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The Dude's Best Moments In The Big Lebowski Ranked By Coolness

Like its protagonist, the Dude (Jeff Bridges), the Coen brothers' 1998 film "The Big Lebowski" started out as a bit of a loser. The darkly comedic neo-noir got mixed reviews and struggled to recoup its budget at the box office. At least at first, people just didn't seem to get this movie, with its overly complicated kidnapping plot and its half-baked main character.

But over time, audiences began to see that there was more to the Dude and his story. "The Big Lebowski" is now regularly mentioned among the best comedies and best cult classics, and it's been preserved in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry on account of its cultural and aesthetic significance. The Dude has frequently been listed as one of the best characters of all time, including in compilations by Entertainment Weekly and Empire Magazine. A new "Big Lebowski"-inspired religion — Dudeism — even formed as the movie gained steam. Not too shabby for a low-budget flick about an unemployed and perpetually stoned middle-aged bowler.

"The Big Lebowski" opens with a mood-setting voiceover by Sam Elliott as the Stranger, who describes Jeffrey Lebowski as not quite a hero, but "the man for his time and place." The Dude and "The Big Lebowski" are exactly that: emblematic of 1990s America. The character is as cool and carefree as any of us will probably ever be again, and the movie, with its odd jumble of influences, only works because the Dude reaches mythical levels of chill.

10. The Dude shops

Like all cool people, the Dude does things his own way. He has a signature drink: the white Russian. He has a signature look: shabby loungewear and dark sunglasses. He does what he wants when he wants (which is easier since his career has slowed down, as he later tells Maude), and sometimes, that means going to Ralphs Supermarket late at night in a bathrobe for a carton of half and half so that he can make himself a white Russian. 

This is how we, the audience, first meet the Dude as the Stranger tells us scant information about him. We know that he's given himself his nickname and that he's probably the laziest man in Los Angeles County, which puts him high in the running for the laziest man in the world. From the moment he wanders into frame, it's clear that the Dude isn't someone who plans long-term. Here is a guy who lives in the moment. He picks two quarts of cream and appears to examine the expiration dates. After he chooses one, he opens it in the store to sniff it and make sure it's still good. Then he gets out his checkbook and writes a check for $0.69 as he and the cashier girl watch then-President George H.W. Bush give a speech about the War in Iraq.

The Dude is obviously a man of modest means and modest concerns, especially when compared to explosive international political situations. But he's still trying to live his best life without worrying too much about what anybody else thinks about it. He's comfortable, and he got what he came for. 

9. The Dude abides

By the end of "The Big Lebowski," the Dude and the audience have been on quite a ride together. It becomes clear that the Stranger is just someone who hangs around the same bowling alley and has gathered bits and pieces of the story. The Dude recognizes him from their prior meeting and starts up a second conversation with him, just as he's misusing his idiom from before ("sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you") in reference to Donny's (Steve Buscemi) death. The Dude is as genial as ever, but he's also eager to carry his beers back over to his lane and get back to playing. When the Stranger asks him how he's been, he answers, "You know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs." It's like a bowling-centric read on the Tao Te Ching and exactly what the Stranger needed to hear about the subject of his fascination.

"Take it easy, Dude," he says as Lebowski walks away. "I know that you will." "Yeah, well," our protagonist replies. "The Dude abides." The Stranger then repeats the line as if it's some piece of wisdom. "The Dude abides." What he means is, for all the craziness that's taken place in the last two hours, this Lebowski's life will go back to his version of normal, which means knocking back beers and knocking over pins with friends and seeing where the journey takes him. In the end, the Dude usually lands upon an unexpected yet just-right thing to say. 

8. Spy Dude

The Dude is the exact opposite of a tryhard, but even he finds himself pretending when he's escorted into pornographer Jackie Treehorn's (Ben Gazzara) swanky Malibu mansion. Jackie wants to know where the money ended up, and since the Dude has accidentally positioned himself at the center of everyone's lies and deceptions, he has the information Mr. Treehorn needs (or so they both think; at this point, the Dude hasn't figured out the truth yet). 

Jackie's phone rings, and he gets up to answer. He appears to take notes on a pad of paper, then peels off and crumbles the top sheet and excuses himself to another room. The Dude, assuming something nefarious has happened, leaps into action. Just this once, he actually thinks and acts like a spy. He sneaks over to the notepad, checking around corners for Jackie, then shades the next page with the edge of a pencil to make an impression of whatever it was Jackie wrote.

Turns out, he didn't write anything at all. Mr. Treehorn doodled an Ancient Greek-style primitive man with a comically oversized phallus. The Dude crams the piece of paper into his pocket, then sprints back to the couch, where he reclines just in time to have fooled his host. Though nothing comes of it (except the setup for a joke later at the police station), it's fun to see the Dude in James Bond mode, however temporarily, having and following through on a good idea.

7. The Dude meets the other Lebowski

It's often said that great drama comes from conflict and contrast. There's certainly conflict between the Dude and the other Mr. Lebowski (David Huddleston), and there couldn't possibly be more contrast between their personalities and communication styles. When the Dude arrives at Lebowski's mansion, he has to endure a tour of his accomplishments, led by his assistant Brandt (a hilarious Philip Seymour Hoffman), before he's escorted in to discuss his rug with the purported businessman and philanthropist. What follows is one of the wittiest and most specific dialogues in modern film. 

The Dude tries to make his case to the elder Lebowski, but he dodges responsibility with his pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos (that we know by the end is a ruse) and asks if every time a rug is "micturated upon in this fair city" he's expected to pay for it. Instead of replacing the rug, he calls his guest a bum and tells him to get a job. "Are you employed, Mr. Lebowski?" he asks as if he already knows the answer. By this point, our Lebowski has had enough. "Let me explain something to you," he says, now visibly annoyed. "I am not Mr. Lebowski. You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. That or His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing." 

Mr. Lebowski does no such thing and stays with his line of questioning. "You don't go out looking for a job like that, do you, on a weekday?" The Dude's response is priceless. "Is this a ... what day is this?" he wonders to himself. It's one of Jeff Bridges' funniest line deliveries of the entire movie. 

6. The Dude isn't intimidated

The Dude has to request a meeting with the other Jeffrey Lebowski because of what happens at his apartment the night before. Returning home from Ralphs with his half and half, he's assaulted by two men (we'll later learn that these are Jackie Treehorn's hired thugs). Before he can collect himself, they repeatedly dunk his head in his own toilet. The first time, his carton of half and half smashes against the seat and sprays all over his face. Each time after, the thugs scream, "Where's the money, Lebowski?" In between plunges, with his facial hair soaking in toilet water and cream, he says, "It's down there somewhere. Lemme take another look." 

Most people would instantly freeze up and fear for their lives should they come home to criminals having broken into their personal space, but the Dude — whose slovenly appearance and colloquial manner of speaking belie his razor-sharp wit — is completely unintimidated. When they reference a wife, he turns around, sits on the toilet, puts his sunglasses back on, and lights up a joint. "You see a wedding ring? Does this place look like I'm f***ing married?" The thugs, who haven't figured out there's been a case of mistaken identity, open his bowling bag, expecting to find cash. Instead, out comes a bowling ball. When they ask what the thing is, the Dude quips, "Obviously you're not a golfer."

5. The Dude makes love

Without really trying (at all), the Dude attracts Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), daughter of the other Jeffrey Lebowski. She's an avant-garde artist and the current manager of the Lebowski Foundation. When her goons punch the Dude in the jaw, she uses it as an excuse to have a doctor check the health of his sperm. Maude plans to get pregnant by the Dude, since she's looking for a partner who won't want any interest in having a lasting relationship or helping her raise a child. 

After an earlier exchange that makes fantastic use of the word "coitus," Maude shows up at the Dude's apartment naked underneath his own robe and declares that she wants him to love her. If you thought their courtship was charming in the way that only the Dude can be charming, then their post-coital pillow talk is even more on-brand. Maude asks him to tell her a little about himself. He says there's not much to tell, then pulls out a joint and rambles on in a monologue about his life. He was one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement (the original Port Huron Statement, mind you). He was a member of the Seattle Seven. Then came a brief stint in the music business as a roadie for Metallica on their "Speed of Sound" tour, followed by a little of this, a little of that. His career has slowed down a bit lately, he offers. Only the Dude could make transience sound sexy. 

4. The Dude is a good friend (and a bad tenant)

"The Big Lebowski" is full of stray characters and storylines that don't ultimately go anywhere, but they all add texture and depth to the Dude's world. One of these is the relationship between the Dude and his landlord, Marty (Jack Kehler), an incredibly meek and awkward man. In the middle of the chaos that the Dude has gotten himself into, Marty comes knocking. Their conversation is filmed in such a way that Marty, who's already shorter than The Dude, is looking up at his tenant from the stoop below. He nervously fiddles with his hands as he invites the Dude to attend his dance recital and give him some notes. "I'll be there, man," the Dude promises. Marty begins to walk away before gently reminding him that his rent is due. 

Later on, the Dude keeps his word and attends Marty's performance. For good measure, he's invited Walter (John Goodman) and Donny, too. Now, is it possible — and even probable — that the Dude is friendly to his landlord to make it harder for him to ask for money? Absolutely. What the slacker Lebowski has to barter with is his sparkling personality and free time, especially when it pertains to someone as socially inept as poor Marty. But as we see, that dance cycle would've been painful to sit through. No matter what benefit he reaps from his kindness, the Dude is a good friend, and there's nothing cooler than showing up for your friends when they need you.

3. The Dude takes a rug

When the Dude sees that the other Lebowski won't be persuaded to pay for or replace his rug, he gives up on that tactic. "I cannot solve your problem," the angry, wheelchair-bound man tells him. "Only you can." This seems to have given the Dude an idea. He gets up to leave as Lebowski rants about how his revolution is over and the bums will never win. Then, this bum waltzes out the door and immediately wins.

"How was your meeting with Mr. Lebowski," Brandt asks. "Okay," the Dude says nonchalantly. "The old man told me to take any rug in the house." Moments later, we see Brandt and the Dude strolling along together as an unnamed servant carries a large, rolled-up rug on his shoulder. In a manner of speaking, the Dude took Mr. Lebowski's advice. He solved his problem himself, and he relied on his own strengths and skills to do so. The visiting Lebowski didn't let himself get as worked up as the other Lebowski, so no one thinks to question him when he chooses another carpet that'll really tie the room together.

2. The Dude hallucinates

Perhaps the most famous interlude in "The Big Lebowski" is the Dude's drug-induced hallucination after he downs the spiked white Russian that Jackie Treehorn concocted for him. It's presented in both the style of a Busby Berkeley musical crossed with one of Jackie's smutty movies. It even has a title ("Gutterballs") and its own opening credits. The Dude first appears as a tiny figure in a vast gray hallway, his shadow reflected by a thin beam of light. He dances in pair of white work coveralls, but with the arms ripped off and a tool belt slung around his hips.

Myriad strange things happen in the three-plus-minute-long sequence. Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) provides the Dude with his bowling shoes. Maude, dressed as a bowling-themed Viking, leads dancers who wear bowling pins as headpieces, styled as if they're plumes or flower arrangements.

Throughout the dance, the Dude is as cool as he is hot, especially as he continues his ever-more seductive choreography on a black and white staircase. The sexual tension reaches a fever pitch when he spoons Maude and teaches her how to lunge with the ball. Jeff Bridges' moves aren't particularly precise, but he oozes confidence and energy with his wide eyes and wicked smile. The "Gutterballs" scene is made even better by Roger Deakins' incredible cinematography and the just-right song choice of "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

1. The Dude has the perfect comeback

There are simply too many standout scenes in "The Big Lebowski" to warrant calling any one of them a standout, but this bit of business near the dark comedy's middle brings together the crime plot and the bowling plot, plus it gives the Dude a chance to show exactly how he deals with conflict. Suffice to say, he's cool under pressure. 

While John Turturro, who demonstrates in slow-motion Jesus' ritualistic roll-then-dance to The Gipsy King's flamenco rendition of "Hotel California," is iconic here, it's the Dude who gets the last word. As Jesus strikes poses in his extremely purple jumpsuit, the Dude explains his new gig to his friends. He gets 20 grand and a beeper, plus he gets to keep the rug he stole, all just for handing off a briefcase of money to Bunny's (Tara Reid) supposed kidnappers. That's when Jesus interrupts their banter to taunt Lebowski's bowling team about how badly his is going to beat them in the next round: "Liam and me, we're gonna f*** you up." To which the Dude reclines and retorts, "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

The Dude — who is supremely secure in his identity — is unflappable in the face of ridicule. He delivers one of the all-time great comeback lines ... a casual yet brilliant rhetorical flourish that cannot be rebutted. For future reference, it works in just about every imaginable situation.