Robin Williams's Best Film Roles: PEOPLE's Critic Looks Back

PEOPLE Critic Names Robin Williams's Best Films
Robin Williams in (from left) Dead Poet's Society, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting
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08/12/2014 AT 03:30 PM EDT

Robin Williams was a talent unto himself, able to ricochet from performances that were riotously funny to ones that were extremely sensitive, even somber. The wide, unstoppable mouth expressed the exuberant humor. The eyes – small, watchful and blue – seemed to express the sadness and the thoughtfulness. Here are some of my favorite movies from his eclectic but distinguished career.

The World According to Garp (1982). His second movie role (after the unsuccessful Popeye) was as the decent, rather ordinary man living at the heart of novelist John Irving's crazy, violent world.  A lovely, understated and terribly underrated performance.

Dead Poets Society (1989). In one of his most beloved movies, Williams is an unconventional English teacher shaking everyone out of their dull, soul-killing routine. Which, after all, was the Robin Williams gift.

The Fisher King (1991). If a lot of Williams's career depended on his special brand of "craziness," here he went for the tragedy (and comedy) of real mental illness, as a homeless man seeking the Holy Grail.

Aladdin (1992). As the voice of the Genie, Williams came closer than any other actor in Disney history to exploding right out of the cartoon. Or, looked at another way, closer than any other actor to becoming the cartoon.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). A huge hit, with Williams encased in elaborate makeup to impersonate a middle-aged nanny. Mrs. Doubtfire's mishap at the stove is a classic bit of slapstick.

The Birdcage (1996). Williams at his most charming, unforced and relaxed, as the sensible gay partner to a very flamboyant Nathan Lane.

Good Will Hunting (1997).  Playing an intensely empathetic therapist trying to get unsung genius Matt Damon to accept his true potential, Williams won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (after three nominations for Best Actor).

Insomnia (2002). Williams went through a brief phase of playing villains – and was quite good at it. Here, in an atmospheric thriller set in Alaska, he's a shrewd murderer in collusion with a corrupt cop (Al Pacino).

For more on Robin Williams's tragic death and his legacy of comic genius, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

The Williams family is asking well-wishers to send contributions to charities close to the actor's heart in lieu of flowers. Suggested organizations include St. Jude's Research Hospital, Challenged Athletes, USO, the Mohammed Ali Parkinson Center, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

Robin Williams's Best Film Roles: PEOPLE's Critic Looks Back| Death, Aladdin, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia (Movie - 2002), Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, The Fisher King, The World According to Garp, Robin Williams

Robin Williams



If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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The Williams family is asking well-wishers to send contributions to charities close to the actor's heart in lieu of flowers. Suggested organizations include St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Challenged Athletes, USO, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

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