Robin Williams’ death in 2014 at the age of 63 was one of the most shocking celebrity deaths in recent memory (a later autopsy revealed he had been suffering from Lewy body dementia). Fans throughout the world were saddened by the passing of a man who brought them so much joy and laughter.
It wasn’t until Williams appeared on “Mork & Mindy” (and “Happy Days” before that) that he became a household name. His frenetic comedic energy was amazing to see. Improvisations, mimicry, and humorous voices were all part of his repertoire, which he performed at a rapid pace. Soon enough, Hollywood noticed and gave him his first major job as an animated cartoon character in Robert Altman’s “Popeye” (1980).
Even though he was known for his wit, Williams also demonstrated his ability as an actor in dramatic roles. As he continued to grow as an actor, he was nominated for Best Actor Oscars for “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “The Fisher King” (1991). Good Will Hunting” (1997) got him the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role. “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Birdcage,” “FernGully,” and of course, the animated blockbuster “Aladdin” were all hits while he was tearing our hearts in tragedies (1992).
Still, Williams’ death still stings. His legacy will live on thanks to the many classics he left behind in his filmography. Check out this list of Robin Williams’ sixteen greatest films.
16. Hook (1991)
The age at which you first saw “Hook” has a significant impact on how much you enjoy the film. There is a good likelihood that if you were an adult and a film critic in 1991, you disliked it (as evidenced by its 29 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). You may not remember this, but it was one of your favorite childhood movies because of Robin Williams’ role as Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s magical adventure.
As Peter Banning, he portrays a successful lawyer with little time for his two children, Jack (played by Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (played by Williams) (Amber Scott). A kidnapping of his children by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) forces him to face the truth about his own childhood, which was spent in Neverland. A few flying lessons from Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), some fairy dust from the Lost Boys, and the assistance of their new leader Rufio (Dante Basco) are all that Peter needs to save the day.
The critical reception to this film is extremely mixed. There is no questioning the film’s exquisite craft (five technical Oscar nods) or the dedication of its actors, especially Williams as a tensely wound man who must rediscover his imaginative childlike spirit..
15. What Dreams May Come (1998)
Because of Williams’ own tragic end, it’s difficult to see “What Dreams May Come” without feeling a twinge of grief. Aside from these issues, it’s still an excellent film, with stunning visuals and an emotive plot that we can’t help but be moved by (as Roger Ebert pointed out in his otherwise glowing review).
Chris Nielsen, a doctor, dies in a strange vehicle accident portrayed by Williams. There are real paintbrushes in Heaven for him to use, just like his wife Annie’s beautiful watercolor paintings. Annie commits suicide after the death of her husband and their two children in a vehicle accident four years earlier. Despite the warnings of his heavenly companion, Albert, Chris decides to enter the underworld in order to save his wife (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
If nothing else, the visual effects and production design in the picture are genuinely stunning and Oscar-winning. Despite the film’s depressing subject matter, the events leading up to the happy ending are gripping because of Williams’ sympathetic acting.
14. World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
As he neared the end of his career, Williams tended to play up the darker aspects of his persona. Until Bobcat Goldthwait’s bracing satire, which plays like a humorous “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” did he ever delve into that so hilariously.
During the filming of “World’s Greatest Dad,” Williams plays Lance, a high school poetry instructor with a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts. It’s Kyle (Daryl Sabara) who makes this sad sack of a man’s life a living hell. Lance makes a phony journal when Kyle dies in a freak accident in order to offer his kid a little dignity in death. To make matters worse, the fictitious journal makes the unpopular youngster into a martyr and his father into a hero in Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school’s art instructor.
For some reason, we’re compelled to make the deceased heroes, no matter how terrible they were while still alive. Without Williams’ amazing acting, this would all be unbearable to see.
13. Popeye (1980)
The 61 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating for Robert Altman’s “Popeye” reflects a wide range of opinions about the film, with some calling it great and others deeming it tedious. You can’t help not be surprised by Williams’ remarkable performance as the cartoon sailor, no matter what your opinion of the movie is. Because it was his first starring part in a feature film, it is even more remarkable.
Sweethaven, the beach town where Pappy was last seen, is the setting for this reimagining of E.C. Segar’s popular comic strip (Ray Walston). Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), Wimpy (Paul Dooley), and Bluto (David Strathairn) are some of the other characters Harry encounters (Paul L. Smith). Defeating Bluto’s reign of terror will require more than a few cans of spinach. Popeye must do this on his own.
As a result of Altman’s meticulous effort to replicate the appearance of Segar’s comic, the budget of this Paramount/Disney co-production ballooned as big as Popeye. In spite of the fact that it was not a huge hit, it helped start Williams’ stardom and has since attracted a devoted following among veggie fans everywhere.
12. Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
An immigrant experience that is more relevant today than when it was released in 1984 is shown in Paul Mazursky’s “Moscow on the Hudson.” Having Williams at the helm is impossible to fathom, considering his ability to mimic and his gentle, odd appeal.
As Vladimir Ivanoff, the traveling Moscow circus’s Russian saxophone, he appears in New York City. While shopping at Bloomingdale’s, he decides to escape from the Soviet Union and try to adapt to life in the United States. He meets people from all over the world as he travels. Mazursky presents America as a melting pot by filling the principal cast almost exclusively with foreign players.
As Vladimir, Williams proved that he was a virtuoso at combining comedy and sadness in equal measures. For his performance in the film, he received his first Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actor (he previously won on the TV side for”Mork & Mindy”).
11. The World According to Garp (1982)
Lyrical portrayal of John Irving’s best-seller was Williams’ first dramatic role. The film adaptation, directed by George Roy Hill, softens some of the novel’s more abrasive edges in favor of humor. As a result, who better to play the main character than that most mercurial of Hollywood stars?
he portrays the protagonist Garp, whose mother (Glenn Close in her first film role) conceived him while serving as a nurse in WWII. Despite his success as a novelist, he is outshone by his mother, a feminist legend, who publishes a politically charged manifesto. One of her houses becomes a shelter for battered women and transsexual ex-football players (John Lithgow). Garp, on the other hand, marries and has a family, though his wife (Mary Beth Hurt) is less than loyal.
Williams takes on the role of an observer for the audience, calmly taking in the antics of the diverse cast of people who appear and disappear throughout the course of the play. In spite of his erratic behavior, he gracefully lets his co-stars take the show (particularly Lithgow and Close, both of whom earned supporting Oscar nominations for their performances). The movie would have fallen into chaos without him, yet he retains its beating heart.
10. Awakenings (1990)
Robert De Niro’s performance in “Awakenings” received the majority of the praise, but Williams is a match for him in every aspect. To our surprise and delight, the film was the first one in which he demonstrated his ability to hold our attention without using a single one-liner. Having this ability would come in useful as he moved on to darker parts in the film industry.
Penny Marshall’s adaptation of Oliver Sacks’ 1973 memoir of the same name is a remarkable piece of filmmaking. When Dr. Malcolm Sayer discovered that L-Dopa might “awaken” the catatonic victims of the encephalitis pandemic of the 1920s in 1969, Williams was cast as Sacks’ proxy. Leonard (De Niro), a patient who has been paralyzed since infancy, is given a new lease on life by the medicine, but the effects are tragically short-lived.
However, even if Leonard’s arc is the most dramatic, Malcolm’s journey is no less vital to the story’s success. His patients’ waking up from their comas helps him to open up to the world, even leading to a romance with a patient nurse (Julie Kavner, known best for playing Marge Simpson). Williams was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, but De Niro was nominated for an Oscar.
9. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
After Robin Williams’ death in 2014, fans gathered outside the San Francisco mansion used for exteriors in “Mrs. Doubtfire” to pay honor to the late actress. On top of that, it was an acknowledgement of the film’s impact on popular culture; Williams lived for many years in Tiburon, a small town in Marin County.
Daniel Hillard, a voice actor who takes extreme means to spend time with his children following a traumatic divorce, was one of Williams’ most memorable appearances. You want to know how desperate I am? To play Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly British nanny hired by Daniel’s naive wife (Sally Field) to look after the house while she’s at work, he donning heavy makeup, a fat costume, and a strong English accent.
On the surface, this is just a way for Williams to play a role that he enjoys portraying. Underneath, though, is a tale of a young man who grows up to be a better man by taking on the role of a woman (kinda like Dustin Hoffman in”Tootsie”). A box financial triumph, “Mrs. Doubtfire” garnered Williams the Best Comedy/Musical Actor Golden Globe. Despite the fact that he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work, the picture won the award for best makeup.
8. One Hour Photo (2002)
When spectators first saw Williams in 2002’s “One Hour Photo,” the gasps were audible throughout the theater. This and “Insomnia” in the same year were his first forays into the darker side of dramatic acting, but he had already established himself as an accomplished performer.
Mark Romanek’s psychological thriller about a depressed photo technician named Sy is an unsettling watch (Williams). The Yorkins, particularly Nina (Connie Nielsen) and her son Jake (Dylan Smith), who constantly seek his help, become dangerously fascinated with him. After discovering that Will (Michael Vartan) is cheating on his wife, the self-appointed “Uncle Sy” goes to dangerous lengths to avenge the betrayal.
There’s no denying the impact of Williams’ unnerving performance, which reveals a range viewers may never have thought possible despite the storyline twists. After losing to both Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson at the Critics Choice Awards, he offered a humorous acceptance speech (“About Schmidt”).
7. The Fisher King (1991)
He’s best known for his ferocious stand-up comedy, yet Williams was rarely honored for his serious work by the Academy Awards. Only Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King” allows him to soar while still keeping him grounded for some heartbreakingly poignant moments.
Jack, a shock jock, loses his job after he inadvertently encourages a listener to go on a killing spree. Jeff Bridges plays the role. Parry (Williams), a mentally ill homeless man on a search for the Holy Grail, saves him from a suicide attempt when he works at a video store with his fiancée (Mercedes Ruehl). When Parry discovers that he is completely responsible for his current state of mind, Jack helps him put his life back together, helping him win the love of a nice, shy girl (Amanda Plummer).
In William’s case, the director Gilliam is the right fit for his wild energy. Even though the picture combines fantasy, romance, humor, and tragedy, the result is a work of art in its own right. Williams, who was nominated for an Oscar for the part, received a second Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical Actor for his performance.
6. The Birdcage (1996)
There aren’t many American remakes that surpass the success of their international counterparts, but “The Birdcage” was one of them. Adapted from the Oscar-nominated French farce La Cage aux Folles (which also inspired a Tony-winning musical), it’s an outrageously amusing comedy of errors that gets as close to lunacy as it possible can.
Armand Goldman (Williams) is the owner of a South Beach gay club, where drag diva Starina (Albert) is the star attraction (Nathan Lane). Val (Dan Futterman), Armand’s son, returns home with some significant news: he’s getting married to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a hardline Republican senator (Gene Hackman). Val urges his father to hide his extravagant lifestyle from the senator and his wife (Dianne Wiest) for one night. But it’s a lot more difficult than it appears.
Despite the fact that the characters could have easily become insulting stereotypes, director Mike Nichols and author Elaine May instead endow them with a profound empathy (reuniting for the first time since their Nichols and May days). As the story’s steadfast center, Williams does an excellent job of reining in his enthusiastic tendencies. First and only time an all-star cast won the SAG Ensemble award without a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
5. Insomnia (2002)
As an actor who emanates warmth and goodness, who would’ve believed that Williams would be able to portray a crazed killer? He sensed the potential and used it to great effect in Christopher Nolan’s tense thriller.
Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a Los Angeles homicide investigator assigned to an Alaskan fishing hamlet where the sun never sets, in this remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. Martin Donovan, who was due to testify against him, was inadvertently shot and killed by him while he was distracted by an Internal Affairs inquiry and a lack of sleep. Forgery writer Walter Finch (Williams) gets in touch and uses Will’s crime as an excuse to cover up his own.
As characters who have compromised their morality, Williams and Pacino’s performances are spellbinding. One has accepted his depravity while the other still tries to do what is right. Williams plays with Pacino like a cat with a mouse trapped in its mouth, and their sequences together are powerful. Known for his ability to make us laugh, Williams could also send chills down our spines.
4. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Williams received his first taste of Oscar glory in Barry Levinson’s comedy drama, which he starred in with gusto. Good Morning, Vietnam is a display for all of the actor’s best qualities: mastery of mimicry, unbridled improvisational energy, and a profound humanism.
The character he portrays is Adrian Cronauer, a Vietnam War DJ assigned to the US Armed Forces Radio. To amuse American soldiers on the battlefield, Cronauer employs humor as a weapon, riffing for hours on end on stage. His armor of joking about everything is gradually peeled away as the horrors of war hit him.
“Far and away the best job [he] has ever done in a movie,” said Roger Ebert of Williams’ performance. He explained that “his own techniques are turned against him” as the reason for this. His comedic ability often served as a shield for him, but in this performance, he bares all. Williams was nominated for the part at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs in addition to his Oscar nomination.
3. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Inspirational movies like “Dead Poets Society” are hard to beat, and the film owes much of its success to Robin Williams’ portrayal of an inspirational teacher in the film. John Keating was our gold standard for teachers who pushed us to “seize the day” and go above and above in our daily lives.
In the late 1950s, Peter Weir’s film takes place in a stifling all-boys prep school. Marlon Brando impersonations are used by the teacher to teach Shakespeare to the students, including Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles and Gale Hansen. When one of his students dies, his employment is in jeopardy because of his unconventional teaching methods, which include ripping pages out of textbooks.
“O Captain! My Captain!” is screamed by the pupils as Keating is escorted out of the classroom by the teacher. It’s no surprise that Williams was nominated for a second time for Best Actor for his work in this film. Additionally, the film competed in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, taking home the Best Original Screenplay award.
2. Aladdin (1992)
Although “Aladdin” may not be the greatest voice-over performance of all time, Robin Williams’ portrayal as the genie set the standard for all subsequent star castings in animated films. Toy Story’s Tom Hanks and “Shrek’s” Eddie Murphy would not have been the same without him. His performance in the role had such an impact that he was given an honorary Golden Globe award for it.
Everyone who grew up in the ’90s remembers the story of Aladdin, a street urchin named Aladdin who falls in love with the lovely princess Jasmine and uses a magic lamp and a genie to try to win her heart and get three wishes come true. With his high-octane stand-up routine, Williams adds improvisational riffs to the carefully regulated world of animation (one can imagine animators furiously creating new drawings to keep up with him).
It’s a breathtaking display of artistry that catapulted Williams to a new audience. In the live-action adaptation, even Will Smith couldn’t compete with him, and honestly, why would you even try? ”
1. Good Will Hunting (1997)
It’s difficult to pick just one Williams performance because he excelled in so many areas. If it’s an energetic comedy you’re after, choose “Mrs. Doubtfire.” If it’s a drama, consider “The Fisher King.” “Dead Poets Society,” “Awakenings,” and “Good Morning, Vietnam” all have a powerful emotional impact on their audiences. One Hour Photo or Insomnia’s shockingly anti-type psychos?
At the very least, “Good Will Hunting” captures so much of what made Williams such a unique performer: his warmth, comedy, and personal connection. When Matt Damon plays an MIT janitor who happens to be an unrecognized math genius, it’s an unforgettable supporting role from Gus Van Sant. Sean Maguire, the school psychologist played by Williams, helps him discover his full potential before he gives it all up.
Michael Williams, who received an Oscar for his performance as a patient’s therapist who confronts and overcomes his own problems, is a heart-wrenching character in the film. If you’re in need of a good tear, check out his Oscar acceptance speech when he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Imitation Game.