When a celebrity dies, it’s an interesting thing. Hundreds, thousands, millions of people are affected by their grief for someone they didn’t personally know but someone who has had a significant impact on their lives none the less. Robin Williams was one such person. To call him a celebrity is missing the point. Actor, creator, comedian, father, legend, they all do a little better at capturing what he was… but let’s be honest, they don’t even come close to summarising what Robin Williams meant to generations of people. Yes, majority of us never knew him. Yet his work on the small screen, silver screen and stand-up stage was so profoundly affecting that his sudden death has sent shockwaves through the global community. Put simply, millions are feeling a loss right now – as that’s the only way to describe a world without Robin Williams in it. It’s a world that has lost something.
He was a performer with an almost other worldly ability to cross boundaries, to cross age demographics, to cross lines and remain at the end of it the smiling, goofy grinning circus master. Like a family heirloom, my love of Robin Williams was handed down to me by grandfather who to this day remains one of the biggest fans of his work that I have ever encountered. Mork And Mindy and Popeye were the beginnings of his fandom – and therefore mine – and some 20-years later I was fortunate enough to see the legend himself in his Australian stand-up tour, with my grandfather belly-laughing beside me. With his on-point impressions, hilarious observations and uncanny ability to find the funny in everything, Williams brought people together. Now that he’s gone, we’re left with his body of work. It might be a small thing compared to having the man himself amongst us, but the classic and diverse list of films will ensure he’s never too far from our hearts, minds or funny bones. R.I.P.
The first entry in the definitive ‘Robin Williams owns the nineties’ series of films. Perfectly transitioning from the stick in the mud adult to the unhinged and hilarious inner-child we all became familiar with him playing, he gave Hook genuine heart when it could have been written off as just another family-friendly farce.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Critically considered his best performance, Williams took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing the emotionally damaged psychiatrist in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s carefully crafted masterpiece. His understated performance of a genius simmering just under the surface is literally, flawless.
Williams had a unique ability to make films targeted at a specific age group appeal to everyone, largely because of his layered and often underrated performances. Take Jumanji, where he can have you laughing as a wild man trying to adjust to outside world, then shivering with fear as he describes hearing spider monsters eat people in the surrounding trees where he slept. Flubber and Jack could also be thrown into this category of films that went beyond the family entertainment vehicle, solely because of his delivery in the lead.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1988)
The film that saw him receive his first of four Academy Award nominations over his long, illustrious career. It established him as thespian to be reckoned with, not just another comedian turned actor. He wasn’t Popeye or Mork anymore, he was a bloody Julliard graduate fully realised.
There is no Aladdin without Robin Williams. While Aladdin runs around performing basic behaviour, it’s Genie that brings this Disney animated movie to life and made it a cinematic classic. He set the bar for what a voice performance could be from there on out, ad-libbing majority of his dialogue by being handed general topics and then given the freedom to wax lyrical in his manic stand-up style. The result? Disney’s greatest animated character.
Williams started off the new millennium by trying to creep people out. Audiences had seen traces of it before: there were sinister hints in Good Will Hunting and even Mrs Doubtfire, but nothing like the calculated malice of his turn as a murderer in Christopher Nolan’s crime thriller.
One Hour Photo (2002)
In Part II of his ‘look how affectingly creepy I can be’ duo of films, he plays a photo lab employee who becomes unhealthily obsessed with a young suburban family. You’ll never look at a dark room the same again.
Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
My captain oh captain, this became one of the OG ‘teacher inspires greatness’ films and one of the best. As an unconventional English professor, he helps guide a class full of troubled young men through adolescence, earning another Oscar nomination in the process.
The Birdcage (1996)
One of Williams best comedic performances, and also one of his most underrated. He and Nathan Lane play a flamboyant gay couple Albert and Armand who pretend to play heterosexuals when their straight son brings his conservative US Senator in-laws home to meet the family. Williams’s dry wit and scathing one-liners take front and centre, along with the chemistry between he and Lane as they play off each other perfectly.
Patch Adams (1998)
This is Williams doing what he does best: making people happy. As doctor Patch Adams we got to see exactly what made him such a beloved performer as he brought joy to his patients and therefore the audience simultaneously. As the Doc battles his own personal battles and losses (that scene with Monica Potter, come on), we got to see the full magnitude of Williams’s talent and range as a performer.
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
Probably his most famous role, this is Williams doing what he does best: Two Face. Whenever he put on his Harvey Dent cap we got to see the man shine, just like in Hook and The Birdcage. The opportunity for Williams to play straight and colouful, and the juxtaposition between the two is pure comedic genius. The transformation scene with Harvey Feirstein is cinematic gold.
The Crazy Ones, The Night Listener, Moscow On The Hudson, The Fischer King, Jack, Night At The Museum franchise, Flubber, Toys, The Butler, Awakenings.
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Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.