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16 Best Robin Williams Movies Ranked

Few celebrity deaths shook the world quite as deeply as that of Robin Williams, who died by suicide in 2014 at the age of 63 (a later autopsy revealed he had been suffering from Lewy body dementia). It was a sad end to the life of a man who brought joy and laughter to millions of fans.

From his early days as a stand-up to his star-making turn on TV's "Mork & Mindy" (and as a guest star on "Happy Days" before that), Williams exuded a manic comedic energy that was breathtaking to behold. He could seemingly do anything for a laugh — improvisations, imitations, funny voices — all at a breakneck pace. It didn't take long for Hollywood to take notice and give him his first starring role as a cartoon character come to life in Robert Altman's "Popeye" (1980).

But Williams also showed his skills as a dramatic actor, revealing a warmth and sensitivity that complemented his quick wit. In film after film, he continued to stretch himself, earning glowing reviews and Best Actor Oscar nominations for "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), "Dead Poets Society" (1989), and "The Fisher King" (1991). He won Best Supporting Actor for his turn in "Good Will Hunting" (1997), for which he also received the SAG award. But even as he was breaking our hearts in dramas, he was cracking us up in such hits as "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), "The Birdcage" (1996), "FernGully" (1992), and, of course, the animated blockbuster "Aladdin" (1992).

It still hurts that Williams is no longer with us. Thankfully, he left behind a rich and varied filmography of classics for us to remember him by. Here's a look back at Robin Williams' 16 best movies, ranked in order from worst to best.

16. Hook (1991)

One's appreciation for "Hook" depends largely on how old you were when you first saw it. If you were an adult and a film critic in 1991, chances are you probably didn't like it (as evidenced by its 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). But if you were a child, Steven Spielberg's fantasy adventure was right up your alley, and Williams was your generation's Peter Pan.

Williams plays Peter Banning, a successful lawyer whose work leaves him little time for his kids, Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott). When his children are kidnapped by the villainous Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), he learns that he's actually the little boy who never wanted to grow up... until he left Neverland for Manhattan, that is. Peter's going to need a few flying lessons, a little fairy dust from Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), and the help of the Lost Boys and their new leader Rufio (Dante Basco) to save the day.

Appreciation of this movie varies wildly. but there's no denying its impeccable craft (which was recognized with five technical Oscar nominations) or the commitment by the actors, including Williams as a tightly wound man who must rekindle his imaginative childhood spirit.

15. What Dreams May Come (1998)

It's hard to watch "What Dreams May Come" without a tinge of sadness knowing what Williams' own tragic fate would be. That said, it's still a film that offers spectacular sights and a deeply emotional story, even if the ending leaves us a little unsatisfied (as Roger Ebert pointed out in his otherwise glowing review).

Williams stars as Chris Nielsen, a pediatrician who dies in a freak car accident. He awakens in a Heaven that resembles his wife Annie's (Annabella Sciorra) vibrant watercolor paintings, with actual paint for him to play around in. Distraught by the death of her husband and their children (who died in another car accident four years prior), Annie commits suicide and descends into Hell. Chris journeys into the underworld to save his wife, despite the protestations of his heavenly guide, Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

If nothing else, the film is worth seeing for the truly breathtaking (and Oscar-winning) visual effects and production design. Although the ending struggles too hard to be happy despite its grim subject matter, everything leading up to it pulls at our heartstrings thanks to Williams' empathetic performance.

14. World's Greatest Dad (2009)

Williams often played to the darker side of his persona in what sadly turned out to be the final act of his career. Never did he tap into that so hilariously as he did in Bobcat Goldthwait's bracing satire, which plays almost like a comedic "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

In "World's Greatest Dad," Williams plays Lance, a high school poetry teacher with a drawer full of unpublished novels. His son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), is as loathsome a kid as could ever be heaped on this sad sack. When Kyle dies in a freak accident, Lance creates a fake journal to give his son a tiny bit of dignity in passing. The bogus journal turns the wildly unpopular kid into a martyr, and his dad suddenly finds himself the center of attention, scoring points with his girlfriend Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school's art teacher.

The film takes an uncomfortable look at our need to mythologize the dead, no matter how horrible they may have been when they were still alive. It could all become too hard to watch if not for Williams' brilliant performance. 

13. Popeye (1980)

Reactions to Robert Altman's "Popeye" vary widely (hence the 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating), with some calling it brilliant and others calling it interminable. But no matter your opinion on the movie overall, you can't help but be amazed by Williams' uncanny performance as the cartoon sailor. It's even more impressive when you consider it was his first starring role in a feature film.

Adapted from E.C. Segar's classic comic strip, it finds the muscular sailor man traveling to the seaside town of Sweethaven in search of his long-lost Pappy (Ray Walston). There he meets the lovely Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), the hamburger-loving Wimpy (Paul Dooley), and the pirate Bluto (Paul L. Smith). It's up to Popeye to stop Bluto's reign of terror, which is going to require more than a few cans of spinach.

Altman spared no expense in recreating the look of Segar's comic, which caused the budget of this Paramount/Disney co-production to inflate to the size of Popeye's biceps. Although it was far from a blockbuster, it did help launch Williams' career as a movie star, and has since gained a cult following from vegetable lovers everywhere.

12. Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Released towards the end of the Cold War, Paul Mazursky's "Moscow on the Hudson" presents a deeply empathetic view of the immigrant experience that's more necessary today than it was in 1984. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Williams at the center, given his talent for imitation and his gentle, quirky charm.

He plays Vladimir Ivanoff, a Russian saxophonist visiting New York City with a traveling Moscow circus. He defects from the Soviet Union while visiting Bloomingdale's, and tries his level best to assimilate to the United States. Along the way, he meets fellow immigrants from all over the world. By populating the leading cast almost entirely with international actors, Mazursky shows America to be the melting pot that it is.

As Vladimir, Williams continued to prove himself a master at blending comedy and pathos. The role brought him a Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actor, the first he received for his movie work (he previously won on the TV side for "Mork & Mindy").

11. The World According to Garp (1982)

Williams made his first foray into dramatic acting with this lyrical adaptation of John Irving's best-seller. George Roy Hill's film sands down some of the novel's rougher edges, choosing whimsy over cynicism. So what better actor to play the central character than that most whimsical of movie stars?

He plays the titular Garp, whose radical feminist mother (Glenn Close in her film debut) conceived him out of wedlock while serving as a nurse in WWII. He grows up to become a successful fiction writer, although his mother outshines him with her own book, a politically charged women's lib manifesto that turns her into an icon. Her home becomes a safe haven for abused women, including a transgender ex-football player (John Lithgow). Garp, meanwhile, marries and has children, although his wife (Mary Beth Hurt) remains less than faithful.

Williams acts almost as the audience surrogate, quietly observing the colorful characters who weave in and out of his life's story. He keeps his manic energies in check, graciously allowing his co-stars to steal the show (particularly Lithgow and Close, both of whom earned supporting Oscar nominations for their performances). Yet he remains the heart of the movie, which could've descended into chaos without him.

10. Awakenings (1990)

Although Robert De Niro won the lion's share of critical plaudits for his transformative performance in "Awakenings," Williams is his match in every way. The film marked the first time he proved his ability to keep us riveted without a single one-liner. It's a skill that would come in handy as he took roles in ever-darker films.

Directed by Penny Marshall, it's a powerful adaptation of Oliver Sacks' 1973 memoir of the same name. Williams plays the Sacks surrogate, Dr. Malcolm Sayer, who in 1969 discovered that the experimental drug L-Dopa could "awaken" catatonic victims of the encephalitis epidemic of the 1920s. One patient, Leonard (De Niro), finds a new lease on life after being paralyzed since childhood, but the effects of the drug are tragically short-lived.

Although Leonard's arc is the most dramatic, Malcolm's journey is no less important to the story's success. As his patients awaken from their comas, he learns to open himself up to the world, even starting a romance with a friendly nurse (Julie Kavner, known best for playing Marge Simpson). The role brought Williams a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor, although De Niro got the Oscar bid.

9. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

When Williams died in 2014, fans paid tribute by placing flowers at the San Francisco home used for exteriors in "Mrs. Doubtfire." It was more than just a salute to a Bay Area neighbor (Williams lived for many years in Tiburon, a city in Marin County); it was also a testament to the film's impact on popular culture.

Few roles were as iconic for Williams as that of Daniel Hillard, a voice actor who takes desperate measures to spend time with his kids after a bitter divorce. Just how desperate, you ask? He dons heavy makeup, a fat suit, and a thick English accent to play Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly British nanny hired by Daniel's unsuspecting wife (Sally Field) to look after the house while she's at work.

On the surface, this is little more than an excuse for Williams to play a funny character. But lurking underneath is the story of an immature person who becomes a better man by playing a woman (kinda like Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie"). "Mrs. Doubtfire" was a box office smash that won Williams the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical Actor. Although he failed to land an Oscar nomination, the film did handily win the prize for makeup.

8. One Hour Photo (2002)

You can almost still hear the collective gasp from audiences when they caught their first glimpse of Williams in 2002's "One Hour Photo." Although he had more than proven his skills as a dramatic actor, nothing he had done before hinted at the darkness he would explore here or in "Insomnia" that same year.

Directed by Mark Romanek, it's a deeply disturbing psychological thriller about a lonely photo technician named Sy (Williams). With no friends or family of his own, he becomes dangerously obsessed with the Yorkins, particularly wife Nina (Connie Nielsen) and son Jake (Dylan Smith), who frequently use his services. When he discovers that the husband, Will (Michael Vartan), is having an affair, the self-appointed "Uncle Sy" goes to troubling lengths to exact revenge.

While the plot twists could perhaps be nitpicked, there's no criticizing the power of Williams' unsettling performance, which shows a range viewers perhaps never thought was possible. We can also thank the film for his hilarious Critics Choice Awards "acceptance" speech, which he delivered after losing to both Daniel Day-Lewis ("Gangs of New York") and Jack Nicholson ("About Schmidt").

7. The Fisher King (1991)

Although he's best remembered for bringing his force-of-nature stand-up comedy skills to the screen, Williams was rarely recognized by Oscar voters outside of his dramatic work. The exception is Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King," which allows him to play to the rafters while pulling him back for some quietly devastating emotional moments.

Jeff Bridges stars as Jack, a shock jock who loses his job when he unwittingly convinces a listener to go on a shooting spree. Down on his luck and working at a video store with his girlfriend (Mercedes Ruehl, in an Oscar-winning performance), he's saved from a suicide attempt by Parry (Williams), a mentally ill homeless man on a quest for the Holy Grail. Jack helps Parry put his life back together when he realizes he's directly responsible for his current disposition, helping him win the heart of a nice, shy girl (Amanda Plummer).

William's manic energy is a perfect match for a director as famously maniacal as Gilliam. It's a wonder the film doesn't spin wildly out of control with its mix of fantasy, romance, slapstick, and tragedy, yet it all comes together beautifully. In addition to his Oscar nomination, Williams won yet another Golden Globe as Best Comedy/Musical Actor for the role.

6. The Birdcage (1996)

It's not often that an American remake of an international hit becomes even more beloved than the original, yet such was the lucky fate of "The Birdcage." An update of the Oscar-nominated French farce "La Cage aux Folles" (which also inspired a Tony-winning musical), it's a wildly entertaining comedy of errors that gets as close to absurdity without going completely off the rails as it possibly can.

Williams is at the center as Armand Goldman, owner of a South Beach gay club whose main attraction is the drag queen Starina, played by his life partner, Albert (Nathan Lane). Armand's son, Val (Dan Futterman), returns home with some big news: he's getting married to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a conservative Republican senator (Gene Hackman). When the senator and his wife (Dianne Wiest) arrive for dinner, Val begs his dad to hide his flamboyant lifestyle for just one night. But that's easier said than done.

Although the characters could easily have become offensive stereotypes, they're instead imbued with a deep humanity by director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May (reuniting for the first time since their Nichols and May days). Williams is especially good, keeping his more exuberant instincts in check to play the story's grounded center. The all-star cast won the SAG Ensemble prize, making this the first (and so far only) film to do so without earning a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

5. Insomnia (2002)

Who would've thought that Williams, an actor who exudes warmth and decency through every pore of his being, had it in him to play a psychotic killer? Lucky for us, Christopher Nolan saw that potential and used it to great effect in this taut thriller.

A remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, it stars Al Pacino as Will Dormer, a Los Angeles homicide detective investigating a murder in an Alaskan fishing town where the sun never sets. Preoccupied with an Internal Affairs investigation and a lack of sleep, he accidentally shoots and kills his partner (Martin Donovan), who was set to testify against him. He gets contacted by the killer, crime writer Walter Finch (Williams), who exploits Will's crime to cover up his own.

Williams and Pacino are mesmerizing together, each playing characters who have compromised their morals in similar ways, with one having made peace with his depravity while the other still struggles to do the right thing. Their scenes are powerful, with Williams toying with Pacino like a cat who has trapped a mouse. Williams was known for making us laugh — but boy, could he make us shiver, too.

4. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Williams had his first brush with Oscar glory with his energetic leading turn in Barry Levinson's comedic drama. "Good Morning, Vietnam" utilizes all of the actor's greatest skills — his mastery of mimicry, his boundless improvisational energy, his deep humanity — to create a tour-de-force showcase for him.  

He plays Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ assigned to the U.S. Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War. Cronauer uses humor like a weapon, riffing for hours in front of the microphone for the amusement of American soldiers fighting in battle. But as the horrors of the war confront him, his armor of treating everything as a joke slowly starts to crumble.

Williams is dazzling in the role, which Roger Ebert called "far and away the best work [he] has ever done in a movie." That's because, he added, "his own tactics are turned against him." For an actor who often used his own comedic brilliance as a shield, it's a stunningly revealing performance. In addition to his Oscar nomination, Williams also won the Golden Globe and competed at BAFTA for the role.

3. Dead Poets Society (1989)

As far as inspirational movies go, "Dead Poets Society" is pretty much the gold standard, and that's in no small part due to Williams' performance as the rousing teacher at its center. John Keating was the high bar by which we measured our own favorite educators, the ones who encouraged us to "seize the day" and make our lives extraordinary.

Directed by Peter Weir, it takes place at a stuffy all-boys prep school in the late 1950s. The students (among them Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, and Gale Hansen) fall under the spell of their enigmatic new English teacher, who teaches Shakespeare by way of Marlon Brando impersonations. His unorthodox methods — which include ripping pages out of textbooks — lands him in hot water with the school administrators, and his job is imperiled when things take a tragic turn with one of the students.

You can't help but be moved when the students hop on their desks and shout "O Captain! My Captain!" as Keating is led out of the classroom. It's little wonder Williams earned his second Oscar nomination as Best Actor for the role. The film also competed in Best Picture and Best Director, winning the Best Original Screenplay prize.

2. Aladdin (1992)

If it's not the greatest voice-over performance in history, Williams' inspired rendition of the genie in "Aladdin" at least set the bar for all subsequent celebrity castings in animated films. You can't imagine Eddie Murphy in "Shrek," Ellen DeGeneres in "Finding Nemo," Tom Hanks in "Toy Story," or any number of great cartoon performances without him. So great was his impact in the role that it brought him an honorary Golden Globe award.

Every '90s kid knows the plot of this Disney classic by heart: a street urchin named Aladdin falls in love with the beautiful princess Jasmine, and tries to win her heart by way of a magic lamp and a genie that grants him three wishes. Williams brings his frenetic energy to the role, introducing the improvisational riffs of his stand-up act to the tightly structured field of animation (one can imagine animators furiously creating new drawings to keep up with him).

It's a dazzling tour de force that brought Williams a whole new generation of fans. Even the endlessly charming Will Smith couldn't compete with him in the live-action remake, and honestly, why would you even try?

1. Good Will Hunting (1997)

It's hard to pick just one performance as Williams' best, considering he excelled at so many different things. Do you go with the exuberant comedy of "Mrs. Doubtfire," "The Fisher King," "The Birdcage," or "Aladdin"? The poignancy of "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings", or "Good Morning, Vietnam"? Or the shocking against-type psychos in "One Hour Photo" or "Insomnia"?

If it's not his best performance, "Good Will Hunting" at least encapsulates so much of what made Williams a special performer: his warmth, his humor, his humanity. It's a standout supporting turn in Gus Van Sant's inspirational drama about an MIT janitor (Matt Damon) who's secretly a math genius. Williams plays the school's psychologist, Dr. Sean Maguire, who helps him realize his full potential before he throws it all away.

The film made stars out of Damon and Ben Affleck, who won an Oscar for their original screenplay, but it's Williams who breaks our hearts as a man who confronts his own demons while helping a patient overcome his. It's little wonder the role brought him a long-overdue Academy Award win as Best Supporting Actor (and if you're in the mood for a good cry, watch his Oscar acceptance speech).