The 6 Robin Williams Roles We'll Never Forget
We don’t mention Popeye, where he collaborated with Robert Altman. We don’t mention Steven Spielberg’s Hook. We don’t mention The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King or Death to Smoochy.
When trying to honor the cinematic legacy of the late Robin Williams, the only guarantee is that you are going to leave at least one classic film off of the finalized list. The impossibly gifted performer did so much in his too-short time, entertaining and amazing audiences in imaginative comedies, heartwrenching dramas and whip-smart stand-up routines. His talent seemed unlimited. The loss, at the moment, seems immeasurable.
But while we currently lament the future features Robin Williams won’t be able to deliver (including a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel that recently was discussed), let’s do something healthier. Something happier. Let’s turn our attention to the movies that have and will earn Robin Williams a spot in Hollywood’s nonexistent Hall of Fame – the classic performances that touched our spirits over the years and gave us a taste of the genius walking among us. These are our favorite Robin Williams moments, the movies we could never live without.
Good Will Hunting
"It’s not your fault." Serendipitously, I watched Good Will Hunting on a cable movie channel a few weeks back. I hadn’t seen it since 1997, and saw it through fresh eyes. The Matt Damon-Minnie Driver relationship is doe-eyed but passionate. The blue-collar speeches of better days shared between Damon and Ben Affleck are the clichéd traps of first-time screenwriters. But the intermittent scenes between Damon and Robin Williams, as damaged therapist Sean Maguire… oh man, those are breathtakingly combustible powder kegs of honest, searing human emotion.
In his Oscar speech, Robin Williams thanked the boys – Damon and Affleck – for taking a chance on him with the dramatic role of Maguire. The truth is, they couldn’t have thanked Williams enough for bringing the raw tenderness of an open wound to Good Will Hunting. The actor had dabbled in drama numerous times before. But making Maguire a sorrow-filled widower unwilling to trust again tapped into Williams’ own depression. And when Sean and Will tear down their walls and forge an unbreakable bond ("It’s not your fault"), you can almost feel a piece of Williams’ broken soul healing – if only temporarily. It’s a devastating performance by an incredibly versatile actor who’d corralled so many demons in his personal life that they somehow enhanced one of his greatest professional roles. How do you like them apples? -Sean O'Connell
When we think of Mrs. Doubtfire, it's likely many of us automatically think of Robin Williams, dressed up as an older woman, dancing with a broomstick, beating up a purse snatcher or fanning the flames of his ample, artificial bosom. But beyond that layer of goofiness is a movie that exemplifies everything that made Robin Williams such a great entertainer. He didn't just make us laugh at -- and with -- his characters, he made us care about them.
The courtroom scene near the end of the movie serves as perfect example of who Williams character truly was. Daniel Hillard loved his kids. He couldn't fathom the thought of being away from them. And he was willing to go as far as to dress up as a woman if it meant spending time with them. The set-up leads to a series of great moments, ranging from sweet to funny, and all the while capturing some of the best Robin Williams had to offer, from different voices and impersonations, to great physical humor, to those meaningful, emotional moments that remind us that this is all about a dad who loves his kids. Few actors could have played the role of Daniel Hillard and Euphegenia Doubtfire as perfectly as Williams, balancing funny and serious in such a way that the story matters as much as the humor. In that respect, Mrs. Doubtfire not only holds up more than two decades later, but it also serves as a memorable, funny and heartfelt installment in Robin Williams' legacy. -Kelly West
Toys is not Robin Williams' best film, but it's sure one of his most under-seen gems. In the role of man child Leslie Zevo, Williams got to show off both sides of his acting. For a majority of the film, he's a rampant goofball who wears all sorts of devices, cracks jokes, and lives in a doll house with Joan Cusack as his doll-obsessed sister. But by the end of the film, when everything he loves is threatened by his militaristic uncle, he grows up and takes a stand against an injustice with which he disagrees. Complete with a totally 90's soundtrack, and some of the most colorful visuals ever seen on film, Toys seems like a film that only Robin Williams could have inhabited.
Five years after their work together in Good Morning, Vietnam, another Williams classic, Barry Levinson trusted Robin enough to star in the film he'd always meant to make as his first, and it's hard to see anyone else even coming close to taking that role. In fact, it's because of Robin Williams that this movie is even remembered, because without his trademark "spark of madness," it could have been a by-the-numbers affair. No one knew the whimsy of a child and the responsibilities of a man like he did, and the end result is something to be proud of. Toys is a story of setting aside childish things, but not completely giving them up. If there were ever a movie to describe Robin Williams, it would be this one. -Mike Reyes
When you think about how much time and hard work goes into the creation of an animated film, it’s incredible to realize just how much of the character of Genie in Aladdin was a pure creation of Robin Williams. The actor provided directors Ron Clements and John Musker nearly 16 hours of material (the actual film is only 90 minutes long), and he improvised so much that it actually prevented the movie from getting a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination. It’s amazing how much of the vocal performance is what drove the larger creation of Genie, who is without question one of the greatest characters ever created by Walt Disney Animation.
There are few other instances out there where an actor has been more perfectly matched for animated material, with Williams’ rapid fire stream of consciousness delivery and collection of weird impressions coming together perfectly for a wacky mystical creature with nearly unlimited power. The performance wound up changing the animated world forever, as Disney sold Aladdin on Williams’ name, and ushered in an era of studios hiring celebrities for animated features. Every attempt since 1992, however, has basically been an attempt at catching lightning in a bottle for a second time, and the reality is that we’ve seen nothing like Genie since. Robin Williams’ part in the film is not only incomparable, but will go down in history as one of the greatest vocal performances in history, and will be enjoyed by children for generation after generation. -Eric Eisenberg
World’s Greatest Dad
I'm terrified of being a father one day, because I fear that it would be a lot like World's Greatest Dad. Part of that comes from the reality that Williams brings to the role: he is an absolute hell as a man who has to deal with the world's biggest shitheel of a son. Daryl Sabara's toxic kiddo seems like an absolute nightmare of a scenario, a racist, sexist pervert child who only spreads negativity everywhere he goes. But a freak accident kills his boy, and he has to counter the memory of his son versus his own unconditional love. It's a comedy of deceptive complexity, as Williams' put-upon schoolteacher finds a way to exploit the loss of his son for his own gain, which surprisingly, and darkly, still allows him to sleep well at night. Williams doesn't let his character off the hook, finding the sadness and regret that comes from what he feels was ultimately a wasted father-son relationship.
Bobcat Goldwaith's film isn't so much about judgment as it is about redemption, about the inequality of tragedy and survivor's guilt. He finds a superb collaborator in former fellow standup Williams, who creates an imperfect man who inspires not love or hate, but deep understanding. It's maybe his best and most underrated work, and in his recreation of fatherhood, Williams' work made me realize that there's a lot more at stake to being a dad, to finding that middle ground between sharing a life and sharing a heart. -Gabe Toro
Dead Poets Society
Robin Williams was charismatic. He was the type of guy who could convince someone of almost anything. He had a way with words, and an unstoppable passion that couldn’t be tamed. In his worse moments, that quality had a way of overshadowing everyone else. In his best moments, it had a way of ever so carefully flickering out at just the right moments. Dead Poets Society is one of those best moments. It’s a remarkable essay on restraint and understated care. Williams’ John Keating is a believable English teacher. He’s a little smarter and a little more motivated than most, but he’s not unlike a few teachers we all had in high school. He knows the material cold, and he’s really invested in teaching people how to think and how to see the world in a different way.
But beneath the suit and charming obsession with Walt Whitman, there’s that Robin Williams spark. There’s that little something inside the character that makes you think, "I’d follow his man wherever he asked." It’s not overpowering. It’s not distracting or too aggressive. It’s actually perfect. Because when the shit hits the fan and poor Keating gets railroaded, it’s that faint glimmer seen throughout the movie that makes us want to stand on top of our desks and shout "O Captain! My Captain" too. -Mack Rawden
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