Gees, guys. The hits just keep on coming, huh? I had initially planned something else for today, but given the news we all received yesterday, I felt like I should do something to pay my respects. After the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this year, now we have to say goodbye to another one of the greats: Robin Williams. I’m still in shock about this one. He was in so many movies that I remember so fondly from my childhood. So to pay tribute, I thought it would be nice to pull together a little list of some of my favorite Robin Williams roles. They may not all be his most critically acclaimed performances, but they are what I will remember him by.
#10: Ramon (Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two)
I think it’s safe to say that Robin Williams was one of the most diverse and energetic voice talents around, so I’ll be highlighting a few of his animated films on here. Honestly, I haven’t seen Happy Feet in ages (and I haven’t even seen the sequel), but I fondly remember Williams’ sassy little Latin penguin, Ramon. His toe-tapping, Spanish rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” is simply glorious. Williams voice coming out of an adorable penguin’s body just works.
#9: Armand Goldman (The Birdcage)
I haven’t seen the original French film, so apologies for those who are La Cage aux Folles purists, but I do quite love this American remake. Was it necessary? Probably not. But given how awesome Williams and Nathan Lane are in it, can’t we let that slide? Williams plays gay cabaret owner Armand, a slightly subdued character in this—or at least subdued compared to his very flamboyant partner, Albert (Lane). I love the chemistry these two men have, and there’s so much to laugh about in this movie.
#8: Merritt Rook (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)
I haven’t seen much of Williams’ TV work, but I had to mention this role. Do you guys get sucked into Law & Order: SVU marathons the way I do? Seriously, I lose hours. It’s bad. But thanks to those addictive marathons, I’ve seen this intense performance from Williams a few times. As Merritt Rook, a man bitter after the loss of his wife and daughter, he plays a very different type of role than most of us are used to seeing him in. He’s ruthlessly clever, and he’s actually kind of an anti-hero. Great episode. Probably one of my favorites.
#7: Teddy Roosevelt (Night at the Museum, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian)
Wow. I could find zero decent clips of Williams in Night at the Museum. What’s up with that?! Whatever. So the Night at the Museum films aren’t the best films ever, but I’ve always thought they were fairly fun flicks, and I think Williams is a good part of that fun. You can tell that Williams has a blast playing America’s 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt. He gives Teddy all the humor and wisdom and sense of adventure that you can imagine the man had in real life. Also, kudos to the makeup people because I think Williams looks so much like him.
#6: Peter Banning (Hook)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Peter Pan, but Hook is a different story. I mean, yes, it’s super cheesy, but it has its bright spots—namely, Williams and Dustin Hoffman. Williams plays a grown-up Peter who must return to Never Land after his children are kidnapped by the villainous Captain Hook (Hoffman). Peter gradually reclaims his youth after years of being a grumpy, stressed-out businessman, and Williams pulls this off perfectly. It’s just a fun family film. I feel like Williams was pretty much the king of those.
#5: Batty Koda (FernGully: The Last Rainforest)
Heck yes, FernGully! Do you guys remember this? For whatever reason, it was one of my favorites when I was a kid (which is pretty impressive given that it was competing for my affections in the same decade as some of Disney’s best films). It’s this wacky, hippie-dippie film that doesn’t even try to disguise its heavy environmentalist message. But I love it. Williams plays poor, sweet Batty Koda, a bat who has gone pretty darn crazy thanks to animal testing. See his dark and frankly terrifying rap above (apologies for the awful quality).
#4: Alan Parrish (Jumanji)
I freaking LOVE Jumanji. This might be my favorite film on this list, even if it isn’t the most critically acclaimed. I don’t even know if I can properly explain this for those of you who haven’t seen it…Williams plays Alan, a man who has been trapped in a wild, magical board game for 26 years. When two youngsters finally release him with a lucky roll of the dice, all manner of craziness ensues. Williams helps wrangle all that crazy with a straight performance as a likable main character. It’s one of his more understated roles, but he’s still great.
#3: Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)
How could I leave out Mrs. Doubtfire? I think Williams is absolutely perfect in this film. I found myself perusing Mrs. Doubtfire YouTube videos last night and just laughing my ass off at all the crazy, hilarious stuff he does. Williams had a blast with this, and it shows. It was his kind of kooky. I mean, a divorced man dresses up as an eccentric old housekeeper to spend more time with his kids? Who else could win a Golden Globe for something like that but Robin Williams? Forget all those Madea films—Mrs. Doubtfire trumps them in one outing.
#2: John Keating (Dead Poets Society)
“O Captain! My Captain!” Never have those words sounded more bittersweet. They’re used as a moving salute to Williams’ character, John Keating, in the finale of Dead Poets Society, which is easily one of his best films (if not his very best). Williams gives an amazing dramatic performance, playing a teacher who inspires his rigid prep school students to dream and think for themselves. Any teachers who saw the film wanted to be this teacher, and any students who saw it wanted to be in that class. I have no idea how Williams didn’t win an Oscar for this.
#1: Genie (Aladdin, Aladdin and the King of Thieves)
This…this will always be the Williams role for me—the manic, ridiculous, hilarious, singing-and-dancing Genie. Williams’ incredible voice work is at its peak here. He sings, shouts, does impressions, and entertains like no other, molding the Genie into one of Disney’s most iconic characters. The big blue wonder brought me so much joy as a kid, and years later, I still can’t watch the Genie without smiling. Gees, the sheer energy he put into this role! Genie’s introductory song is 100% right: we’ve never had a friend like him.
Those are just a few of my favorite Williams roles, but my God what a career! How about you guys? What Williams roles are your favorites? There’s a lot to be celebrated here, and a lot to miss, too. R.I.P. Robin.