Jeff Goldblum’s birthday falls within the Halloween season, and noticing that, we can’t help but observe that (though we think of him primarily as a humorous guy) there is a strong subcurrent within his body of screen work of horror, science fiction and comic takes thereon. There is some insight to be gained by looking at it in a set, I think. Obviously, he is believable as a scientist: tall, thin, nerdy, and often bespectacled. The other factor at play I think is that he is both funny and real, making him sympathetic and convincing, which helps to make scary situations all the scarier. Here are the movies I have in mind:
The Sentinel (1977)
Goldblum has a small supporting role in this unjustly forgotten horror classic about a woman (Christina Raines of Nashville) who moves into a Brooklyn apartment building that happens to be a portal to hell. It’s very much along the lines of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen, and it’s virtually an all-star film, casting Goldblum alongside the likes of Chris Sarandon, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach and Beverly D’Angelo.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This is undoubtedly the first film I ever saw Goldblum in, as I saw this remake of the 1956 classic in the theatre when it was originally released. His performance as an author friend of hero Donald Sutherland (and nemesis of pop psychologist Leonard Nimoy) clearly made a big impression on both audiences and the industry. Shortly after this he was cast as the co-lead in the sitcom Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)
What genius casting, Goldblum as the bookish, jealous, cowardly Ichabod Crane in this TV adaptation of the Washington Irving classic about the Headless Horseman. Also in the cast: Paul Sand, football star Dick Butkus, and Meg Foster.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Goldblum is fourth billed in this quicksilver slipstream of comic book nuttiness.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
Goldblum co-starred with Ed Begley Jr in this spoof incorporating most of the Universal horror monsters. Also in the cast Joseph Bologna, Carol Kane, Jeffrey Jones, John Byner, Norman Fell, Michael Richards (in the pocket between Fridays and Seinfeld), and his future co-star Geena Davis.
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg’s critically acclaimed remake of the 1958 classic is back in the news lately, thanks to the landing of one of these pests on Mike Pence’s head during the 2020 vice presidential debate. This movie’s pleasures are multilayered. In addition to updating the original, it builds on themes Cronenberg had been exploring throughout his career, and is also a great love story. It was made right in the middle of Geena Davis’s hot streak.
“The Town Where No One Got Off” (1986)
An episode of Ray Bradbury Theatre featuring Goldblum as a writer who gets off the train at a random small town (which he expects to be idyllic) and encounters hostile locals.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
This film features Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans as a sort of comedy team of aliens, come to earth to hook up with female humans. It reunited Goldblum with Geena Davis once again, and also has Michael McKean, Charles Rocket, and Larry Linville!
Mister Frost (1990)
Goldblum is a serial killer who might be insane, a ghost or Satan in this lesser-known but well-made thriller set in France, featuring also Kathy Baker, Alan Bates and Jean-Pierre Cassel.
Jurassic Park (1993) and sequels
I’ve come to regard Ian Malcolm as the quintessential Jeff Goldblum character: brilliant, charismatic, witty and overtly sleazy. Par usual, I find him the most entertaining member of a very entertaining ensemble. Others must agree: he was asked back for The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), and Jurassic World: Dominion (2021). Semi-interesting trivia: both he and fellow cast member B.D. Wong would later be Law and Order regulars.
Speaking of Law and Order — Jeremy Sisto plays a Satan worshipping serial killer who commits suicide in this one. When Goldblum dies in a car accident and is revived by doctor Alfred Molina a couple of hours later, he and the serial killer are psychically connected.
Independence Day (1996) and sequel
I confess that the films of Roland Emmerich are one of my guilty pleasures. I find them at once simultaneously irresistibly entertaining…and infuriatingly, irredeemably stupid. Goldblum’s character in Independence Day is no exception — a cable TV technician who somehow is able to hack into alien technology and fly one of their spacecraft, just because he’s “good with computers”, according to his Jewish stereotype father, played by Judd Hirsch. The sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, came out in 2016.