Jeff Bridges has been described as "the most underappreciated great actor of his generation."

Though he's worked 40 years in films, received four Oscar nominations and is continually lauded for his impressive, naturalistic performances on screen, Bridges, 58, has never been a superstar. His latest film, "Iron Man," will end up the biggest-grossing movie of his career, hauling in just over $100 million at the box office this last weekend.

Bridges, the youngest son of Lloyd Bridges, has developed a loyal fan base among critics and viewers who love his chameleon-like qualities and his willingness to work in independent film. Even if a film lets him down, one always feels that Bridges gives 110% in each movie project. Besides acting, Bridges is an acclaimed photographer and a singer-songwriter and has one of the longest-lasting marriages in Hollywood -- having been hitched for the last 31 years.

That's just one of the reasons we love Jeff Bridges. Here are 10 more:

"Iron Man"

Bridges shaved off his hair and grew a magnificent beard to play Obadiah Stane, the right-hand man to weapons industrialist and brilliant inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and top executive in Stark Industries who becomes Stark's ruthless nemesis. Bridges is beginning to look and sound a bit like he's channeling Kris Kristofferson especially with his graying beard, but he seems to be having fun as Obadiah.

Why we love him: Because he turns comic book character into a three-dimensional villain. He's charming, manipulative and totally mad, and he makes a perfect counterpoint to Downey's wisecracking Stark.

"The Last Picture Show"

Bridges picked up his first supporting actor Oscar nomination in Peter Bogdanovich's seminal 1971 adaptation of Larry McMurtry's coming-of-age tale as Duane Jackson, one of the most popular kids in the high school of a dying Texas town in the early 1950s who is best buddies with Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and boyfriend of the beautiful Jacy (Cybill Shepherd). Bridges also played Duane in the ill-conceived 1990 sequel, "Texasville."

Why we love him: Because his boyish demeanor makes audiences care about a high school jock.

"Fat City"

John Huston directed this terrific, underrated 1972 boxing drama. Based on Leonard Gardner's novel, the film is a great acting workout for Bridges, who plays Ernie, a young boxer who has a few good moves and little else, and Stacy Keach as a washed-up pugilist who manages to get himself in shape for one last fight. Their story unfolds languidly on the streets, bars and gyms of Stockton.

Why we love him: Because he looks ripped in his boxing trunks and more than holds his own opposite Keach's flashier role.

"Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"

Bridges earned his second supporting actor Oscar nod for his lively, funny performance in this 1974 buddy crime thriller as Lightfoot, a young man who has just stolen a car. Lightfoot ends up hooking up with a one-time thief (Clint Eastwood) who has been hiding out as a small-town preacher. The film also marked the directorial debut of Michael Cimino, who wrote the script on speculation. Bridges reunited with Cimino for the ill-fated 1980 western "Heaven's Gate."

Why we love him: Because Bridges does something few actors have accomplished -- he steals the picture right from under the nose of Eastwood. His Lightfoot is engaging, crazy and full of youthful exuberance.

"Hearts of the West"

This lovely little western comedy set during the Great Depression didn't make much a splash at the box office in 1975, and it's rarely seen today. Bridges plays Lewis Tater, a young naive farm boy from Iowa who ends up becoming a stuntman and cowboy star in the movies. Coincidentally, co-star Blythe Danner is the mother of "Iron Man" female lead Gwyneth Paltrow.

Why we love him: Because nobody embodies fresh-faced innocence as well as Bridges can.

"Starman"

What can best be described as "ET With Sex," this 1984 sci-fi romance directed by John Carpenter is vastly enjoyable and poignant thanks to Bridges' lovely performance as an alien who arrives on Earth. Critic Roger Ebert said of Bridges: "The most interesting thing about 'Starman' is probably Bridges' approach to playing a creature from another world. Actors sometimes try to change their appearance. Bridges does something trickier, and tries to convince us that Jeff Bridges is not inhabited by himself." Bridges received his only lead actor Oscar nomination for his work.

Why we love him: Because of Bridges' touching scenes in which he discovers love for the first time with a young widow (played by Karen Allen) and the poignant moment when Starman resurrects a deer that had been killed by a hunter.

"The Fabulous Baker Boys"

Though Michelle Pfeiffer got the Oscar nomination and Jeff's older brother Beau received more of the critical acknowledgment, Bridges is at his sexiest best in this captivating 1989 romantic drama. Beau and Jeff play the Baker Boys, brothers who play piano duets in a cocktail lounge. The act, though, is outmoded and outdated, and they need to add a girl singer (Pfeiffer) to liven things up. Bridges' Jack Baker, who turned his back on his jazz pianist career out of loyalty to his sibling, ends up falling hard for Pfeiffer especially after she sings "Makin' Whoopee" in a red dress on top of the piano.

Why we love him: Because he's willing to take a back seat to his big brother, and he looks so fine in a tux.

"American Heart"

Bridges won an Independent Spirit Award for best actor for his complex turn in this 1992 drama. Bridges, who also was a producer, plays Jack Kelson, an ex-con just released from prison, who reunites with his teenage son Nick (Edward Furlong) in Seattle while trying to remain clean and out of trouble with the law. But Jack has a hard time playing father and spends most of days with his girlfriend (Lucinda Jenney). Variety's Todd McCarthy wrote: "Looking as working-class as can be in ponytail and mustache, Bridges puts all his raw energy into this portrait of a limited man who tries to curb his mistakes but still can't help letting his unconsidered emotions get the better of him."

Why we love him: Because he brings the same passion to unsavory characters as he does to heroic roles.

"The Big Lebowski"

This 1998 shaggy dog comedy written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen has developed a huge cult following over the years. And Bridges' performance as the Dude is already stuff of legend.

Sporting weird Hawaiian shirts, large Bermuda shorts, a goatee, ponytail and potbelly, the Dude is constantly stoned as he waltzes rather clueless through life bowling with his buddies (John Goodman and Steve Buscemi). One day the Dude's life is turned topsy-turvy when a porn king's (Ben Gazzara) two goons mistake him for a millionaire named Lebowski whose wife owes him a lot of money.

Why we love him: Because nobody plays stoned better than Bridges.

"The Contender"

Bridges' U.S. president has a good sense of humor and a great appetite for meals whipped up by the White House chefs in Rod Lurie's sophisticated political drama from 2000. Bridges, in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance, plays President Jackson Evans who decides to chose a female senator (Academy Award-nominated Joan Allen) to be nominated for vice president after the incumbent VP dies in office.

Why we love him: Because he's clearly having lots of fun playing the prez.

susan.king@latimes.com