The world is just, quite simply, not nearly as funny a place now as it was just a few hours ago, before the tragic death of legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams. For nearly 40 years, the man kept us in stitches in ways only he could, with an impeccable delivery and an unmistakable charm that is often mimicked but never equaled.
As the world mourns this comedy legend, we take a look back at our 16 favorite Robin Williams performances, some in classics that are beloved the world over, and some in overlooked and/or underrated gems that deserve to be noticed.
1 Popeye (1980)
While some actors spend years paying their dues in thankless guest starring or supporting roles on film and TV, it didn't take Robin Williams long to find a foothold in Hollywood. His appearance as the alien Mork on one episode of Happy Days was so popular it lead to the Mork & Mindy spin-off series in 1978. Just two years later, the beloved actor landed his first feature leading role in Popeye, alongside Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, directed by Robert Altman. The film grossed $49 million in 1980, which doesn't sound like much these days, but was good for 12th place that year. It out-grossed Shelley Duvall's The Shining, and, when adjusted for inflation, the gross is the equivalent of a $150 million movie today.
2 The World According to Garp (1982)
After his success with the hit TV series Mork & Mindy, Robin Williams landed starring roles in the 1980 comedy Popeye and his true feature film breakout, 1982's The World According to Garp. Directed by Barry Levinson and adapted from a John Irving novel, The World According to Garp gave fans an early look at both the comedic and dramatic chops Robin Williams could put on display, and it remains a favorite among his fans to this very day.
3 The Best of Times (1986)
While most may not think of Robin Williams as the athletic type, he convincingly pulls off the role of a downtrodden former football player in The Best of Times. After obsessing over a missed catch in high school, Jack Dundee (Robin Williams) convinces his old quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) to restage the game between their alma mater Taft and cross-town rival Bakersfield, which revitalizes both Jack and Reno's lives in the process. This film did not fare quite so well, only taking in $7.7 million during its theatrical run in 1986, but it's well worth revisiting.
4 Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
While The World According to Garp certainly put him on the map as a movie actor, Good Morning, Vietnam showcased his star potential and box office draw. Based on the true story of Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, Robin Williams became a household name almost immediately after Good Morning, Vietnam hit theaters. His irreverent brand of humor was absolutely perfect for director Barry Levinson's dramatic comedy, which spent a whopping nine weeks in a row at the top spot in the box office, en route to $123 million domestic gross (fourth highest in 1987) and Robin Williams' first Oscar nomination.
5Dead Poets Society (1989)
Like the previous entries on this list, I didn't see Dead Poets Society until several years after its theatrical release. I was 12 years old when Dead Poets Society hit theaters, but when I did catch up with it, I found myself in awe of this funnyman's range as English professor John Keating, who inspired his students, and the viewing populace at large, to seize the day, seizing our hearts in the process. Robin Williams earned his second Oscar nomination for Peter Weir's classic, that helped launch the careers of Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.
6 The Fisher King (1991)
After working with director Terry Gilliam in 1989's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Robin Williams returned with the filmmaker's most straight-forward movie ever (seriously), The Fisher King. This brilliant drama, written by Richard LaGravenese, centers on a radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) whose downward spiral into depression and suicidal tendencies causes him to cross paths with a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who is on a quest to retrieve the "Holy Grail." Despite the initial critical acclaim it received during its initial release, The Fisher King seems to have slid into obscurity in the years that followed, but this is a true gem that deserves to be discovered and re-discovered.
If memory serves, Hook was the first Robin Williams movie I saw in a movie theater at just 14 years of age. Mind you, I never was a huge movie buff until much later in life, but I recall particularly enjoying this adventure that put a new spin on Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Robin Williams plays successful attorney Peter Banning, who never seems to have any time for his children, until they are abducted by his old nemesis from Neverland, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman). I think it may be just the perfect time to revisit this Steven Spielberg film about re-capturing one's youth.
Aladdin marked Robin Williams' first feature voice over performance, in an enchanting and hilarious turn as the Genie. With his iconic voice and charisma, I was always curious how many animated voice over roles he was offered after Aladdin's blockbuster success, because I'd imagine he could have easily forged out a career by sitting in a recording booth for the rest of his life. Of course, that would have been a shame, especially after the number of brilliant performances he gave us after Aladdin, but I can't imagine anyone else voicing the Genie other than Robin Williams, every time I see Aladdin. And yet, the mere fact that he didn't just take every animated movie that came his way shows that he wanted to build his career on his own terms, as opposed to just taking the "easy money," as it were.
9Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Costing just $25 million, this comedy went on to become the second highest-grossing movie of 1993, behind Jurassic Park, but Mrs. Doubtfire's $219.1 million gross was far ahead of other hits such as The Fugitive, The Firm and Sleepless in Seattle. After a bitter divorce, and left with few options to see his children on a regular basis, Daniel Hilliard (Robin Williams) transforms himself into the title character. To test how believable his costume and makeup was, the actor went to an adult bookstore, in costume, to make a purchase, and wasn't recognized. Robin Williams truly shines as both characters, perfectly portraying the vulnerable father Daniel and his unconventional nanny alter-ego in a role that's simply unforgettable. More than 20 years after this classic hit theaters, we reported this April that Robin Williams was set to return for a sequel, although it's doubtful this project will move forward now.
With several comedy and dramatic hits under his belt at this point, Robin Williams took on the big budget family adventure Jumanji to further prove his versatility as an actor, a leading man and a viable box office draw. Trapped within this mysterious board game for 26 years, Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) is released as an adult, where he must team up with the youngsters who freed him and his childhood friend to save the world from unspeakable dangers that lie within the game. The beauty of Robin Williams' work is that he can make you believe the most unbelievable situations are unfolding right in front of your very eyes, which is never more present than in Jumanji.
11 The Birdcage (1996)
The Birdcage is by far one of the most celebrated comedies of my generation, and, in due time, it will surely go down as one of the all-time greats. Robin Williams stars as the owner of a Miami drag queen club called The Birdcage, who, along with his domestic partner (Nathan Lane) agrees to hide his true colors when his son (Dan Futterman) is about to get married to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of an uber-conservative politician (Gene Hackman). With an all-star that also includes Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria and Christine Baranski, The Birdcage is a comedy that will surely continue to stand the test of time, year after year.
12Good Will Hunting (1997)
After three Oscar nominations and no wins, Robin Williams finally took home the little gold man for his heartbreaking turn as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Despite an Oscar-winning script by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, some of the best lines in this Boston-set drama were improvised by the master himself, such as "Son of a bitch, he stole my line" and the entire sequence about Sean's "farting wife." Even for those who may not be a fan of the film, it's hard to deny how utterly powerful the scenes between Matt Damon and Robin Williams truly are in director Gus Van Sant's classic.
13 Patch Adams (1998)
There are times that I think Robin Williams may have somehow invented the dramatic comedy. Naturally, he didn't (though who did is really anyone's guess...) but perhaps the reason behind that is he was just so damn good at flipping that proverbial switch from humor to drama, which is shown perfectly in Patch Adams. This is another one of the actor's memorable performances that is based on an actual person, an unconventional medical student who checked himself out of an insane asylum as he goes on a quest to help others by enrolling in medical school, although his unconventional methods of using humor to help treat patients is frowned upon. Reflecting on his death is particularly poignant when you think about the inspirational characters he brought to life on the big screen, such as Patch Adams.
When paired with Death to Smoochy and the next movie on this list, One Hour Photo, 2002 was by far the "darkest" year of Robin Williams' career, and possibly one of my favorites. Leave to to visionary Christopher Nolan to cast a funnyman like Robin Williams as a lonely and disturbed author who may have killed a a young teenager in a remote Alaskan town where the sun never seems to set. It's a brilliant, moody and disturbing performance that makes for a great triple-feature with his other 2002 outings, including the next film below.
15One Hour Photo (2002)
I was the film critic for my college newspaper when I watched One Hour Photo, and Robin Williams' performance blew me away so much that this is the type of film I only wanted him to do from then on out. While this certainly isn't one of his biggest box office hits (31.5 million from a $12 million budget), One Hour Photo shows how often this man can continually reinvent himself as a performer in any genre he chooses. Robin Williams portrays Sy, a lonely photo mart worker who becomes obsessed with customers who he believes to be the perfect family (Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan and Dylan Smith). As their marriage begins to fall apart, Sy's fantasy world crumbles in horrifying and brilliant ways, in a turn that I'm still shocked wasn't nominated for an Oscar. If you haven't seen One Hour Photo, do yourself a favor and seek it out.
16World's Greatest Dad (2009)
During my time working for the site in Los Angeles, I only got to meet Robin Williams one time, to interview him and Bobcat Goldthwait for their poignant and wonderful indie film World's Greatest Dad (CLICK HERE to watch my video interview). When you think about this film's plot, it's even more heartbreaking now, given what is believed to be the cause of this great actor's death. Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher whose troubled son Kyle (the brilliant Daryl Sabara) dies after an embarrassing masturbation accident. Lance writes a poignant suicide note from his son, to spare the family from shame and ridicule. However, the note goes viral as this mourning father's guilt-plagued life begins to spiral out of control. This is another fantastic performance from Robin Williams that sadly went under the radar, but is well worth a look.
Take a look at my video interview with Robin Williams and Bobcat Goldthwait for World's Greatest Dad below. While I would've have loved to have interviewed him several more times throughout the years, I'm truly grateful to have met him just once, for that five-minute interval back in 2009.
Regardless if these were your favorite or least favorite Robin Williams performances, there is no doubt that his charm and undeniable talent will be missed the world over. Which Robin Williams performances would you add to the list? Chime in with your thoughts below.