August 11, 2022
WRITTEN BY: PAIGE
On the anniversary of his untimely passing, I want to talk about Robin Williams.
As an actor, Williams was a jack of all trades, leaving behind a legacy of outstanding performances across multiple genres in both supporting and lead roles. He won Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, and an Oscar. He found fame through stand-up, but soon broke into television (and later film) where he established himself with a unique, fast-paced, and improvisational style that earned him accolades and acclaim from critics and fans alike.
As a person, he was an inspiration to many, including myself, and his absence is still notable. Williams had a limitless ambition and desire to constantly better himself and those around him. Through his work and charitable actions, he taught us to see life and others in new, creative, and compassionate ways.
Williams once said, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world,” and that is what he did for me - he changed my world. With a range like no other, from comedy to horror to heartfelt dramas, all of his roles hold a special place in my heart, but the ones listed below are my absolute favorites.
10. HOOK (1991)
Director Steven Spielberg's fantasy adventure Hook was right up my alley when I was a kid. There have been many Peter Pans, but Williams is my generation's Pan, and his performance as a stuck-up man who must rekindle his imaginative childhood spirit is spot on. There is no denying that this film is magical, and to this day, I feel like a kid that never wants to grow up every time I watch it. Oh, and just try not to tear up when one of the Lost Boys says, “oh, there you are, Peter.” Like I said, magic.
9. ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002)
If you think Williams could only do comedy or drama, you’re WRONG! One Hour Photo, a deeply disturbing psychological thriller about a lonely photo technician that brings on the creepiness, is a fantastic example of an actor doing an incredible job with a character that is completely against type. The power of Williams' unsettling portrayal shows a range that, frankly, viewers probably never thought was possible from him. This flick is perhaps his most underrated film, and it features perhaps his most underrated performance.
8. THE BIRDCAGE (1996)
“Fosse! Fosse! Fosse!” Williams gives a brilliant comedic performance alongside a stellar cast in The Birdcage. While his character could have easily been an offensive stereotype, it’s infused with such a deep humanity by director Mike Nichols. And let’s not forget that the chemistry between Williams and Nathan Lane is undeniable, making them one of the most iconic couples on film.
7. INSOMNIA (2002)
Williams’ performance in Insomnia is a prime example of what I mean when I say he was one of the most diverse actors in the business. Although he does not appear in the film all that much, he makes the most of his screen time as the film’s creepy villain with an absolutely chilling performance. The cat-and-mouse games his Walter Finch plays with Al Pacino’s Detective Dormer allows this underseen gem from director Christopher Nolan to be one of Williams’ most striking and surprising offerings. I mean, who would’ve thought he could pull off playing a psychotic killer?!?
6. ALADDIN (1992)
This Disney Renaissance Era adventure is one of my favorite animated movies, and that’s almost entirely because of Robin Williams. Not only is his vocal performance as The Genie iconic, it’s probably one of the all-time best animated performances ever. The character is infused with his trademark comedy and style, really capturing Williams in a way that feels special and timeless to this day. This is a one-of-a-kind performance that likely will never be rivaled.
5. AWAKENINGS (1990)
Robin Williams and Robert De Niro are a dynamic duo in this real-life drama from director Penny Marshall. Even though De Niro got all the Oscar buzz, the subtlety of Williams’ performance makes Awakenings a wonderfully touching tale. It’s also another example of Williams’ ability to take on diverse roles. He is exceptional as Dr. Sayer, quietly becoming the soul of the film through the palpable feeling of hope that he radiates. I’m not lying when I say this film taught me to make the most out of life.
4. MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)
“Hellooo!” There’s no other way to say it, Mrs. Doubtfire features one of Williams’ most iconic characters, and the movie itself remains one of the great family films of the 90s. The man’s transformation into an elderly British nanny is nothing short of spectacular. It’s Robin Williams at his best, turning a film about divorce into something weird, hysterical, and incredibly heartwarming. But underneath that is a story about an immature man that grows up by walking in a woman’s shoes. Maybe some guys should try this tactic.
3. GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)
I’m a Boston gal, so of course I have to include Good Will Hunting. There is something inherently human about Williams’ character that makes this movie a powerful and emotional watch, and he was able to use his own personal experiences with depression to propel himself to an Oscar win for his performance as therapist Sean Maguire. I mean, come on, let’s be real…Williams’ delivers one of the best monologues on film, and the fact that it imparts the important message that being a genius is worthless if you don’t lead a meaningful and fulfilling life makes it that much more commanding.
2. DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
“O’ Captain, My Captain!” Dead Poets Society is beautifully directed by Peter Weir, and in my mind, is an inspirational classic. It’s such a moving film, featuring an outstanding performance from Robin Williams as a teacher who thinks-outside-the-box in an effort to change the lives of his students. The film takes its time telling a simple but effective tale on the importance of being a free thinker, and it truly changed my outlook on life. There are no better words to live by than “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
1. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987)
And, finally, my all-time favorite Robin Williams’ film is Good Morning, Vietnam. As someone who worked in radio for a few years, I can totally relate to this movie. This war dramedy explores some of the hardest moments humanity has gone through, and it’s all done so through the comedic lens of Williams. It’s captivating, allowing Williams’ to show his wide range of acting chops and the improvisational skills he would become known for. He is, no exaggeration, fantastic, and it feels as if this role was made for him specifically, which is probably why it earned him his first Oscar nomination.
Sadly, Robin Williams committed suicide on August 11, 2014. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please contact Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S.. Connect to a crisis responder to get help without judgement. You deserve to be heard, they’re here to listen.
Photo Credits: Photo 1 - TriStar Pictures; Photo 2 - Searchlight Pictures; Photo 3 - MGM; Photo 4 - Warner Bros.; Photo 5, 9, 10 - Disney; Photo 6 - Columbia Pictures; Photo 7 - 20th Century Studios; Photo 8 - Miramax Films