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Robin Williams: The 10 Best Performances

35th Annual People's Choice Awards - Press Room
It’s taken me a little bit to be able to write this piece, honestly. The death of Robin Williams hit myself and most of the industry harder than a celebrity’s passing usually does. Part of it has to do with the fact that it was a suicide, but more than anything it’s just the loss of such a beacon of happiness and humor. Williams struggled with depression, but he made it his mission in life to bring joy to others. As such, I couldn’t not pay tribute to the man, but I wanted to be able to take a little bit of time and think about his work before doing this article.

Below you’ll find Williams’ ten best performances, not counting his genius stand up work, of course.

10. World’s Greatest Dad – An incredibly dark comedy, Williams does some very underrated work in a project that’s really hard to watch now. It involves themes that will hit too close to home, but one day we’ll be able to approach this one again and I hope more people will realize how good he was in it. It’s a black comedy, but Williams anchors it in emotion.

9. Moscow on the Hudson – Another under seen film (and one that has sort of been forgotten ever since The Terminal came out, consider some similarities in plot), Williams got to show range in this one. I hope folks seek this one out now, as it deserves a second look. He’s quite good here, I assure you.

8. Insomnia – The only time Williams went and played a full on villain, and boy is he chilling. He does it in such a calm way, you’re just unnerved. This is a “lesser” Christopher Nolan outing to most, but Williams is easily the best part of it. He aces his part.

7. The Fisher King – Perhaps Terry Gilliam’s crowning achievement (or at least his most underrated), Williams gets to mix his manic energy with some real pathos here. There’s his trademark comedy, for sure, but he’ll also break your heart before all is said and done. This is one of the best mixes of his talents and an absolute must watch.

6. One Hour Photo – It was such a startling sight to see Williams playing such a restrained figure like this one. A tragic villain of sorts, he’s so tightly coiled you keep waiting for him to strike. It’s a truly transformative performance, well worth another look.

5. Good Morning Vietnam – When you hear for the first time that Williams basically ad libbed all of the radio moments in this film, it makes perfect sense. He got to go wild and tickle your funny bone there, but elsewhere in the story he has to get serious and he does a great job of it. There’s more “funny Robin” than “serious Robin” here, but it’s a great mix.

4. What Dreams May Come – Easily the hardest movie to watch on his resume now, Williams is splendid here in this tale of the afterlife. Visually beautiful, Williams avoids most of his trademarks and buries himself in this character. It’s a very serious work, but one full of beauty as well.

3. Dead Poets Society – A lot of people believe this is Williams’ best performance, and while I think it’s a tiny step down from his best, it’s definitely his greatest leading role and one he certainly deserved to have won an Oscar for. An inspiring character with some quick moments of trademark “Robin being Robin” to draw you in, he portrays someone you want to follow wherever he goes. Oh captain, my captain.

2. Aladdin – For my money the crowning voice performance in an animated flick, Williams deserved an award of some kind for what he did for Disney here. You can just imagine the cartoonists both being overjoyed to work with him and also exhausted with his improv and energy. Try and imagine anyone else playing the Genie. You can’t, can you? Nor can I.

1. Good Will Hunting – Williams’ best overall performance is the one he finally won an Academy Award for. It’s a perfect bit of acting, one for the ages in my book. The comedic moments are spot on, while the dramatic beats are his absolute finest. This was one of the most deserving Best Supporting Actor victories that I can think of. I was and still am overjoyed that he took this one home. That takes nothing away from his top notch competition, but speaks volumes to how amazing Williams was here.

Honorable Mention: Awakenings, The Birdcage, Death to Smoochy, Mork and Mindy (TV), and Mrs. Doubtfire

Rest in peace sir…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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