When Robin Williams sadly passed away on August 11th of this year, he left behind a legacy of great performances, unmatched by few of his peers. He may have begun in comedy, but as this list demonstrates, Williams quickly became as respected as a dramatic actor as he was revered for his comic talents.
Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
The mid-80s saw Williams begin to transition from his trademark comic to more dramatic roles, and Barry Levinson’s 1987 movie represents the bridge between the two disciplines. As such, it’s the ultimate Robin Williams movie, affording him the opportunity to indulge his remarkable flair for comic improvisation, while displaying his gift for generating empathy through his unique, quiet vulnerability.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
If Good Morning Vietnam introduced the world to Williams’ dramatic talents, Dead Poets Society convinced us the star was as comfortable appearing in “serious” fare as he was goofing around on the couches of late night talk shows. Many actors have played inspirational teachers, but Williams’ John Keating is arguably the most memorable of them all.
Providing the voice for the film’s Genie, Williams helped create one of the most iconic characters in Disney’s illustrious history. Initially, Williams had turned down the role, but was convinced to take it upon being shown test footage of the animated character performing one of his famous stand-up routines. Now it’s impossible to imagine anyone else providing the Genie’s voice.
Homicide: Life on the Street, ‘Bop Gun’ episode (1994)
It’s no longer unusual for movie stars to appear on TV, but 20 years ago it was a rarity. For the opening episode of cop drama Homicide’s sophomore season, Williams brilliantly played the distraught husband of a murder victim. The result is one of the most moving episodes of network TV ever aired.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
For better or worse, it’s hard not to think of the Scottish nanny when Williams’ name is mentioned. Receiving poor reviews from critics on its release, the film was embraced by audiences, only bettered by Jurassic Park at the 1993 box office. The film may lack comic sophistication, but Williams’ energetic performance is undeniably infectious.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
It may have made a star out of lead (and co-writer with buddy Ben Affleck) Matt Damon, but it’s Williams’ Oscar winning supporting role that Good Will Hunting is most remembered for. The scene in which Williams delivers an anecdotal recounting of how he met his late wife is one of the standout moments of the actor’s career.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Much of Williams’ later work was overlooked, none more so than this under-rated, black as night comedy about a teacher and failing writer who manipulates the aftermath of his son’s death, believed to be a suicide, to advance his own career. Sadly, the film’s theme has become all too poignant now.
One Hour Photo (2002)
In 2002, Williams moved away from his nice guy image by playing villains in two movies: Christopher Nolan’s Alaskan thriller Insomnia and this dark psychological drama, One Hour Photo, in which his photo technician develops (pun intended) an unhealthy obsession with a female customer and her family. While he was reduced to a supporting role in Insomnia, here he’s front and center, displaying a dark side we’d never glimpsed before.
Williams often came across like a live-action version of an animated character, so it made perfect sense for him to play the iconic sailor. This was his first big screen role, having won over TV audiences with Mork and Mindy, and Williams embraced it with relish, making full use of his famous rubbery features.
The Birdcage (1996)
As with Mrs. Doubtfire, the broad comic premise of The Birdcage gave Williams the chance to fully express himself, and boy, did he, delivering a hilariously flamboyant performance as a gay man attempting to play straight when meeting his daughter’s prospective in-laws.
By Eric Hillis