The Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski is one of the most celebrated comedies ever made. Although it failed to attract an audience in its initial theatrical run and bombed at the box office, it has since become a cornerstone of cult cinema on par with A Clockwork Orange and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (but decidedly zanier) that has spawned a religion.
The story is told through the eyes of Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski, a version of Sam Spade who smokes cannabis instead of cigarettes, and the supporting characters are all brought into play through their hysterical interactions with the Dude.
11 Donny: “I Am The Walrus.”
During one of the Dude’s bowling alley debates with his friends, he mentions Vladimir Lenin. Donny mistakes him for John Lennon and repeatedly interrupts the flow of the conversation with the Beatle’s famous quote, “I am the walrus.”
Eventually, Walter loses his temper with Donny — as he always does — and screams, “Shut the f**k up, Donny! V.I. Lenin! Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!”
10 Bunny: Poolside Proposition
When the Dude is leaving the “big” Jeffrey Lebowski’s mansion, he meets the wealthy philanthropist’s young wife Bunny, played by Tara Reid.
She outright propositions the Dude, and an uncomfortable Brandt desperately tries to play it off as a joke. He lets out a forced laugh and then tells the Dude, “Wonderful woman. We’re all… we’re all very fond of her.”
9 Jackie Treehorn: The Notepad
After Jackie Treehorn’s goons kidnap the Dude and bring him to the porn mogul’s office, while the Dude is enjoying yet another White Russian, he notices that Jackie is writing on a little notepad on his desk. When he leaves the room, the Dude shades over the next page to see what the bad guy wrote on the page he just ripped off.
It’s a classic noir trope, but the Dude is no Philip Marlowe. In this case, the Dude learns that the bad guy just drew a crude cartoon of a naked man — and, on top of that, he’s already been drugged.
8 Smokey: “You Are Entering A World Of Pain.”
When Walter notices that Smokey’s foot went over the line during a league game, he tells him to mark the shot zero. Smokey insists that his foot didn’t go over the line, so Walter warns him, “Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain,” before pulling a handgun on him.
The Dude desperately tries to defuse the situation as the staff of the bowling alley calls the cops and Smokey reluctantly agrees to meet Walter’s demands.
7 The Nihilists: The Parking Lot Fight
The nihilists hired by Jackie Treehorn break into the Dude’s apartment a couple of times in The Big Lebowski, but their funniest scene is when they torch the Dude’s car in the parking lot of the bowling alley in a bid to claim the ransom money that never existed.
The Dude and Walter engage the nihilists in a fight. Even though Walter assures Donny, “These men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Donny still suffers so much stress from the melee that he has a heart attack and dies.
6 Jesus: “That’s Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man.”
The Coens are masters of creating unforgettable minor characters. Jesus Quintana, the hairnet-wearing “pederast” played by John Turturro who threatens to claim the Dude’s championship title is a prime example.
Introduced to the sounds of a Spanish-language cover of “Hotel California,” Jesus tells the Dude that he has no chance of winning the tournament and the Dude casually retorts, “Yeah, well, y’know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
5 Brandt: Introducing “The Big Lebowski”
Philip Seymour Hoffman was renowned for giving brooding, nuanced dramatic turns in movies like The Master and Capote, but his supporting performance as Brandt in The Big Lebowski showed off his untapped comedic talents.
When the Dude comes over to meet the other Jeffrey Lebowski, Brandt shows him around the house, including a wall of charitable accomplishments.
4 Jeffrey Lebowski: First Impressions
The first meeting between Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski and Jeffrey “the Big” Lebowski is one of the most iconic scenes in the movie because it’s when the Dude explains his name.
The older Lebowski keeps referring to him as “Mr. Lebowski,” so the Dude corrects him: “I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. That, or, uh, His Dudeness, or, uh, Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
3 Maude: Gutterballs
Julianne Moore’s Maude Lebowski is a great foil for the Dude throughout The Big Lebowski, but her most memorable scene isn’t something that really happens; rather, it’s the Dude’s surreal fantasy sequence.
After being drugged by Jackie Treehorn, the Dude passes out and hallucinates himself and Maude starring in one of Jackie’s adult movies — a bowling-themed porno titled Gutterballs — set to Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).”
2 The Stranger: The Final Scene
The Stranger introduces himself in voiceover form in The Big Lebowski’s opening scene, then appears on-screen at the midpoint when he meets the Dude at the bar in the bowling alley.
But his most memorable appearance is in the final scene, also set at the bar in the bowling alley, when the Dude tells him, “The Dude abides,” and the Stranger sees the movie off.
1 Walter: “This Is What Happens, Larry!”
The Dude has plenty of hilarious scenes with John Goodman’s hot-tempered Vietnam vet character Walter Sobchak, from Walter’s outburst in the coffee shop to the disastrous scattering of Donny’s ashes. But arguably the funniest is when they confront Larry over the homework assignment they found in the Dude’s recovered stolen car.
Larry refuses to give up any information, so Walter goes out into the yard and takes a tire iron to the sports car he believes Larry bought with the money he stole from the Dude’s car. He yells, “This is what happens, Larry!” And then the car’s true owner comes out and destroys the Dude’s car in retaliation.
NEXT: The Big Lebowski: Why Walter Is The Movie’s Funniest Character (& 5 Alternatives)
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