just a Ghost?
There is a persistent fan theory out there that Donny isn’t really even there with Walter and the Dude.
He’s actually an old war buddy of Walter’s who died in Nam and is now a figment of Walter’s imagination.
The theory suggests that The Dude plays along to appease Walter.
What do you think?
'They Were All Imagined'
The Huffington Post asked the Cohens about that theory in 2016.
"Really? No, I haven’t heard that," Ethan said. "But doesn’t The Dude get covered by Donny’s ashes at the end of the movie?"
"Ethan just pointed out something that’s very important, which is that all the characters are imaginary. They were all imagined. They don’t exist in reality. They were just made up for the movie," said Joel.
But the Theory Endures for Some
The Dude Was a Rubik?
The Coen brothers originally intended for The Dude to be the heir to the Rubik’s Cube fortune, but eventually scrapped the idea.
Joel decided it was better to drop this idea and just let The Dude’s heritage and source of income remain a mystery.
Jeff Bridges Rubbed His Eyes A Lot
Before every scene, Bridges would ask the Coens if the Dude had smoked a joint before the scene took place. If so — which was usually the case — Bridges would rub his eyes to turn them red.
"That was kind of the extent of what you had to do to direct Jeff," said Ethan.
While Bridges does smoke weed, he said he never did while filming "The Big Lebowski."
But Not Everyone Believes That
Word Repetition Rocks
If you want to get your point across, you need to repeat yourself, right? If that’s the case, "The Big Lebowski" really hammers its points home.
During the one-hour-and 57-minute film, they say the word "dude" 161 times. The Dude also says “man” over 140 times.
To top it all off, there are over 260 utterances of the f-bomb. That’s a lot of f-in' dudes, man.
But It Doesn’t Have the Most F-Bombs
There’s a lot of swearing in "The Big Lebowski," and it ranks no. 29 on this Wikipedia list about movies with the most F-bombs.
"Swearnet: The Movie," made by the "Trailer Park Boys" guys, has the most with 935.
Every Sentence Is Perfect
A Soon-to-Be Familiar T-Shirt
Much of the Dude’s wardrobe came from Jeff Bridges' own closet.
At one point he wears a T-shirt with a baseball player on the front and some Chinese lettering on it. In fact, Bridges wore that same T-shirt in 1989’s "Cold Feet" and 1991’s "The Fisher King."
When you find a T-shirt you like, you stick with it, right?
Dressing to Impress as the Dude
While dressing lazily like the Dude is just a quick, cheap trip to Goodwill, you can dress like the Dude and flash your cash, too (don’t worry, the Dude always abides).
A spread by GQ shows Jeff Bridges decked out in $279 pajama pants, a $7 T-shirt, $95 loafers and a $239, very Dude-inspired cardigan for $239.
Bridges Still Dresses Like the Dude, Sometimes
Donny’s Identity Crisis
Poor Donny just can’t catch a break throughout the film. If you look closely, you’ll notice that he can’t even get a bowling shirt with his name on it.
When you see him at the bowling alley, he’s always sporting a bowling shirt, but they all have other names on them. Austin, Ray, T.J., and Jug all show up, but no Donny.
Ironically, the Dude wears a bowling shirt to the spreading of Donny’s ashes that has the name Art on it.
Bad Luck for Donny
Donny’s fate is foreshadowed at the end of the movie before the trio leaves the bowling alley.
Throughout the movie, he has thrown strike after strike, but near the end of the film, he leaves one pin standing.
He looks completely mystified.
Some Theaters Hold Mini Memorials for Donny
Mmmm ... In-N-Out Burger
After an exhaustive conversation about just where the In-N-Out Burger is located, the guys go to confront a kid they think stole their car.
Then, after a disastrous encounter, they drive home contentedly munching on In-N-Out. It really does make everything better, doesn’t it?
On a side note, John Goodman once did an ad for In-N-Out Burger.
Those Are Good Burgers, Walter
When the group is talking about In-N-Out Burger, it’s one of a few product placements found in the film.
Other advertisements are Mr. Bubble, seen when El Duderino is taking a bath, Miller Lite at the bowling alley and a Folgers coffee can that is used to store Donny’s ashes.
Goodnight, sweet prince.
Why the Movie Included Bowling
A decent chunk of "The Big Lebowski" is set in a bowling alley. But why bowling?
In an interview, Ethan Coen said bowling was "an appropriate context" because there aren’t many women, because bowling teams are typically divided into male and female teams. This makes sense, given the movie’s cowboy and private eye movie themes.
"In 'The Big Lebowski,' you spend time exclusively in the company of men," explained Cohen. "The worlds of the private eye and the Western, which we refer to at the end of the movie, are also very masculine."
Can the Dude Bowl?
We see Donny roll a few and we watch Jesus roll a strike and then bust out some sweet dance moves. But the Dude? Nope. We never actually see him bowl. But obviously he's not a golfer.
A Behind-the-Scenes Selfie
The Inspiration for Walter
Everyone’s favorite semi-psychotic Vietnam vet, Walter Sobchak, was based off of a real person. His name is Peter Exline, whom the Coens called "the philosopher king of Hollywood." Exline, also a Vietnam vet, told Rolling Stone, "At one point, I couldn’t go 10 minutes without mentioning Vietnam."
Walter was also based on John Milius, the conservative writer who penned the screenplays for "Dirty Harry," "Apocalypse Now" and "Red Dawn."
Exline was the inspiration for at least two other iconic jokes and scenes.
You’re Killing Your Father, Larry
In "The Big Lebowski," the Dude’s Le Baron is taken for a joyride. After the car is recovered — and after he crashes it into a garbage bin— the Dude notices something the thieves left behind: homework from a teenager named Larry Sellers.
Walter and The Dude track Larry down to his house and interrogate him about the homework, insisting that they know he stole the car, the bag full of money, and the Creedence Clearwater Revival tape.
It’s a wonderfully bizarre event, and it’s based on a true story. This apparently happened to Exline. His car was stolen, ended up in an impound lot and one of the thieves left behind his homework. Exiline and another Vietnam vet tracked the kid down and interrogated him, insisting they knew he stole the car.
Wise Words for Troubled Times
It Really Ties the Room Together
The whole joke about the rug tying the room together comes from Exline’s shenanigans, too.
During the 1980s, Exline hosted a party which the Coens attended. On the floor was a fake Persian rug.
"As I’m barbecuing, every 15 minutes or so I’d look down and say, 'Doesn’t this rug tie the room together?'" Exline told Rolling Stone. "I keep milking this joke, and everyone’s really laughing."
It’s safe to say that Exline really tied the movie together.
The Dude Hates the Eagles, and Frey Hates the Dude
In one scene, after the Dude has had a particularly bad evening of being drugged and then assaulted with a coffee mug, he ends up in a cab. The radio is blasting "Peaceful Easy Feeling" by The Eagles.
He asks the cabbie to change the station. "I had a rough night and I hate the f-ing Eagles!" Irate, the cabbie stops his car and throws the Dude out for this Eagles slight.
Bridges later said in interviews that anytime he ran into Glenn Frey at parties Frey would get in his face about it "bust my chops and make me squirm a little bit," said Bridges.
The Eagles — or at least Frey— had a "punch-em-on-sight list of critics who hated us," he once said.
You’d think that he could channel the Dude and say, "Hey, take it easy."
The Real-Life Dude
Believe it or not, the Coen brothers created the character of the Dude based on a real guy. Movie producer, Jeff Dowd, is a character in his own right and a political activist.
He was a part of "The Seattle Seven" and charged with conspiracy to start a riot. In the movie, the Dude tells Maude Lebowski, "Have you heard of the Seattle Seven? That was me. I mean, me and six other dudes."
"On a fundamental level, Jeff Bridges got my body language down entirely ... the semi-mumbling talking, going off on tangents and stuff like that. I’m an easy mimic," Dowd told Rolling Stone. "[Robert] Redford used to do one of me at Sundance when it first started."
The Reason Why the Real Dude Wasn’t In the Movie
If there’s a real-life dude, whom the Coens know, why didn’t they put him in the movie, even as a bit part? This is a mystery that only the Dude can solve.
"The reason I’m not an actor is because in fourth grade I played a f---ing tree in a play, and I blew my lines," Dowd told the Huffington Post.
An Homage to the White Russian
The Dude’s drink of choice is the classic white Russian. It’s a simple combo of vodka, coffee liqueur and cream.
Over the course of his adventures in the film, we see him down nine of the tasty beverages. '
In one classic scene as he gets jostled, the Dude exclaims, "Careful, man. There’s a beverage here!"
Where Did White Russians Come From, Anyway?
The Dude’s favorite drink originated in 1949 when a Belgian bartender created both the Black Russian and White Russian to honor the U.S. ambassador of Luxembourg, according to Vine Pair.
The "Russian" part of the name was put on to honor Russia, where much of the world’s vodka is produced.
And yes, Dowd did spend some time drinking White Russians. "Yes, we drank White Russians," Dowd told Rolling Stone. "They took that period of the Dude, froze him in time and moved him up to 1991."
It’s The Perfect Movie for a Caucasian
Nihilists Are Real
A group of bad guys repeatedly referred to as Nihilists are a consistent presence in "The Big Lebowski."
Nihilists, according to the Oxford Dictionary, are people who "believe that life is meaningless and reject all religious and moral principles."
Apparently, they’ve never had an In-N-Out burger.
Maude Was Based on a Real Artist
Maude, the strange painter whose artwork dabbles in the female anatomy, was based on the late Carolee Scheemann.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Schneemann gained notoriety for creating artwork while swinging naked from a swing.
Walter Was Right About Almost Everything
'The Dude and the Zen Master'
At a dinner, Jeff Bridges met a Zen Buddhist Roshi named Bernie Glassman, who told him that the Dude and some of his sayings had become quite popular in the Zen community.
The pair continued talking about it and in 2012 released the book, "The Dude and the Zen Master" that tells the tale of Bridges and Glassman’s friendship sprinkled with some Dude-inspired Zen wisdom.
"The Dude abides." Indeed.
The Dude Inspired a New Religion
Yes, not only does the Dude seem a little Zen, he actually inspired a new religion called (you guessed it) Dudeism.
It may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but you can actually get ordained as a Dudeist priest, get an honorary degree from Abide University and learn about great dudes in history like Jesus Christ, Jeffrey Lebowski, Snoopy and ... Jennifer Lawrence.
We All Need to Abide More
There’s a Festival
Not into the whole religion thing? That’s OK. The Dude abides. Perhaps you’re more of a fest sort of person. If so, Lebowski Fest.
OK, well, there is a website. It currently states that no new festivals are being scheduled, which isn’t surprising.
Hard work and efficiency aren’t exactly the Dude’s calling cards.
Buscemi, Bridges and Goodman Went to One
Goodman, Bridges and Buscemi attended one of the Lebowski Festival's panels and had a strange experience.
"Wasn’t that bizarre?" said Bridges.
"I wanted to stay [to watch the film], but it got weird," said Goodman.
"We couldn’t hear each other," said Buscemi, noting how everyone in the festival was screaming lines at the film. That’s what people do during screenings of cult films. The experience is not for everyone, but "The Big Lebowski" is one of the best cult movies ever made.
Of course, they’re not all weird. Bridges still attends a Lebowski Fest once in a while.
A Spinoff Movie Exists
You read that right. While the Coen brothers swore they’d never do a sequel, they never said someone couldn’t do a spinoff, and that’s just what John Turturro has done.
A flick, "The Jesus Rolls" was released in Italy in October 2019 for a film festival and released in February 2020 worldwide.
The movie brings back his character, Jesus Quintana from "The Big Lebowski" for a few crime shenanigans. Some big names like Turturro, John Hamm and Susan Sarandon are listed in the cast.
It Wasn’t Very Good
Unfortunately, the film wasn’t that good, perhaps even as bad as Larry’s homework.
The movie has a 24 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (currently only 38 people have bothered to review it), a 4.4 on IMDB (with 1,280 reviews so far) and a 44 on Metacritic.
Nobody F---s With the Jesus
John Turturro Improvised a Lot
The entire montage scene of Jesus licking the ball, doing a dance, and acting like the weird pederast that he is, was almost entirely Turturro. He also came up with the ball-polishing thing.
"We just kept adding and adding for this montage. ... When I saw how they put it all together, I was completely embarrassed," Turturro said during a speaking engagement at The New School. "I liked it! But they’ll be playing that one at my funeral."
Bridges Watches the Movie When It’s On TV
Similar to "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Big Lebowski" is one of those movies that you start watching, and it just sucks you in.
Steven Spielberg called "The Shawshank Redemption" his "chewing gum movie" because it sticks. Bridges' chewing gum movie might be "The Big Lebowski."
"I’m a clicker guy " he told Today, mimicking clicking on a remote. "If I see 'The Big Lebowski' come on, it’s like The Godfather.' I say, 'OK, Turturro’s gonna lick the ball, and then I’ll click it. And then he does his thing [pats his neck] with Smoky and all that stuff and then I’m hooked. Each scene, each little thing, hooks you. It’s great moviemaking."
The Movie Can Be Watched In Two Ways
The Bridges Abides
Not only does Jeff Bridges not regret playing the slovenly Jeffrey Lebowski, he told Matthew McConaughey on camera that "I’m such a fan of that movie! What a good movie. Whether I was in it or not, it would probably be one of my favorite movies."
In fact, Bridges has a band called "The Abiders."
He Doesn’t Mind You Quoting the Dude at Him
In an interview with Matthew McConaughey, McConaughey and Bridges discuss fans quoting their movies to them. For McConaughey, it’s lines from "Dazed and Confused" (McConaughey will quote it back!). For Bridges, it’s obviously the Dude.
"Any kind of recognition for that movie, I never get tired of it,” said Bridges. “Each scene is candy, I can’t get enough."
Read more: 'The Shawshank Redemption' Phenomenon
Nobody Could Have Been a Better Dude Than Bridges