Robin Williams: Top 10 Performances From a Comic Genius

By August 12, 2014

The heartbreaking news of the death of Robin Williams hit the world hard. The Internet stopped what it was doing to mourn the death of the comic genius, discuss depression, and celebrate his life and incredible performances. Even the President of the United States talked about the impact this comic and cultural icon had on the world. If you’re anything like me, you spent last night discussing the impact he had on your life and his best performances. Here are the ones I love personally, though there are so many good ones I had to leave off. Good Will Hunting, anyone? Leave yours and your thoughts on his life and work below.

1. “Mork & Mindy”

Mork & Mindy

My generation was introduced to Williams through his lovable alien character Mork from the planet Ork. He aged backwards. He said, “Nanu nanu.” He loved a human woman named Mindy (Pam Dawber) and bumbled his way through navigating our strange planet. Mork first appeared in the “Happy Days” Season 5 episode, “My Favorite Orkan,” which first aired in February 1978, and then he got his own show later that year. Williams managed to make a goofy premise sweet and cemented our love for him by the very first episode.

2. The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp

This 1982 film was an adaptation of the John Irving novel about the son of a feminist writer, and Williams shows a range of emotions that would crush a lesser actor. It was an early indication of the wild talent Williams had and proved that he could handle drama as well as he could comedy.

3. The Fisher King

The Fisher King

I still dream about this one frequently. It affected me more than many films in recent history. Williams plays a homeless man with a tragic past whose joy saves the life of Jeff Bridges’ suicidal radio talk show host. It’s my all-time favorite performance of his. If you haven’t seen it, you have to rent it right now and marvel at the man’s genius.

4. Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

So many people tweeted, “O Captain! My Captain!” as the news of Williams’ death broke online, and they’re referencing this film. Williams plays English teacher John Keating, who inspires young men with the idea of carpe diem and seizing life as they navigate through adolescence in the late fifties. Again, Williams proves that he does drama as well as comedy. Stand on your desks and be proud.

5. Good Morning, Vietnam

Good Morning, Vietnam

Williams got his first Oscar nomination for his role as Vietnam-era radio DJ Adrian Cronaeur who upsets his superiors with his “irreverent tendency,” but gives the troops hope. The film is number 100 on “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.”

6. Hook


Williams plays worn-out father Peter Banning, whose life is consumed by work. When Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children, Peter discovers that he was once the legendary Peter Pan and heads to Neverland to rescue them. Critiques aside, this film was beautifully touching and so enduring that it still fills many a Tumblr meme. Bangarang!

7. Toys


Toys poster

There are a ton of people who would fight me on this choice. In fact, there were some who did it on Twitter last night. Weird though this film was – and it was seriously trippy – Williams’ performance as a toy maker battling his war monger relatives was moving and affecting. Just watch it for his work if nothing else.

8. Aladdin


No where else was Williams able to express his frenetic comic genius more than as the animated Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Set free from the restraints of a human character, Williams shined in a way no one else could. You’re free, Genie. Sniff.

9. Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire

A divorced dad dresses in drag to regain his family. The makeup was amazing. The performances were amazing. You can’t get better than this one. “It was a run-by fruiting!”

10. The Birdcage

The Birdcage

Williams plays a gay father and long-term partner of Nathan Lane’s character in this 1996 adaptation of the French farce “La Cage aux Folles.” His son’s fiancee has conservative parents and the two try to hide who they are to get through the family meeting. I’ve seen this film a thousand times and my face still hurts from laughing with every viewing.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. The world is a lot sadder today.

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Jenna Busch
Jenna Busch is the co-host of 'Cocktails With Stan' with the legendary Stan Lee. She's a host and writer who's passionate about Star Wars, fantasy and geek culture. Jenna is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and a board member of the Broadcast Television Critics Association (BTJA). She has appeared on G4's "Attack of the Show," and "Fresh Ink," as well as appearing with Wil Wheaton on the premiere episode of "Tabletop." She's got two stories published in the comic anthology "Womanthology" and has done a series of terrifyingly perky voice overs. She also owns far too many swords and lightsabers.
  • Where to even begin? So many stellar performances…still can’t believe he’s gone.