EDITOR: For many of my generation, Robin Williams (1951-2014) was a pivotal part of growing up, a constant and immutable part of the media and pop cultural landscape. Due to the circumstances and investigation surrounding his death, we prefer not to comment on that aspect right now. Nevertheless, a figure who loomed large in our childhoods and made us laugh and cry is suddenly gone and we wanted to offer a small tribute for what it was worth.
Here’s a short (but hardly definitive) list that the three of us here at PopMythology put together of the 7 Robin Williams movies that we’d most like to remember him by, in no particular order.
Anyone who was a kid in the 90s looks back on this movie with nostalgia. Williams plays Alan Parish, a man out of time who has been trapped in a board game since he was a child. Williams brings together the wonder of a child discovering the future and the trials of an adult discovering responsibility to create a character with surprising depth and charm for a children’s movie. The most memorable scene for me was not one of laughter, but one of sadness; when Alan hears what became of his family after his disappearance, it was the first indication to me as a child that Williams could perform not only in comedic roles but in dramatic ones as well. This is a fact he continued to prove as I aged and his movies aged with me. —Jessica Gibson
Williams plays Armand Goldman, the gay owner of a drag club in Miami. While the entire cast is excellent, Williams shines as a father who is willing to do anything he can to ensure his son’s happiness, even if it means compromising his beliefs and pretending to be someone he is not. The most memorable scene for me was when he teaches his partner, played by Nathan Lane, to walk and talk like John Wayne. His impressions and timing were spot on, making it clear to everyone watching why he was considered a comedic genius. —Jessica Gibson
My tween years were spent laughing hysterically while Robin Williams dressed in granny drag in Mrs. Doubtfire. I was young and didn’t fully grasp the deeper, more painful reality of a father’s desperation to be close to his children. He made me laugh and that was great. Now, as an adult, and a parent, I can appreciate this flick on so many levels. Like Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams had two faces – tragedy and comedy. It is best we appreciate and acknowledge both sides of a talented and conflicted man. —Mel Massey
The pain of losing one of our brightest stars is only made tolerable by reliving his brightest of moments. Perhaps hauntingly, my first choice for the most memorable movie Williams ever made was What Dreams May Come. Williams’ ability to dig deep, and scratch his own personal scars to find the pain within, was painful and beautiful to witness as he searches for his wife in the afterworld, highlighting his ethereal ability to coerce the audience to mirror his pain. Over the years, I’ve watched this movie repeatedly. I’ll watch it again and, this time, I’ll envision our beloved star frolicking in his colorful afterlife as he did in What Dreams May Come. —Mel Massey
When you watched Williams in one of his more all-out comedic roles, or especially his standup comedy routines, it always seemed like physical reality was just too constraining for the sheer, manic energy of his comic vision. In Aladdin he finally had a movie and a medium (animation) in which there were no limits and anything was possible. The Genie was Williams’ brain unleashed without a cumbersome body, and few other Disney roles were as tailor made for one particular actor as the Genie was for Robin Williams. —Pop Mythologist
When I first saw this movie as a kid it was way over my head. I didn’t get it. It wasn’t interesting or funny at all. But when I saw it again after having grown up I realized what a great flick it was—hilarious and yet underscored by important social and political commentary. Moreover, it cemented Williams’ movie image as the wacky iconoclast who bucks the system and pays the price for it, an archetype he’d subsequently return to in movies like the next one below. —Pop Mythologist
This is the first movie which, for me, whispered enticing possibilities of education actually being a fun and passionate pursuit. At the time that I saw it, Williams’ soulful performance as a teacher who opens his students’ eyes to the wonder of literature and poetry only served to highlight how boring and lifeless my own teachers were. But years later I met English teacher Mr. Ray Brown in the 11th grade who just may have turned me into the writer I am today. Dead Poets Society made me believe in the possibility, and I can think of no better symbolic way to send off the actor who made me believe than the clip above. —Pop Mythologist