10 Best Robin Williams Movies
“He made us laugh.” That was what Billy Crystal said of his friend, Robin Williams, at the 2014 Emmy Awards, months after Williams died via suicide in his home. It was a death that shocked the world, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Williams battled depression and addiction issues for the majority of his adult life. He did what many artists do, though — he used his pain to create beautiful art. Whether he was making us laugh as Mrs. Doubtfire or the Genie, making us cry as Will Hunting’s therapist, or making us cringe as “Sly, the Photo Guy,” Williams channeled all of his emotions into his performances. And then he gave them to us as if to say “Here — I don’t want this anymore.” His movies entertained us, but his life inspired us. We could come up with lists upon lists of Robin Williams quotes or acts that inspired us. But, we’re not sure if his intention was ever to inspire. He wanted to entertain us. He wanted to play with us. He wanted, quite simply, to make us laugh.
#10- Jumanji (1995)
Surprisingly, it was Nick Jonas who summed it up best in the 2017 sequel to Jumanji- “This is Alan Parrish’s House.” Indeed it is.
The original Jumanji focused on two kids who started playing a board game that, unbeknownst to them, would unleash creatures, creepy crawlies, and Jonathan Hyde. The kids, including a young Kirsten Dunst, were more than capable actors in this action/adventure/comedy. But, as with any role he played, it was Robin Williams that stole the show as Alan Parrish, a man who, years earlier, got sucked into the world of Jumanji as a young boy and had spent decades acclimating to “The Jungle.” When Dunst and Co. unleashed the creatures of Jumanji, they also allowed Parrish to escape. Shenanigans would follow.
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#9- Hook (1991)
This is, perhaps, the most sentimental pick of the list. Hook wasn’t necessarily a great film. But the themes explored encompassed both the message of the original Peter Pan and of the life of Robin Williams — we might get older, but that doesn’t mean that we have to grow up. Hook tells the story of a lawyer named Peter, who is so career-focused that he barely spends time with his wife and two children. As it turns out, Peter is actually The Pan and Captain James Hook (played incredibly well by Dustin Hoffman) has come from Neverland to kidnap Peter’s children. Peter is then forced to return to Never-Neverland, reclaiming his children, his mantle and his youth. Any movie that features Williams as the straight-man is bound to divide critics, but if you look at this film not as a comedy, but as a children’s movie with very adult themes, you will be surprised by how enjoyable it is.
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#8- Jack (1996)
Exploring similar themes as Hook, Jack tells the story of a young boy who, because of a medical condition, physically grows at a rapid rate. In short, Jack is a 5th grader inside the body of a grown man. Yeah, that sounded weird to us, too. While Williams had to play a boorish grownup throughout most of Hook, he is able to fully escape into the mind of a child with this role, complete with crushes on teachers, sleepovers and fart jokes. Jack is a funny, heartwarming story of a boy who had to grow up too fast through reasons beyond his control, and it is a film that reminds us, again, to hold onto our youth as long as we can.
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#7- Patch Adams
Are we sensing a theme here? Humor + Pathos = the perfect Robin Williams movie. Patch Adams is no different. It tells the story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a man determined to become an MD simply because he wanted to help people. Crazy, no? Patch, just like the actor behind him, believed that laughter truly was the best medicine and he sought to prove that, even in the midst of personal tragedy. Sound familiar? Williams was, quite understandably, viewed as a “comedic actor.” But in the dramatic roles he played, he proved that he could make us cry just as well as he made us laugh.
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#6- One Hour Photo/Insomnia (2002)
Okay, we’re cheating here. But this is our article and we can do what we want. It’s just, both of these movies are so good and they perhaps fly under the radar of the usual “Best of Robin Williams” retrospectives. Plus, Williams is only in half of Insomnia anyway, not much more than a glorified cameo. But man oh man is he good.
In One Hour Photo, Williams plays Sly, a photo developer at a store that is definitely not Walmart. He’s nice enough, but Sly has a sinister side. His affection towards your typical-all-American-family (complete with the douchebag father/husband) soon turns into obsession. Similarly, in Insomnia Williams plays the foil to Al Pacino’s Will Dormer, a cop battling insomnia while investigating the murder of a teenage girl in a small Alaskan town. Williams again portrays a sinister character who may or may not have murdered the girl on purpose, but he has a wildcard that, pardon the pun, keeps Pacino up at night.
In both roles, Williams demonstrates how fully capable he is as an actor. The everyman character that he plays for laughs is just as powerful when he plays a sociopath. There’s nothing outwardly evil about Sly or Walter Finch. He does his job, whether it’s developing photos or writing books. It’s what is behind those baby blue eyes that both mesmerize and terrorize and we didn’t mean for that to rhyme but it’s neat that it did. If anybody doubts how gifted Robin Williams was they need to check out these two films.
#5- Dead Poets Society (1989)
“Oh Captain; my captain.” It’s a scene that, arguably, overshadows the entire movie. Dead Poets Society, however, is a film that both entertains and inspires. It makes us laugh, cry and question our mortality. Are we really seizing the day? Are we making our lives extraordinary? Are we making each moment count? Taken as a movie, Dead Poets Society is an entertaining enough film. It keeps us engaged for the two-ish hour runtime. It’s a good film. When looking at it as something more than a movie, though, perhaps as a class or a lecture, it becomes an important lesson. It teaches us to value words, to value ourselves, to ‘Carpe Diem.’
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#4- Good Will Hunting (1997)
When Robin Williams has a beard, you know he is to be taken seriously. Such was the case in Good Will Hunting, a film starring Matt Damon as a genius-cum-janitor who is as intelligent as he his angry. That anger leads Hunting to a meeting with Sean (played by Williams), a psychiatrist with his own inner demons. Good Will Hunting is not so much a film as it is a character study. It allows us to study both Damon’s and Williams’ characters. It was one of the first films to openly discuss mental health and it showed us that people battling loss, depression, addiction and more are not just “crazy people” to be locked away or to be mocked. Sometimes, “crazy people” are just angry, confused young men who need a friend. It also showed us that mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, are not the beacons of wisdom that know the answers to all of life’s questions. Sometimes, they’re just people who are hurting, too, and want to see some good come out of it.
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#3- What Dreams May Come
This is an especially poignant film, in light of Williams’ death. In What Dreams May Come, Williams plays a man who dies in a car crash and then searches Heaven and Hell for his wife, who took her own life his death in a depressive spiral compounded by the previous loss of the couple’s two children. This film is as remarkable for its acting as it is its visuals. It shows that true love is stronger than death, stronger than time, stronger even than Heaven or Hell. It’s a rather poetic story of a man searching the afterlife for the only thing that his version of Heaven is missing.
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#2- Aladdin (1992)
You ain’t never had a friend like him, that’s for sure. In Robin Williams’ first foray into animation, he portrays “Genie,” a kid-friendly djinn that is let loose from a magic lamp by a ‘street rat’ named Aladdin. After being released, Genie grants Aladdin three wishes, with the caveat that he can’t make two people fall in love. It’s a true ‘rags to riches’ story, full of song, dance, laughs and an undeniably feisty Disney Princess named Jasmine. Aladdin is one of, if not the best Disney movies of all time. Williams was a big reason for that. He provided the perfect range of emotions for Genie. It’s the same old song and dance, really. He makes us laugh. He makes us cry. He makes us jump out of our seats, bellowing at the top of our lungs “Prince Ali, mighty is he, Ali Ababwa.” The Genie instructs us to “Get Hype,” and that’s exactly what we, the audience, do throughout the film’s runtime.
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#1- Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
As if there could be any question. This was, perhaps, the height of Robin Williams’ comedic genius. Modeled after a standup bit performed with the late, great Andy Kaufman, Mrs. Doubtfire is the nanny all of us should dream of having. She is kind, patient, funny, outgoing and smart. She is also a dude. That dude is named Daniel Hillard, a divorced-dad who is determined to spend as much time as he can with his children. This determination leads Hillard to don a wig, a bodysuit, and hard-to-pinpoint British accent. Williams had the time of his life with this role, and it shows in every frame. The chemistry that he shared with Sally Field, both as her husband and her housekeeper, is palpable. Williams was a star before Mrs. Doubtfire, but this film cemented his place at the top of the Hollywood Elite — a place he remained at until his death.
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