There are several film and television actors that seem to never really be able to get away from genre work. People like Ron Perlman, David Warner, or Bruce Boxleitner. Even poor Mary Steenburgen was cast as a time traveler’s girlfriend in two different movies!
Then there are the big actors that you may not immediately associate with onscreen SFF, but whom you’ve nevertheless grown up watching. Among those stars, Whoopi Goldberg isn’t the biggest, but she’s certainly the most interesting. Here are five of our favorite Whoopi SFF roles.
Katie Coltrane (Theodore Rex)
This oddball 1995 film was, for a while, the most expensive direct-to video movie of all time, topping out over $30 million in production costs. (Which explains why its presence was so ubiquitous on video store shelves.) This partly had to do with Whoopi trying to back out of even being in the film in the first place. Eventually, she reportedly settled for $7 million to star as future cop Katie Coltrane opposite Theodore Rex in this science fiction buddy-cop romp. This film depicts a society in which dinosaurs are being murdered as part of a plot that may bring about a second ice age. Luckily Katie and Ted were there to stop them! Theodore Rex reboot? Bryan Singer?
Gaia (Captain Planet)
In the continuity of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Gaia is the spirit of Earth, and as such is in charge of the Planeteers. To use a super nerdy metaphor to explain an even nerdier reference, think of Captain Planet sort of like the Voltorn that the Planeteers ultimately form, then Gaia is sort of like the secret power source running Voltron. She also wears a purple gown and can only appear on Hope Island. Did we mention she is the Earth? We think Whoopi was the correct choice for this role, but are mystified by the fact that she was replaced by Margot Kidder in The New Adventures of Captain Planet. If that long awaited Captain Planet movie finally gets made, we demand Whoopi is back as Gaia.
Oda Mae Brown (Ghost)
Everyone thinks Ghost is really great for that pottery scene, and maybe that’s true, but the real glue in this paranormal film is Whoopi’s role as a con artist posing as a medium. Even as a phony, her character turns out to be the only person capable of communicating with poor, dead Patrick Swayze. Famously, Goldberg eventually gets to show her acting chops by playing herself as Swayze’s character, giving Swayze’s character and Demi Moore one last moment together.
Terry Doolittle (Jumpin’ Jack Flash)
Okay, so maybe this one’s not totally SFF, but there’s something about old espionage movies that sort of seem like an alternate dimension. In this one, Whoopi is a bored bank worker who inadvertently begins correspondence with a CIA agent named Jack (Jonathan Pryce.) Jack has a sort of code with his contacts in the intelligence community that involves The Rolling Stones song “Jumpin Jack Flash.” In one scene, in an effort to break the code, Whoopi dances around in her bunny slippers and demands that Mick Jagger “Speak English!” as she can’t understand the lyrics one bit. Honestly, the movie is worth it for that scene alone. And the phone booth scene, too.
Guinan (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
This is the big one. As the long-lived, mysterious bartender on the Enterprise-D Guinan was a consistent advisor to Captain Picard. Although Picard had the Federation’s flagship at his control, whenever something really big came up, be it an alternate timeline, Q, or the Borg, Guinan was the first one he went to for help.
The omnipotent Q even alludes to the fact that Guinan is more than she seems, and the fact that we eventually find her in the 1800s hanging with Mark Twain, in the Nexus, and the Troi’s wedding lends quite a bit of credence to the trickster’s assertion.
And yet, for the most part she was just your local bartender, willing to listen and dispense advice when needed. Guinan was a fascinating and resolutely memorable character in Star Trek lore, hinting at even larger universe than the one the Enterprise was exploring. Here was a character who could console you with a drink, or relate to you the Lovecraftian horrors that lay in wait just outside those safe beige corridors. So what was it going to be today?
What are you favorite SFF Whoopi moments? Did we miss any?
Stubby the Rocket is the voice and mascot of Tor.com. Stubby is furious you can’t get Theodore Rex on DVD. Can you even believe that?