Very few actors have ever, or will ever achieve the level of iconography that Robin Williams did. His appeal was absolutely universal, hurting stomachs everywhere with his fiery stand up comedy, inspiring children with his wonderful voice work in films such as Aladdin, Robots, and Happy Feat, and moving anyone who would give him a moment of their time to tears in his many dramatic roles. Always a warm, welcoming presence, the loss of Williams is one of the hardest to deal with in recent years, perhaps the most hard. As such, I thought it would be nice to look back on the 5 Robin Williams performances that moved me the most.
Note: As I haven’t seen either Good Morning Vietnam, or One Hour Photo, neither will be making an appearance, but know that I plan on seeing both very soon.
5. Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man
This pick might be slightly controversial, especially considering that it barely edged out Williams’ wonderful turns in Aladdin, and Insomnia. However, as I find this to be his most underrated performance, I decided to give it the spotlight here.This character begins an archetype that runs through all five characters on this list, someone so consumed by a goal, that it takes over their entire existence. The film chronicles the multi century journey of Andrew Martin, a home-assistant robot who desires nothing more than to be human. It’s about as sappy, and schmaltzy of a story as you can get, but what makes it work is Williams. It’s a true testament to the type of material he could elevate. His performance is utterly genuine, capturing the innocence and wonder of a machine who is literally discovering all there is to know all at once, initially getting a grasp on the basics of being human, and ultimately fulfilling his destiny by feeling the deeper emotion of love. We go on this journey completely because Williams is so fantastic at taking us on it, allowing us to completely buy into this being’s all enveloping desire, and the many human experiences he has along the way. When the tear-jerker, predictable ending strikes, we care because he is the one in the middle of it.
4. Daniel Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire
Not only arguably Williams’ greatest comedic performance, this film holds a special place in my heart as the first film I ever saw him in. Instantly, even at my very young age, I was drawn in by how incredible he was. We’ve seen many comedians dress up in drag, both before and after this film, but what makes this stand out is how much soul he brings to both sides of this character. A man hell-bent on spending time with his children after an ugly divorce, Daniel creates Mrs. Doubtfire as a ruse, posing as a nanny in his own home. Sure, Doubtfire is a very funny character with some great physical moments, and fantastic lines, but it isn’t just a stereotype, but an extension of that endless desire to connect with those kids. William’s never lets us forget that, and we are completely behind him the entire time.
3. Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad
What a dark, cynical little gem this film turned out to be. For the many who perhaps don’t know, Lance is a poetry professor, with the world’s worst son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). An abrasive, sociopath jackass, Kyle makes Lance’s life a living hell, until he fixes it by going straight there himself. That’s right, Kyle kills himself choking while masterbating, leaving his father to pick up the pieces. What does he do? Seduced by his desire to get famous quick, Lance writes a fake journal by Kyle, that catches fire in his community, ultimately inspiring the country with his lie. Lance is a completely kind man on the outside, but what makes the character work is Williams’ ability to capture his anger at the world around him. He’s been walked over his whole life, and he revels in the chance to stick it to perhaps his biggest bully, his own child. The sad part is, in such a great actor’s hands, I found myself sympathizing with this monster in sheep’s clothing.
2. John Keating in Dead Poets’ Society
Here we have Williams as yet another poetry professor! John Keating finds himself alien to the conservative community of the all boy’s school he finds himself teaching at, and he uses that to his advantage, inspiring his students through the power of the written word by turning the reading of those words into an adventure. We really get the best of both worlds here. Williams is endlessly charismatic and funny in his lectures, but each of them have a palpable underlying dramatic punch. Every word out of this man’s mouth comes with the hope that it will inspire these kids, and they are said with all the conviction and gravitas in the world. By the end of this film, you’ll only wish that you were in a class with Robin Williams. Oh Captain, my Captain indeed.
1. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting
Yes, I know, this is a really predictable choice, but this is one performance that deserves absolutely every accolade it gets. Here, Williams plays a therapist tasked with extracting some emotion out of Will, a troubled genius played by Matt Damon. Their interactions are pure cinematic fire, and it’s this character that grounds them. In any other movie, the therapist character would be a perfect saint, extrapolating life lessons onto the troubled young man, not the case here. Sean lost his wife to a horrific illness, and as such, he’s just as in need of therapy as Will is. Often blunt and fiery, and then sweet and full of kindness in the span of five minutes, this is a character that constantly keeps us guessing, but we hang onto each and every word. It’s a true testament to just how talented Williams was. Many call him a comedian, and while he was truly fantastic at that, it is important to not loose sight of just how great of an actor he was, bringing something to the table in even the weakest of projects. He was one of the all time greats, and will be deeply missed.