10 Best Robin Williams Movie Performances
Robin Williams has been considered to be one of the greatest comedic performers with a legacy that immortalizes his most praiseworthy work. He originally found his fame through stand-up sets and the televised sitcom Mork and Mindy, which expedited his career in the world of entertainment. He turned to film after breaking into television, which brought about some of his most memorable and iconic roles. Williams went on to call himself an Academy Award winner for a select number of his films, earning four Oscars throughout his time as an actor. He established himself as an unmatched performer with a style unique to himself, and acted as a signature to any production that he found himself joining in on, no matter the size of the role. Williams’ tragic passing was announced on August 11, 2014. While there are tens of films left in his wake, Williams’ best performances are ranked down below.
10. Insomnia (2002)
This little-known film was directed by Christopher Nolan pairs Robin Williams with Al Pacino in a murder mystery that takes place in Alaska. Williams plays a local crime writer who takes on the case of a teenage girl’s murder, and all signs point to his character being the killer. Williams steps away from his comedic nature for this psychological thriller that presents a stark look at the police ethics in the modern era. The element of suspense is channeled through leaving audiences guessing whether his character is the killer, and his unwavering nature is instrumental to keeping moviegoers engaged with the crime movie, inviting them to question of he was the one behind the murder. Insomnia asks for a different side of Williams, which he willingly delivers, and stands out as one of his intriguing dramatic roles. The film itself may have fallen by the wayside as it nears two decades following its initial release, but holds its own weight as time wears on.
9. One Hour Photo (2002)
One Hour Photo is another early 2000s, deeply unsettling piece that allows Williams to demonstrate that as funny as he may be, he still has the ability to get under an audience’s skin and make them squirm with great discomfort. This haunting movie stars Williams as a retail store photo technician who is tasked with developing photos. His job is to look at hundreds of family photos per day, and his fascination spirals into obsession with them. He becomes dangerously intrigued by a young couple and their child, placing their happiness and social standing on a mental pedestal. He sets his intentions on “becoming one of them” which leads to more sinister means in order to achieve that for himself. This intense film once again allows Williams to sink into a darker, more disturbed role, and can be noted as one of his most under-recognized roles. It provides him with the opportunity to show off his multi-faceted abilities in a truly chilling piece of cinema.
8. The Fisher King (1991)
Robin Williams teams up with Jeff Bridges to bring a humanizing story to life. The tagline lauds The Fisher King as “a modern day tale about the search for love, sanity, ethereal merman and the Holy Grail.” While this specific movie is drowned out by other exemplary work in the comic’s portfolio, it’s a dazzling movie that captures the absurdity of life and the shattered ego of a depressed shock radio DJ. Love, loss, personal downfall, and a strong cast all come together to prop The Fisher King’s reputation up, and it’s well deserved.
Williams approaches The Fisher King by toeing the line between method acting and the rawness of melancholy. There is an incredibly human aspect that brings Williams’ character – a homeless man who connects with Bridges – such tangible anger and grief that can be plucked out of the air and held in one’s hand. He works incredibly hard to make his character believable, and absolutely achieves exactly what Williams wanted to see come of his role.
7. Popeye (1980)
Williams’ first movie serves as one of his strongest works and doubles as Robert Altman’s stylized take on the iconic Popeye cartoon that can be most recognized for revitalizing the popularity of spinach in the everyday household. Altman may have been a questionable choice for a live-action adaptation of the children’s cartoon, but skepticism was dismissed after the early ‘90s interpretation surprised moviegoers. Even while being buried beneath an emblematic makeup job, Williams brought Popeye’s voice and mannerisms to life. He not only delivered catchphrases on-screen, but Popeye gave Williams the chance to show off his musical skills through song and dance numbers. This once-overlooked musical comedy is a display of the actor’s abilities past acting alone in his breakout role. Williams has been praised for elevating the simplest of artistic media – the comic strip – and giving it a personality of its own. He gave the perpetual squint-and-smile of Popeye a little more charm.
6. The Birdcage (1996)
Robin Williams starred in this adapted French film that values character over plot. His chemistry with Nathan Lane as a two gay artists that participate in the drag scene is undeniable. As per his reputation, Williams knows how to ground each scene by merely being in the frame. The role may have been written to be flamboyant and outgoing, brash perhaps, but the actor exhibits a great deal of control and restraint over how he presents himself. It’s an acutely thoughtful speculation on the interpretation of LGBTQIA+ people in both life and in media, and while a quirky comedy with a spunk of its own, The Birdcage earned Williams his first Screen Actors Guild Award.
5. .Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the most famous films commonly associated with Robin Williams as he plays a divorced voice actor determined to see his children who are no longer in his custody. He dons the disguise of Mrs. Doubtfire and poses as a nanny, hired by his ex-wife. Williams improved so many scenes that there could have been many different ratings assigned to the film by the MPAA which ranged from PG to NC-17. It was clarified by director Christopher Colombus that there was no official NC-17 cut of Mrs. Doubtfire, though he did acknowledge that Williams would produce 15 to 22 improvised takes.
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His performance in the movie has been noted for its wit, and daring to push boundaries that haven’t been cinematically tried before. Beneath the clownish surface of Mrs, Doubtfire, Williams nails down the emotional aspect of pain buried beneath an outgoing, carefree front. Williams, in all of his frenetic energy, demonstrates the bigheartedness of what Mrs. Doubtfire sets out to embody through his own personality.
4. Good Will Hunting (1997)
The film’s just as beloved today as it was during its release. Robin Williams plays a therapist that’s been asked to help a reclusive genius played by Matt Damon, and together, the two divulge personal secrets and share debates over the meaning of life and death. Williams’ strongest moments are found in scenes where he details the love he still has for his late wife, from their meeting to their grieving. This overwhelmingly caring performance unlocks new dimensions of Williams’ abilities and uses loss to unlock an emotional epiphany. This well-crafted drama finds its draw not only through its psychological symmetries, but through Williams’ own embodiment of the role that supports uplifting, poignant, and feel-good moments. This rowdy, funny, and heartbreaking piece is full of life, and wouldn’t be such without the addition of Williams to an impressive ensemble of cast.
3. Aladdin (1992)
Robin Williams is the perfect choice for this high-energy, fast-talking, wish-granting Genie that adds all the more spunk and flair to the Disney animated classic Aladdin. He faces constraints that might hold him back when it comes to live-action acting, and the wit is effortless through the power of his voice alone. The role of Genie gave Williams free reign to do what he felt suited the character best, and granted him the ability to recall his stand-up comedy roots. The performance earned him his third Golden Globe win, and rightfully so, as this role found itself right at home with the actor’s imagination.
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His work with Disney also shone light on the treatment of voice actors. He asked for a higher payout for his talent and further recognition for his work on the film, which the studio provided him with. Disney eventually announced their live-action version of Aladdin which would substitute Will Smith in as Genie, and while his efforts were present, there was the evident lack of outgoing charisma that Williams delivered to the role: a level of outgoing charisma that’s been seldom replicated.
2. Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Robin Williams excels as a motor-mouthed on-air announcer during the Vietnam War that harnessed the art of unconventional banter through radio broadcast. Good Morning Vietnam was the medium that fully let him fall back into his ad-libbed humor while marrying it with the horrors of war. There was the perfect medley of a serious structure of a plot padded with wild humor that was seemingly created for Williams alone. The premise and the format of the film permitted him to “let loose” and transform the cautionary wartime comedy into an incredible tour de force. Good Morning Vietnam earned the comedian his first Oscar nomination and scored him his first Golden Globe win.
1. Dead Poets’ Society (1989)
Robin Williams’ fast-on-his-feet imaginative thinking and his dedication to emotional performances create many memorable on-screen moments for the actor that have built up to his esteemed reputation, but Dead Poets Society is remembered as his best work. He leads the film as an English teacher that cares more about his students more than he does the politics of the school that he teaches at, this refreshing drama dips beneath the surface of what Williams usually promises per performance. There’s still that witty, sincere, and lovable attitude that is often associated with his work, though it’s not limited to that, and drives the story forward.