Is John Goodman the greatest supporting actor America has ever produced? Goodman is once again enjoying glowing reviews following his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, the spiritual successor to the 2008 found footage hit Cloverfield. The Bad Robot production, which opened with just over $24 million last week, is the perfect example of the sort of performance Goodman has successfully mastered throughout his prolific career.
Though rarely regarded as a traditional leading man, Goodman specializes in something perhaps more important than that: being a consistently great supporting actor. As shown in a recent breakdown of Goodman’s filmography by FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey, Goodman’s clearly at his best when he’s not necessarily the focal point of a movie. Just as he does in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Goodman often brings an emotional gravity to the production that the respective leading woman or man relies on to really bring a scene home.
The less glowingly received films in Goodman’s canon, maybe The Flintstones or that Jungle Book sequel, generally have one thing in common: Goodman received top billing. A small number of exceptions such as Monsters Inc. aside, the best of Goodman’s output (at least according to Hickey’s analysis of Rotten Tomatoes scores) happens when he’s practically a revelation in smaller though far more important roles.
For example, take Goodman’s frequent memorable appearances in a variety of Coen brothers instaclassics. Seriously though, what would O Brother, Where Art Thou be without Goodman’s one-eyed take on Daniel "Big Dan" Teague?
Of course, Goodman himself is clearly aware of his strengths. By Hickey's estimates, the actor hasn't even bothered with a top-billing project since 2003. The lesson here? Respect the presence of John Goodman in any film. It's usually a very good thing indeed.