Robin Williams will forever be remembered as a juggernaut of comedy. His eccentric stylings are skills most actors and performers in his field could only hope to aspire to. His portrayals of characters such as Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the Genie secured him a reputation as perhaps the funniest character actor in Hollywood, but Williams was certainly no one-trick pony.
While his most famous “serious role” might be the phenomenal Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society, whose grasp of poets, prose, and Carpe Diem continues to resonate, Williams truly has a remarkable range that stretches beyond the funny voices and giddy presence.
10. The Professor (The Secret Agent)
The Secret Agent is a spy thriller set in 19th century London. While it does feature big names like Bob Hoskins and Patricia Arquette in the main roles, there is a cameo from Williams that’s far from his normal comedic schtick.
Williams plays The Professor, a mysterious explosives expert who wears a smile on his face with an armed bomb in his vest set to blow. He’s calm, collected, and even pleasant, but in the brief moments the audience knows him, there’s an unshakable unsettling aura about his presence.
9. Mort Goldman (The Birdcage)
Although The Birdcage is one of Williams’s comedic takes, it deserves an honorable mention simply because it features him in the role of the straight-man (no pun intended) next to Nathan Lane’s drag queen persona. While he does have some loud moments, Williams plays Mort Goldman with a phenomenal show of control.
It would be so easy to have the roles reversed, given Williams’s more colorful dynamic and stylings, but he definitely deserves a round of applause here.
8. Henry Altmann (The Angriest Man In Brooklynn)
Those expecting the zaniness of Robin Williams’s comedic antics might be more than a bit surprised with The Angriest Man in Brooklynn. Willams plays Henry Altmann, an irate and bitter man angry at the world mistakenly told he has 90 minutes to live, sending him spiraling into a panic to make amends with his family and friends before he dies.
It sounds comedic on paper but this is a very mean-spirited black comedy, and Henry is not the most likable character. He’s honestly pretty brutal compared to other Williams characters.
7. Lance Clayton (World’s Greatest Dad)
Lance Clayton is a less than wonderful dad, but when his son dies by autoerotic asphyxiation, Lance decides to try and cover it up by making it look like a suicide, and writing his son’s ‘journal’ to back up the story. However, when the journal starts to gain media attention, Lance believes he may have a chance to fulfill his dream of being a writer. What transpires is a black comedy of errors.
Anyone familiar with Bobcat Goldwaith’s films knows they’re designed to be uncomfortable, but Williams truly shines in this unsettling role. Can’t say the man is inflexible in his craft.
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (The Butler)
Aside from Man of the Year and Night at the Museum, did anyone really expect Robin Williams to be such an impressive president? Dwight D. Eisenhower isn’t really a figure associated with Willams’s eccentric persona, but he truly did something incredible with the role.
Williams plays Eisenhower in a strangely softer light with his interactions with Forrest Whittaker’s Cecil Gaines. Seeing the war-hero president at a painter’s easel having a personal reflection with the butler is certainly a different portrayal of such a historically important figure.
5. Jakob (Jakob The Liar)
Robin Williams in a movie about the Holocaust is not exactly something most moviegoers would ever put together, but Jakob the Liar is a criminally underrated entry in the actor’s filmography. Needless to say, it’s some weighty material for Williams to work with, but he does it beautifully.
Playing a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi work camp is a difficult task for any actor, but he takes it seriously and delivers an emotional performance.
4. Andrew (Bicentennial Man)
Bicentennial Man doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves, and Robin Williams’s performance is truly noteworthy. It might be a sci-fi comedy, but his portrayal of an android with some serious Pinocchio syndrome is one of the most underrated roles in his career.
He has his humorous moments, but Andrew is ultimately an alien character in a human world. His performance is anything but robotic, but it’s hard seeing anybody other than Williams in this role. He really does give a splash of color to his silicone soul.
3. Sean Maguire (Good Will Hunting)
Good Will Hunting was what won Williams his long-deserved Oscar. The life-worn Sean Maguire is far from the actor’s trademark comedic personae, but it was this typecast-shattering performance that won him so much acclaim.
A brilliant psychologist still in mourning over the loss of his wife, Sean is far from the bombastically energetic characters the actor is used to playing but he’s by far the deepest in terms of development and emotional investment. Honest, sympathetic, and exceptionally profound, how could one not want a mentor of his caliber?
2. Merrit Rook (Law And Order: SVU)
A TV role, but one that seems incredibly outside of Williams’s character roster. In the episode “Authority,” Merrit Rook is a vengeful vigilante who uses his voices and audio technician training to wreak antiauthoritarian havoc on unwitting victims.
Robin Williams is the last person most would cast as a psychopathic suspect on SVU, but props to the writers and producers for creating a character that would use Williams’s gift for voices for malicious intent. Simply put, if Robin Williams is on board, make use of his gifts.
1. Sy Parrish (One Hour Photo)
Robin Williams portraying a horror movie villain. In almost all respects, this shouldn’t work. Thanks to the actor’s incredible skills, however, Sy Parrish goes from kind and unassuming to predator in an instant.
A lonely photo technician who stalks a family through their family pictures undoubtedly sounds like the stuff of nightmares, at least in the age before smartphones and cameras. But the way Williams portrays the gentle Sy going through his mental breakdown and psychosis is truly chilling.