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The 15 Best Robin Williams Movies You Need To Watch

13 August 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Neil Evans

best Robin Willaims Movies

Like countless others across the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Robin Williams. To me, this man was an utter lightning bolt in human form. An insanely gifted comedian and actor, his light shone twice as bright as most of his contemporaries.

Born in 1951, Williams was a star pupil at the Juliard School in New York. He shot to instant fame as the alien Mork in “Mork And Mindy”, one of the spinoff shows from “Happy Days”. His manic energy and prodigious gift for improvisation made the word sit up and take notice.

He further parlayed his remarkable skills into both stand-up comedy and a long and successful cinema career. It was remarkable to see him develop as an actor, taking on challenging serious roles in films like Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia”.

Overall, he will be most remembered as the man that could make you laugh until you cried. It’s been remarkable over the past twenty-four hours to witness the outpouring of love and grief, particularly on social media, for a man that many of us never met. He was like that long lost uncle that brightened up a room with his mere presence.

Here is a list of some of his best performances in film.

 

15. Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991)

Hook-robin-williams

While Williams is interesting as an older Peter Pan, the film as a whole is somewhat puffy bloated and over-sentimental. Apparently, due to the logistics of working on water, the film was something of a nightmare to shoot, blowing out its budget significantly. You thought Spielberg would have learnt about all this after the legendarily tough film shoot that was “Jaws”, right?!?

 

14. Patch Adams (Tom Shadyac, 1998)

patch-adams

The polar opposite of “What Dreams May Come”. While also dealing with death, this film looks for compassion and humour in that moment. Williams plays the titular character, a clown doctor who comforts and amuses terminally ill children in hospital.

Treacly sentimental, this is a film that divides people somewhat. Some find it incredibly manipulative on an emotional level. Others, on the other hand, are very taken by its heart and humanity. Williams excels in the role, bringing a certain pathos to what his character does.

 

13. Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990)

awakenings (1990)

Directed with admirable restraint by former actor Penny Marshall, Williams plays a fictionalised version of doctor Oscar Sacks. The film delves into his efforts to bring comatose patients back to waking life via the use of drugs. In serious mode (whenever Williams has a full beard in a film usually denotes this), Williams is wonderful as a doctor trying to push the boundaries of what we know in regards to science and medicine.

 

12. Jumanji (Joe Johntston, 1995)

Jumanji-robin-williams

Playing a man trapped in a board game, Williams excels in director Joe Johnston’s hugely entertaining work. This is one of the more enjoyable family films that Williams has acted it. With a boundless energy and sense of fun to it, this an absolute whale of a time for film lovers of all ages and sizes.

Along with “The Rocketeer” and “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, Johntson is one of those directors that has continually done great work and one of those rare directors that achieves a great balance between special effects and the more organic and human elements of his films. “Jumanji” is probably the best display of this balance.

 

11. Mrs Doubtfire (Chris Columbus, 1993)

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Along with “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Morning, Vietnam”, this is another film that really struck a chord with mainstream audiences. It continues to be one of the most loved films that Williams did.

Unable to get visitation rights to see his kids, divorced dad dresses up in drag and becomes English nanny Mrs Doubtfire in order to see his kids. Watching Williams struggle with the ways of his opposite gender is highly charming and amusing. Best line? “Whoever invented high heels was a misogynistic bastard!”

While very down the line as far as entertainment is concerned, it is a pleasure to watch Williams stretch himself in a way that audiences at that point hadn’t seen before. It really taps into his physicality as an actor.

 

10. Death To Smoochy (Danny De Vito, 2002)

death-to-smoochy-robin-williams

Criminally underrated, this one. Williams plays a disgraced former host of a kids television show who gets into to a war of wits and words with his replacement, Smoochy, played by Edward Norton.

This is basically one big bitchfight extended to feature length. However, it’s a brilliantly written and acted one. There is a great chemistry between Williams and Norton as they try to tear each other apart.

After a decade or so of middling family films and left of centre performances that didn’t quite work, it was wonderful to see Williams back on form here. This was the start of something of a roll for the actor.

 

9. What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)

what-dreams-may-come-robin-williams

Intense, depressing and crazily brilliant, this really is one out of the box. Williams plays a man who dies in a car crash searching for his wife in the afterlife.

What makes this film soar are two things. One feels the pain of Williams’ character on a visceral, highly emotional level. The actor really taps into something that is universal and that many across the world understand.

“What Dreams May Come” also features an utterly ravishing visual style and palette provided by New Zealand director Ward, a true visionary.

This is tough viewing on an emotional level, but an intensely rewarding one.

 

 

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  • Chris

    An excellent list and I totally agree. Though, I wish Moscow on the Hudson made this list. That one is criminally underrated, in my opinion.

    • Samara

      YES!! That movie is so beautiful, and encapsulates, more than any other movie I’ve ever seen, the American struggle. I blame the name, it should have been called Coming To America if that hadn’t been taken, it fits this much more than the former.

      • Chris

        Yes, a beautiful movie, indeed and also a beautiful performance. I love the fact that he speaks Russian for the first half hour of the movie. He brought so much subtlety to the role and was so restrained. This is of course thanks to director Paul Mazursky, who is of course one of the greats in the business.

        The title of “Coming to America” wasn’t taken by that point, but would be in 1988 starring Eddie Murphy and directed by John Landis. Much like Moscow on the Hudson, the film also deals with a foreigner coming to America and pursuing the American dream and romance. A great film, as well.

        • Samara

          You’re right, it wasn’t taken yet. That movie is far less thorough in examining the American dream; and also much less serious, which one wouldn’t expect from Williams at that point.
          It’s insane it isn’t an American classic considering EVERYTHING that was working for it, except the title. Shame…everyone who reads these comments, go watch this movie!

  • Michael Feliciano

    World’s Greatest Dad is the best, but is not on the list

  • World’s Greatest Dad? Anyway, great list.

  • Guffers

    Just to nitpick, Williams played a fictionalized version of Dr. OLIVER Sacks in Awakenings, not Oscar.

  • FlyteBro

    I’m sorry, but the only reason you can possibly claim that the Nolan’s fluffy, stereotypical, overly-simplified, flat, awfully ending, and all out terrible version of Insomnia is “a rare American remake that works”, is if you haven’t seen the brooding, sinister and ambiguous original.

  • Ted Wolf

    loved Fisher King

  • jjjj

    WHAT??? NO BIRDCAGE??

  • Jason D. Bigelow

    These are all rubbish, and in most cases barely meet the criteria of being regarded as “movies.”

  • John

    R.I.P old friend, i love you..

  • Will Wuorinen

    I would add “The Final Cut” to this list.

  • Frank Castle

    Where is World’s Greatest Dad or Moscow On The Hudson? as far as performances are concerned I would have those two in the top 5 in place of Garp and The Fisher King.