We still can’t believe it: Robin Williams, the actor and comedian who took us by the hand in one classic performance after another for nearly 40 years, has passed away at the age of 63. As of this writing, it still appears that his death was a tragic suicide, a sad culmination to a life spent bringing joy to millions. He warmed our hearts, he tickled our funny bones, and sometimes he held himself up to a very gloomy mirror, giving unexpected performances that expressed profound sadness, and illustrated the very cruel actions that people filled with despair and loneliness sometimes resort to.
That was the beauty of Robin Williams’ career: even when he made bad movies (and sure enough, he made more than a few), he found the psychological honesty in all of them and laid it bare for all of us. Many of his characters expressed themselves with humor. Some spoke volumes with silence. And yes, in some of his most notable dramatic performances, he did things we never thought the beloved star of “Mork & Mindy” could possibly be capable of. When he had great material to work with, he was great. When he was trapped in something as admittedly inane as
Nine Months, he still endeavored to play his comically bumbling gynecologist with the emotional honesty of someone who just wanted to do his job and deliver babies to people who loved them.
Over the course of his nearly 40-year film career, Robin Williams made a remarkable number of films, many of which will stick with us forever. They’re not all four-star classics – indeed, a few of them are merely ingrained into our shared sense of nostalgia – but these are
The 15 Robin Williams Films We Will Never Forget. They made us love Robin Williams, but more than that they made our lives a little happier, a little more thoughtful, and a little easier to bear.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams. We will never forget you.
Slideshow: The Essential Robin Williams – 15 Films We’ll Never Forget
William Bibbiani is the editor of
and the host of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and The B-Movies Podcast . Follow him on Twitter at The Blue Movies Podcast . @WilliamBibbiani
The Essential Robin Williams: 15 Films We'll Never Forget
Robin Williams' first starring role in a motion picture (and only his second feature film, after a brief appearance in the forgettable comedy
Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses in 1977), was as the iconic cartoon character Popeye in one of Robert Altman's most underrated films. The movie beautifully recreated the animated world of Popeye in live-action, while Williams fought a giant octopus and crooned perfectly off-key songs by the great Harry Nilsson.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Robin Williams earned his first Oscar nomination for playing the Vietnam War DJ Adrian Cronauer, whose amusing radio broadcasts put him in hot water with no-nonsense superior officers. Williams ad-libbed much of his most memorable comedy routines, but Barry Levinson's film doesn't shy very far away from the harsh realities surrounding Cronauer's subversive broadcasts.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams' second Oscar nomination came for his performance in Peter Weir's sensitive portrayal of a rebellious teacher who tears up his students' textbooks and inspires them to think for themselves. Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard head up the film's younger cast, who deal with heartbreaking issues that may be difficult to watch immediately following Williams' passing, but which are nevertheless powerful, sad and moving.
Robin Williams was already known for lively performances by the time he starred in Penny Marshall's drama
Awakenings, and as such turned heads with his quiet, low-key performance as Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a doctor who helped bring catatonic patients - including a particularly memorable Robert De Niro - back to life in 1969.
The Fisher King (1991)
Robin Williams earned his third Oscar nomination for co-starring in this Terry Gilliam gem, as a homeless man whose life was inadvertently destroyed when a radio shock jock (Jeff Bridges) accidentally incites a man to commit mass murder. Dark stuff, but Williams' touching fantasy about a modern day quest for the Holy Grail - and his touching rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" - make
The Fisher King the kindest film of Gilliam's career.
Steven Spielberg's unlikely update of J.M. Barrie's
Peter Pan cast Robin Williams as an stick-in-the-mud with two kids who has long since forgotten that he was once a swashbuckling hero. Williams is just dandy, but Dustin Hoffman steals Hook as a villain with impeccable comic timing who gives Pan's son the dad he always wanted. Critics panned the film (and the overly "hip" new Lost Boys certainly haven't aged well, ahem), but an entire generation of kids grew up loving Hook, flaws and all.
Robin Williams re-teamed with director Barry Levinson for the inventive but misunderstood comedy
Toys, about a wondrous, Wonka-esque toy factory bequeathed to the deceased entrepreneur's war-mongering brother (Michael Gambon) instead of his eccentric son (Williams) and even more eccentric daughter (Joan Cusack). Toys culminates in a literal battle between innocence and cynicism - which may have been a little on the nose for some audiences - and boasts some of the most whimsical production design in movie history.
The animated classic
Aladdin was already a sumptuous adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights before the Genie showed up, but once he did, Robin Williams dominated the screen as a lively (and anachronistic) showman who twisted reality and the fourth wall to his many, whimsical whims. In the years that followed, a lot of comedies tried to copy what Williams accomplished in Aladdin, throwing contemporary humor in unlikely historical/fantasy settings, but no one's ever done it better.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
One of Robin Williams' most financially successful comedies is also one that doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. Williams plays a divorcee who dresses as a woman to secretly babysit his kids, even though he really didn't have to. But he's just as funny as he's ever been, and Mrs. Doubtfire herself is an unexpectedly rich comedic creation who inspires guffaws in clever and goofy situations alike.
The Birdcage (1996)
Robin Williams is practically the straight man in Mike Nichols'
The Birdcage (a remake of the French farce La Cage Aux Folles), playing a homosexual father who has to play it straight to appease his son's prospective Republican in-laws. Williams pulls it off with ease, but his spouse Nathan Lane can't turn off his flamboyant personality long enough to play the part, and finally commits to doing the entire dinner party in drag. As comedies about homosexuality go, The Birdcage is brassy but impressively sensitive for the 1990s, and it remains one of the funniest comedies of Williams' career.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams finally won an Academy Award for playing the down-to-earth psychiatrist of a troubled genius played by Matt Damon, in a film co-written by Damon and future
Argo director Ben Affleck. The plot is just a teensy bit arch, but the humanity comes through in the film's many impressive performances, particularly during the showstopping therapy sessions with Williams reliving classic baseball games and breaking protocol by telling his patient what he simply needs to hear.
What Dreams May Come (1998)
In one of a surprisingly large number of Robin Williams films about death and loss, the actor plays a doctor who winds up his own personal heaven - composed entirely out of paint - and then ventures into a spectacularly realized Hell to rescue the soul of his wife (Annabella Sciorra), who killed herself in a fit of depression after his passing.
What Dreams May Come is not a subtle film, but it tackles big spiritual issues with sumptuous cinematic imagery that earned the movie a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Robin Williams tuned into his darker side to portray an Alaskan serial killer playing cat-and-mouse with a hardboiled detective played by Al Pacino. But the long days are wreaking havoc with the hero, whose inability to sleep corrupts the investigation and leaves him vulnerable to Williams' eerie influence. An early film from wunderkind director Christopher Nolan, based on a classic Norwegian thriller of the same name, that remains of Williams' most unexpected and subdued performances.
One Hour Photo (2002)
Williams' second disturbing performance of 2002 was in Mark Romanek's
One Hour Photo, playing a mild-mannered photomat worker who develops an obsession with an idyllic family who doesn't know that he's stealing their pictures. When Williams learns there's something rotten in their household, he insinuates himself into their lives with surprising, shocking and unforgettable results. Williams was never better, but admittedly he was often this good.
World's Greatest Dad (2009)
In what will probably go down as his last great movie, Robin Williams plays the grieving father of a son who - frankly - may not deserve much grief. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait lets
World's Greatest Dad play out with confrontational humor and overwhelming sensitivity, and Williams plays it all beautifully in a performance that captures the love, sadness, anger and irony of his plight from beginning to end. It may seem eerily close to home after Williams' passing, but that's because World's Greatest Dad dares to be honest about topics that most movies are afraid to tackle at all, let alone directly or fairly.