Joel and Ethan Coen, known more commonly as the Coen Brothers, are a rare breed of filmmaker in that they can move seemingly effortlessly between genres with each project. From the zany comedy of Raising Arizona to the stark bleakness of No Country for Old Men to the searing loneliness of Inside Llewyn Davis to the dark humor of Barton Fink, it’s not easy to pin down exactly what approach the Coens will take on each of their films. Just look at The Big Lebowski, a philosophical metacommentary wrapped around a riff on classic pulp novels wrapped around a stoner bowling comedy. Coming out after the Coens’ Oscar-winning Fargo, the movie was too out there for audiences and critics when it was released in 1998, but its following has only grown, seemingly exponentially since then.
Taking cues from Raymond Chandler and Cheech and Chong in equal measure, The Big Lebowski is so densely packed with great characters, played by the likes of Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Steve Buscemi, and hilarious, quotable lines that it’s no wonder the film has had such an enduring shelf life. Spawning what could easily be called the largest group of festivals celebrating a single film, Lebowski Fest, a religion following the dharma of the Dude called Dudeism, and a devoted fan following of so-called Achievers (named for the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers)—including Patton Oswalt, Tony Hawk, Talib Kweli, and Jennifer Lawrence—The Big Lebowski is an important pop culture milestone no matter how you slice it. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, its impact is so widespread that it’d be near-impossible for you to not know at least something about it. So, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, here are the top 10 The Big Lebowski references everyone will get even if they haven’t seen the movie.
1. The Dude Abides
The line that launched a million T-shirts, “The Dude abides” sums up just about everything you need to know about Jeff Bridges’ iconic performance in the role he was born to play. His last line of the film, and arguably his best (plus, it doesn’t feature one of the film’s 260 instances of the word “fuck,” making it easy to plaster on merchandise). It so defined the character that Bridges even named his band, The Abiders, after it. It’s this movie’s “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” or “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and arguably more ingrained in the pop culture lexicon than the film itself.
2. “Am I the only one around here who gives a sh*t about the rules?”
While John Goodman’s brilliant, deeply enraged performance as Walter Sobchak, a Jewish-convert Vietnam veteran, gave birth to dozens of iconic lines (including “The Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint,” which was even quoted in a Texas Supreme Court decision in 2014), easily the most prominent outside fan circles is Walter’s gun-toting rant about a minor bowling rule infraction. This line in particular became mainstream after becoming a popular template for top text, bottom text memes way back in the day. Every little angry gripe you have with society sounds better in Goodman’s voice, right?
3. The Jesus
John Turturro’s played a lot of weird characters in his career, but none are as substantially bizarre as his scene-stealing turn as Jesus (pronounced like the Lord and Savior) Quintana, a bowling wizard, coke addict, and well-known pederast. His introductory scene is so iconic it was recently referenced on The Bachelor (although it was not as well-received). Turturro loved the character so much he decided to reprise his role in his remake of Going Places, still awaiting release. It’s a sure bet that even if The Big Lebowski isn’t in your watch list, you still know that nobody fucks with the Jesus.
4. “This is what happens when you fight a stranger in the Alps!”
Another of Walter’s great rants, this freak-out comes as a result of the taciturn eighth grader Larry, who Walter and the Dude believe stole The Big Lebowski’s ransom money (as Joel Coen said, the plot doesn’t really matter). While Walter’s reckless destruction of private property is absolutely hilarious, it is only upstaged by the sheer absurdity of its basic cable edit. While there are plenty of examples of odd profanity-laden line changes, this one takes the cake: "fuck" becomes "fight," and "ass" becomes "Alps," creating a preposterous mental image with virtually nothing to do with the film itself. Censorship at its finest.
5. The toe
It’s a general rule that any synopsis of The Big Lebowski requires a mention of a certain green-nail-polish-toting pinky toe. Ostensibly a piece of evidence that the “kidnappers” are holding Bunny Lebowski (or Fawn Knutsen, if you’re Da Fino) captive, the toe essentially serves as a morbid, bizarre MacGuffin to keep the story moving forward, but its inclusion has become a major part of the film’s cult success over the years. When Lebowski Fest commissioned Ace of Cakes’ Charm City Cakes to make a Lebowski-themed cake back in 2008, sure, they included a White Russian, some bowling pins, and a rug, but the centerpiece was, of course, the toe.
6. The White Russians
Jeff Bridges might prefer just a vodka on the rocks, but the Dude’s drink of choice is the classic mix of vodka, Kahlua, and some form of milk (the Dude utilizes both half and half and non-dairy powdered creamer). The Dude drinks nine “Caucasians” total throughout the film, causing the drink to surge to popularity after the film’s release. It became so indispensably associated with the character that Bridges starred in a 2014 Kahlua commercial advertising the drink. As the Dude says while being dragged to the Big Lebowski’s limo, “Careful, man! There’s a beverage here!”
7. “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
The Big Lebowski is a film packed with characters stumbling over their words, with lots of ums, likes, and wells peppered into their sentences. While upon first viewing, this might seem like the product of the actors just getting into character, every single one of these words are actually in the Coen Brothers’ script, making lines like this even more brilliant in their stupidity. The Dude’s lackadaisical comeback to the Jesus’ assertion that he and his bowling partner Liam are going to fuck them up is another of Lebowski’s lines that has transcended the film and gone into the mainstream, but it can never fully be separated from Jeff Bridges’ spot-on delivery.
8. “That rug really tied the room together.”
The Big Lebowski’s winding, oddly constructed plot is predicated upon a certain rug-pissing incident—the Dude sums up the film’s thesis when he, under the influence of roofies administered by porn producer Jackie Treehorn, says, “All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.” More quintessential, however, is his and Walter’s proclamation that the soiled rug “really tied the room together,” a line that pops up throughout the film and a perfect example of the Coens’ spot-on use of circular dialogue. More infamous is the original DVD’s poorly written synopsis, which misquotes the film by saying the rug made the room “hang together.” Bunch of amateurs, as Walter would say. Like Donny, they must have been "out of their element."
9. “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.”
Jeff Bridges has proven time and again that he embodies the Dude is his day to day life, not just on-screen, so it’s no wonder that he nails this delivery just like any other. Even if the movie’s passed you by somehow, you’re probably aware that the Dude—real name Jeffrey Lebowski, which causes the initial mix-up that kicks off the film—doesn’t like being called anything other than that. Call him Mr. Lebowski, as Brandt (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the Big Lebowski (the late, great David Huddleston) do, and he will correct you in a manner similar to this.
10. The cardigan
Oscar-nominated costume designer Mary Zophres has worked with the Coens on each of their films since Fargo, but some of her finest work came in The Big Lebowski, which features each character in their own distinct and defining wardrobe. One character who didn’t need it, though, was the Dude: Jeff Bridges wore all his own clothes for the role, including his jelly sandals, floral-patterned sweatpants, and this now-iconic sweater. It received a lot of public attention after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wore it to a press conference in 2016, and Bridges himself donned the cardigan to celebrate John Goodman’s achievement of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.