By: Julia Ricci
Robin Williams was one of the few performers who has inspired and touched generations of audiences regardless of age, portraying some of the most memorable characters in movie and TV history. An incredibly gifted actor and comedian, he had spectacular range and energy, with the ability to be both hilarious and profound in the same breath.
Whether you’re three or 93, you have probably seen–and enjoyed–a Robin Williams movie, TV show, or standup routine. As a tribute to his wonderful career, we at The Reel Deal would like to share with you our favorite Robin Williams roles and performances.
Imagine sitting in a quiet house, no one but you. Suddenly, there’s the faint sound of beating drums. It gets louder and louder, you get up and try to follow the sound. The beating drums lead you up the stairs and into the attic. Finally, you reach the source of the sound. A board game, buried under layers of dust. You look for the title and find it, it’s Jumanji! The premise of the 1995 film was unique enough to capture the attention of adults and children alike. Fast paced and entertaining, the film is filled with impressive-for-it’s-time special effects and physical comedy.
The highlight of the entire production, however, is the mere fact that Robin Williams is in the film. Jumanji is definitely not his best performance out of all his works, or his most profound, but it is a great film for younger children to be introduced to this energetic character. Jumanji is one of the first films I saw starring Williams, and his off-the-wall energy, madman-like behavior is definitely what I took away from the film. Williams is known for not only being a legendary comedian but also a fantastic dramatic actor. In Jumanji,however, he does simply what most actors try to do, entertain. Jumanji is a good movie by itself: it’s funny, there’s action, there’s suspense. But it is a film that is made better by the fact that Williams is in it. Even after watching his dramatic works like Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, I can’t help but revert back to the childhood memory of Williams as a sword-brandishing, twelve-year-old-at-heart, fighting back giant CGI lions shrieking at the top of his lungs. –Vivien Pong
Just because you get older doesn’t mean that you have to grow up. Williams sure didn’t, and for me no other role allowed him to re-embrace the innocence and adventure of childhood like his portrayal of Peter Banning/Pan in 1991’s Hook. In an almost Mr. Banks-like case of loving his children but completely failing to show it, Williams showed off his talent by starting the film as an uptight, stern businessman. But from there the film becomes a journey of self-discovery, Williams taking us along as the child within his character reawakens and reminding us that imagination is something we all have, no matter how old. And though even Peter Pan had to relearn to use his imagination, the world will always remember Robin Williams fondly and truly as a boy who never grew up. –Connor Fak
One Robin Williams role that touched the lives of millions, including my own, was in a Disney movie: Aladdin. In the film, Williams voiced the iconic Genie, and with the character’s shape-shifting antics and endless impressions, it is almost as if the role was designed to play up Williams strongest suits. During recording of the film the directors, Ron Clements and Jon Musker, allowed Williams to improvise most of his dialogue, giving the studio almost 16 hours of audio. Even more amazingly, Disney brought in animators while recording all of Williams dialogue so that the animators could study his movements and animate the Genie’s mannerisms based on them. This aspect of the film really helped bring the Genie to life and become a childhood icon, and makes it hard to imagine any other actor in the role. This is just one of Robin Williams amazing performances that will forever carry on his legacy, and it will always be my favorite. –Nicole Koehn
Good Morning, Vietnam
I first watched this film in a high school history class, and it has been a bittersweet pleasure to find myself returning to it. Like many of his most beloved roles, Good Morning, Vietnam showcases the rapid-fire wit, immense spectrum of voice talent, and raw humanity that made Williams the legend he was and will continue to be. It’s inspired by the true story of well-loved radio talent, Adrian Cronauer, who pushes the boundaries of the strict rules set in place by the United States Army during the Vietnam War during his morning radio broadcasts for the troops. Adrian’s eccentric comedy and unfailing kindness pave the way for a story that reveals many truths about the tragedy of war and the emotional armor that laughter can provide in order to cope with it. Most of Cronauer’s broadcasts in the film were improvised by Williams. The characters, impressions, and absolute skill of Williams’ trademark comedy can all be found in this film which earned him a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination. –Lydia Lucas
Whose Line is it Anyway
We all know Robin Williams from some of his greatest performances in films such as Aladdin
, Good Will Hunting
, Dead Poets Society
and much more, but the one I will always remember was when he was a guest performer on the popular improv comedy showWhose Line is it Anyway.
Robin proved how truly funny he was from the very beginning of the episode where he was already running around performing a “Blair Witch” joke.
Williams owned the stage from the first minute. From playing with all the buttons on Drew Carey’s desk to even sneaking up on him scaring him, Williams was not only holding his own with the likes of Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, but he was also outshining them at many points in the show. Robin even showed off some of his gospel singing abilities in the duet game. But my favorite joke from the episode was from “Scenes from a Hat” where the category was “things Robin Williams is thinking right now.” Robin immediately walks on stage and says, “I have a career; what the hell am I thinking?” Thanks to Robin Williams, that was easily my favorite episode of this constantly hilarious show and going back and watching it really showed that we lost a true talent with the passing of this comedic legend. RIP, Robin Williams, you will be missed. –Eli Ralston
Laughter is one of the most amazing and incredible things. Like medicine for the soul, it has a special ability to temporarily mend a broken heart, to momentarily take one away from life’s trials, and ultimately bring people together. Some of my favorite childhood memories are laughing with my brothers as we would watch silly movies and videos. One film in particular, however, that allowed my family and I to pause and just laugh together was Mrs. Doubtfire. This film has been one of my favorites upon seeing it. The film, with its hilarious content and heartwarming message, would not be such a fantastic movie had it not been for the unique and wonderful talent of Robin Williams. As I remember the life of Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the first things that comes to mind. He put so much of his talent into this movie making viewers happy, and it is his dedication to cheering people up that makes this film so memorable. I am so thankful that there are people willing to give so much of themselves to make others feel great, and Mrs. Doubtfire will continue to have a special place in my life. Mr. Williams, your selfless joy will be dearly missed but not forgotten. –Isaac Whatley
Inside the Actors Studio
Robin Williams’ episode of Inside the Actors Studio aired in 2001, and though it may not be one of his most iconic film or television roles it was historic in its own right. In the DVD intro, host James Lipton confirms many important statistics about this particular episode of his iconic show. Firstly that the original uncut version of the interview went on for almost six hours. Unable to part with so much material, the producers decided to air it as the first ever two hour long episode. Lipton is unable to ask his first question until nine minutes into Williams’ appearance on the stage due to the utter power of his presence and hilarity. Lipton also reveals that an audience member developed a hernia from laughing so hard and was taken to the hospital as a result. As for the interview, Williams’ speaks very candidly about his early life, his close friend Christopher Reeve, drug use and addiction, and the joy of parenthood. Lipton covers his career from Mork and Mindy through Death to Smoochy and his energy is steadfast throughout. By my count, he improvises somewhere near the mark of eighty characters within the hour and forty minutes that are available, meaning that countless others were lost somewhere on the cutting room floor. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Robin Williams performance, you owe it to yourself to see his episode of Inside the Actors Studio. –Lydia Lucas
Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society is a powerful piece of cinema, especially to a fourteen year old preparing to make the daunting leap from middle school to high school–which was who I was when I was introduced to it. I was captivated by Williams’ portrayal of out-of-the-box English teacher John Keating, who changes the lives of his students by encouraging them to “seize the day” and “suck the marrow out of life,” lessons which have had a profound effect on me to this day. With those and the many other pieces of wisdom Keating imparts, it is not only the words he says, but also in the way he says them convinces me that I can change the world and be an exceptional person. Williams’ brilliant performance demonstrates his gift for blending lighthearted comedic energy with gentle poignancy, portraying the compassionate, inspirational teacher students want to have and teachers aspire to be. To me, Robin Williams will always be Mr. Keating, and Dead Poets Society will always have a special place in my heart. –Julia Ricci