The Big Lebowski wasn’t always a ‘classic’. In fact, when the film was first released in 1998, critics were mixed and box office takings were middling. Following Fargo, which won two Oscars and grossed $60 million on a $7 million budget, you could almost say The Big Lebowski was a disappointment for the Coen brothers.
Fast forward to 2020, and The Big Lebowski is widely recognised as not just one of the Coens’ greatest hits, but one of the best-loved films of the 90s. It goes without saying, too, that it features Jeff Bridges’ crowning achievement as an actor: Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski.
Here are 10 things you never knew about The Big Lebowski, one of the highest high classics ever made.
10. The film has its own annual festival
How things have changed since 1998. Today, not only is The Big Lebowski one of the best-loved Coen brothers films, the movie even has its own annual festival.
Lebowski Fest treats attendees – many of whom choose to dress as characters from the film – to a screening of the film.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
There is also plenty of live music, partying, and of course lots of White Russians and bowling over two bodacious nights.
Since the inaugural Louisville, Kentucky-set festival in 2002, Lebowski Fest has toured the world, hitting up cities including LA, New York, London and Edinburgh.
- Credit: Flickr
Even cast members have attended over the years: John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Julianne Moore have all showed up.
Meanwhile The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, was an honourable guest at the 2005 and 2011 Lebowski Fests.
9. ‘Dudeism’ is now a religion
If just one weekend spent living like The Dude isn’t enough for you, you might want to get reading up on Dudeism.
Dudeism, which has as its logo a yin-yang symbol in the style of a bowling ball, is a religion-stroke-lifestyle that encourages people to live as The Dude would.
- Credit: Dudeism.org via Wikimedia
With Taoism as the inspiration, as well as figures like Epicurus and Jesus Christ, Dudeism – or The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, to give it its official name – has been going since 2005.
There are now globally around 450,000 Dudeist priests, some of whom have legally officiated weddings.
The religion’s literature is pretty far out, too: you can get your hands on copies of The Tao of the Dude, and the Dude Dae Ching.
Not an official Dudeist text but equally dudely is The Dude and the Zen Master, which is composed of conversations between Jeff Bridges himself and Buddhist teacher Bernie Glassman.
8. A semi-sequel about Jesus was released in 2019
In 2019, John Turturro – Jesus Quintana himself – released the long-anticipated The Jesus Rolls, his latest film as writer-director-star.
Not just any old indie, the film is actually a sequel (or ‘sidequel’) to The Big Lebowski.
The film sees Turturro reprise the role of Jesus Quintana, the flamboyant bowler with the questionable past.
As well as being a semi-sequel, The Jesus Rolls is also a remake, based on the 1974 French drama Les Valseuses (or to give it its English title: Going Places).
The film follows a ‘trio of sexually depraved misfits’ played by Bobby Cannavale, Amelie actress Audrey Tautou and, of course, Turturro’s bowling-obsessed pederast, ‘the Jesus’.
Sadly,The Jesus Rolls doesn’t look likely to become another Big Lebowski-esque cult classic. It received a lukewarm-to-negative reception at the 2019 Rome Film Festival and had a short theatrical run in February 2020.
7. The original script revealed where The Dude got his money
We see from The Big Lebowski that The Dude leads a life of leisure, without gainful employment.
However, the film never explains just how he’s able to afford all his bowling fees, gas and cocktail ingredients with no income.
It wasn’t always going to be such a mystery as to how The Dude survived all those years without ever taking a job.
In the original script, it was established that Jeff Lebowski was actually an heir to Hungarian inventor Ernő Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s Cube.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Because of this, The Dude has more than enough inheritance money to fund his humble lifestyle.
In the end, Joel Coen decided to instead keep The Dude’s financial affairs a mystery and cut this information out of the movie.
6. Jeff Bridges wears his own clothes in the movie
Turns out Jeff Bridges didn’t have to do a whole lot of prep to get into character for The Big Lebowski.
To create The Dude’s unique look, Bridges simply went home and took out of his closet all the clothes he thought Lebowski would wear.
This does go some way to explain how The Dude’s wardrobe looks so realistically lived-in.
At the end of a day’s shooting, as they were already his own, Bridges would just wear The Dude’s clothes home.
FYI, Bridges still has those jelly sandals, and the Pendleton cardigan which has become popularly associated with The Dude.
Bridges dusted off that very same cardigan and adopted the character of The Dude when presenting his friend and co-star John Goodman with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5. Bridges rubbed his eyes red before every scene The Dude was supposed to be stoned
Jeff Bridges has confessed to having a rather uncanny feeling when he first read the script for The Big Lebowski.
The actor asked Joel and Ethan Coen (who he’d never worked with before) if they’d been secretly following him around, as the character seemed so close to his own nature.
Unsurprisingly, considering how closely the skilled and experienced actor identified with the role, the Coens didn’t have to direct Jeff Bridges a whole lot.
According to Joel Coen, the only direction Bridges ever required came down to a simple question: Is The Dude high in this scene or not?
Before every new scene, Bridges would ask if Lebowski “burned one on the way over”.
If the answer was ‘yes’, Bridges would promptly rub his eyes until they were appropriately bloodshot.
4. The Dude says ‘man’ an average of one-and-a-half times a minute
The easygoing feel to the dialogue in The Big Lebowski might make it seem partially ad-libbed.
It may be a surprise to learn, then, that in fact the cast delivered the script as it was written, word for word.
All that’s said in the film comes out exactly as it was written, right down to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s stumbling repetition of “the necessary means.”
For Jeff Bridges, this meant that he had to nail every ‘um’ or ‘ah’, and, especially, every ‘man’.
The Big Lebowski is a film heavy with ‘mans’. The Dude says ‘man’ 147 times, or an average of one-and-a-half times a minute.
It’s also one of the foul-mouthed films ever made, with the F-bomb dropped an astonishing 281 times.
3. The Dude and Walter are both based on real people
- Credit: Stephen Dichter/Flickr
The Coen Brothers may well be creative geniuses, but the characters of The Dude and his unlikely best bud Walter were not just products of their imagination.
As a matter of fact, The Dude and Walter are both based on real people that the Coens met and befriended in Hollywood.
Jeff Dowd, who is indeed popularly known as ‘The Dude,’ is a film producer and political activist whom the Coens met while they were shopping their debut, Blood Simple, around Hollywood.
Dowd’s best known work as a producer is the eco-friendly animated film Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, and – like The Dude of the movie – he enjoys a White Russian, and is something of a 60s child out of time.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Walter, meanwhile, was based on the notoriously macho, gun-loving filmmaker John Milius, like Walter a conservative firebrand.
Unlike Walter, Milius never went to Vietnam, though he did write the ultimate Vietnam movie, Apocalypse Now, as well as directing Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn.
2. Donny’s tragic death is part of a long-running Coen brothers joke
We don’t quite know what it is that the Coens have got against Steve Buscemi.
However, the filmmaker siblings certainly seem to enjoy killing the actor in increasingly outrageous ways.
In The Big Lebowski, Buscemi’s character, Donny, dies of a heart attack and is then cremated.
His ashes are then scattered into the ocean – or, more accurately, all over The Dude.
It’s all part of a long-running Coen brothers joke. In Miller’s Crossing, Buscemi ends up as a faceless corpse, while in Fargo he’s reduced to just a leg, the rest of his body shredded by a woodchipper.
By The Big Lebowski, Buscemi by the end is just ash, the gag being that, for the Coens, Buscemi has in death gotten smaller over time.
1. The film has been crowned the ‘Best Stoner Movie of all Time’
After the Oscar-winning success of the Coens’ previous film Fargo, The Big Lebowski met a muted response on release.
However, it has only grown in stature in the years since, and is now warmly embraced by audiences everywhere.
Not only is the film widely considered the definitive Coen Brothers movie, it’s also regarded one of the best films made in the 90s period.
On top of all that, The Big Lebowski was also recently named the ‘Best Stoner Movie of all Time’.
In 2013, Rolling Stone published its list of the greatest stoner movies. The magazine gave The Big Lebowski the top spot, while also declaring The Dude the “ultimate hippie hero”.