Do you know what an EGOT recipient is? I mean, you probably do since you’re here, but if not, it means that the person has won an Emmy, a Grammy, and Oscar, and a Tony. Only 16 people have ever received this prestigious distinction, and Whoopi Goldberg is one of them. Nowadays, it’s common to see her on The View, but Whoopi Goldberg movies like Ghost and The Color Purple, and also her other TV work, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, are part of the reason why Whoopi Goldberg will always be a national icon.
Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg actually got her first nickname from when she used to perform on stage. She said that if you were gassy up there, you couldn’t go to the bathroom so you just had to let it all out, so people used to say she was like a Whoopee Cushion. As for the Goldberg part, she says that it’s a part of her heritage, and that she’s just as much Jewish as she is black. So, there’s that, too. By now, I bet you’re saying, well, you’re just full of facts, and you’re right. I am. But I’m also full of opinions, which is how I can come up with this list. Oh, and if you’d like to read about two other strong black actresses, you can find Octavia Spencer here and Viola Davis here. But now on to Whoopi!
10. Captain Planet And The Planeteers (Gaia)
Seriously? Captain Planet? Yes, seriously. While many people first saw Whoopi Goldberg in movies like Sister Act and Ghost, for a lot of people now in their 20s and 30s, their introduction to Whoopi Goldberg was as the voice of Gaia on the hit cartoon, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. As Gaia, Whoopi Goldberg played the embodiment of Mother Earth, and she guided five teenagers to save our ailing planet.
So, why is this such a key performance in an utterly epic career? Because Whoopi Goldberg’s soothing, but sagacious voice lent a calmness and even beauty to a show that also featured a flying blue dude with a green mullet. Captain Planet could have been a really campy show, and at times, it was. But Whoopi Goldberg’s performance also added a sort of gravitas to the series, making the message of saving our planet seem as important as it was back then, and still is today.
9. Ghosts Of Mississippi (Myrlie Evers)
Not too long ago, I talked about how not enough people talk about Medgar Evers, and it’s true. They don’t. The Civil Rights Activist was gunned down right outside his own house, and for many years, his killer was able to walk free. Ghosts of Mississippi, which also stars Alec Baldwin and James Woods, is about that story.
Whoopi Goldberg gives a particularly powerful performance as Medgar Edgars’ wife, Myrlie Evers. We see her determination throughout to get her husband’s killer convicted, and while the movie around her performance could be a little better, both her and James Woods’ performances are especially potent.
8. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Terry Doolittle)
It’s weird to think, but Whoopi Goldberg might be more known for her serious performances than her comedic ones. It just goes to show what kind of well-rounded actress she is. But her background is mostly comedy, so it’s always a treat to see Whoopi go all out in the funny department. And as for that, look no further than her role as a computer operator who gets entangled with the CIA in Jumpin’ Jack Flash. A movie where a huge portion of the plot revolves around a frying pan.
The KGB are after Terry after she accidentally gets involved with them, and the movie is really just one madcap scene after the next, with Whoopi Goldberg playing the role of the shouting straight woman. This was long before Chris Tucker or Kevin Hart started their comedic screaming in the '90s and 2000s, respectively. That said, nobody does it better than Whoopi. She’s not an EGOT recipient for nothing, you know.
7. Boys On The Side (Jane DeLuca)
Boys on the Side is a sad movie, but also one full of hope and friendship. Also starring Drew Barrymore, Mary-Louise Parker, and Matthew McConaughey, Boys on the Side is about three women who form a friendship as they travel across the country. What sets Boys on the Side apart from other female bonding movies of the '90s, though is the topic of AIDS and homosexuality. One might say that Whoopi Goldberg is the main character of the movie, and she plays a lesbian in the film.
Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is especially noteworthy for being so earnest and committed, not only as a lesbian, but also as a musician. You fully believe this friendship between the three women, and it’s mostly because of Whoopi Goldberg’s performance. She’s extremely good in this movie, but flawed and sympathetic at the same time.
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation (Guinan)
Bartender of the Ten Forward, Whoopi Goldberg proved that even in space, she could be sassy. Growing up, my mom would always watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I didn’t get it. It seemed so boring. All anybody ever did was talk. But when Whoopi Goldberg came on as the “Listener” Guinan, I was always deeply engaged by her performance.
It might be because even though she wore all those elaborate get-ups, she still deeply humanized her character and made the world of Star Trek feel all the more personal. And while she would always listen, the little nuggets of information she would give back to the members of the Starship Enterprise would always be revelatory and important to the plot. Hell, she could even go toe-to-toe, performance-wise, with Captain Picard himself, which is no small feat.
5. The Long Walk Home (Odessa Carter)
Before The Help there was this historical drama starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek as a maid and her employer, respectively. Taking place during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts of the 1950s, Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Odessa, has to walk to work due to the strike, and Sissy Spacek’s character, Miriam, drives Odessa to and from work on certain days, even despite the racial tension in the rest of the state.
Of course this spills out to both of their home lives, and it’s here that Whoopi Goldberg really shines as the proud, but frustrated mother and employee trying to keep it all together. Sure, there is a bit of a white savior angle to the film, but this movie was in 1990. What else do you expect? At least Whoopi Goldberg is still a gem in the performance.
4. Sister Act (Deloris Van Cartier)
Look, if this article was about my favorite Whoopi Goldberg performances, then Deloris Van Cartier from Sister Act’s 1 and 2 would be my number 1 pick with a bullet. The story of a lounge singer who has to go into witness protection as a nun is pretty much a huge part of my childhood, and I’m really not sure how many times I’ve seen the two Sister Act movies. Maybe 20 times. Each? And that’s because this series is just pure Whoopi.
I always love stories where characters are way out of their depth, but still make the best of their situations, and that is Deloris Van Cartier to a T. She’s just so much fun as a character, both in and out of the habit, and I don’t think anybody else could have done this role and made such a broad and outrageous comedy out of it. It sucks that Whoopi apparently won’t have a major role in Sister Act 3, but well… Actually, I have nothing else to say to that. It just sucks.
3. The Lion King (Shenzi)
Here’s another voice acting performance from Whoopi, but I doubt anybody would deny the importance of this role. Playing one of Scar’s minion hyenas, Whoopi Goldberg absolutely kills it as Shenzi, a hyena who is both obsequious and also finding her own way in the circle of life.
Honestly, it’s just a super memorable performance. Shenzi is not a major player in the story, but she kind of is since she’s part of the reason why Mufasa dies. That said, you still feel for her character since she’s being used by Scar, and all of that comes through in Whoopi’s amazing vocal performance. It's a full range of emotions. From a hyena! Now, that’s talent.
2. Ghost (Oda May Brown)
The role that got Whoopi Goldberg that “O” in EGOT, Oda May Brown, the “fake” psychic who communicates with Patrick Swayze’s ghost doesn’t seem like a great performance at first glance, but within the world of this story, it works oh so well. Most of the romance in Ghost feels like a nice, slow heartbeat, but Whoopi Goldberg gives the film its vitality. She’s the fast heartbeat in this otherwise schlocky love story.
Honestly, I think Ghost would be a pretty lousy movie without Whoopi Goldberg. But thankfully, we get to see the world of this story through her eyes, and it really makes the movie pop. Without Whoopi, Ghost probably wouldn’t have been the highest grossing movie of 1990. And yes, you heard that right. Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. Isn’t that crazy?
1. The Color Purple (Celie)
Many would claim that Whoopi Goldberg’s first major performance was her best, and I won’t argue with them. How could I when Celie’s story in The Color Purple is an emotional roller coaster that earns all of its tears? Celie goes through so much abuse and torment, but all throughout, Whoopi Goldberg makes Celie super vulnerable but never helpless as a victim. It’s such a tightrope to walk, but the fact that Whoopi Goldberg nailed it in her very first major role is beyond incredible.
It’s little wonder that she was nominated for Best Actress that year, and actually won the Golden Globe for this role. It may not be my favorite performance of hers, but it’s definitely the one that will always live with her. It’s just that good.
Whoopi Goldberg has always been one of a kind. But what’s your favorite performance of hers?