The late, great Robin Williams starred in some of the biggest movies of all time, from Aladdin to Mrs. Doubtfire. The Oscar-winning actor and comedian will always be remembered for his hilarious and often touching work in films like The Birdcage, Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Hook, and Good Will Hunting, but there are “smaller” flicks on his resume that are just as worthy of watching.
They didn’t make a ton of money at the box office, or critics didn’t take to them immediately, but these slept-on Robin Williams gems deserve some love. To celebrate his birthday (today would have been his 64th) and the upcoming release of Boulevard, which marks the final big-screen appearance of the beloved star, we’re looking back at 10 of his most underrated gems.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
When this dark comedy came out, critics didn’t know what to make of the Barney-gone-wrong caper. (In fact, Roger Ebert flat-out hated the Danny DeVito-directed comedy about a disgraced and totally inappropriate children’s TV host and his plans to take out his kind-hearted, purple-rhino-suit-wearing rival.) Audiences initially listened and the movie flopped, but since then it’s become something of a cult favorite. Sure, it’s seriously strange and off-beat, but it’s darkly hilarious, features one of Jon Stewart’s few film roles, and it’s a sick blast to watch Robin play cruel and corrupt.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
In light of Robin’s tragic suicide, it’s a little tougher to watch this dark indie dramedy, about a devastated father who stages his asshole son’s embarrassing accidental hanging to look like an intentional suicide. It’s still absolutely worth watching, though. The critically-praised, no-holds-barred, and very smart dark comedy didn’t make much of an impression on the box office, but you can still watch Robin in one of the most challenging and daring roles in his career.
The live-action musical comedy take on the beloved cartoon sailor (played perfectly by Robin) was considered a commercial and critical flop when it came out. Still, the movie holds a special place in the hearts of people who loved it (Vanity Fair even called it “the best Robin Williams movie ever”) and even if it seems off-the-wall now to watch, you have to admire the chance they took here.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
It’s not entirely fair to call this drama about the life of a White House butler slept-on, considering it earned attention during awards season and made $176 million at the box office. But while Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey garnered the most attention for their powerful performances in this ensemble effort, Robin’s impressive turn as President Dwight D. Eisenhower deserves some love, too. He all but disappears into the role and reminds us that he could play just about anyone.
One Hour Photo (2002)
Williams was flat-out creepy in this psychological drama about a one-hour photo technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose pictures he develops. The effective thriller was only a moderate box office success, but critics took to the movie, particularly Robin’s change of pace. He was always most lovable at his goofiest, which is what makes his turn as a stalker all the more chilling.
2002 proved to be a great year for Williams to star in unsettling, moody psychological thrillers. Case in point: his chilling performance as a crime writer under investigation for a murder in an Alaskan town with perpetual daylight. The movie was a critical and financial hit, but it doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it should, both in the Christopher Nolan canon (he directed it) and on lists of great Robin Williams performances. Don’t sleep on Insomnia.
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Without a doubt, Robin’s most iconic voice work was his performance as the Genie in Aladdin, but he did some incredible work for other animated features, too. Even though the 1992 pro-environmental cartoon about preserving an enchanted forest was liked by critics, most ’90s kids remember it as the trailer that you watched on the Home Alonee VHS. Still, a new generation should discover this movie, not only for its important themes about conservation and nature, but also to hear Robin’s spirited and very funny work as Batty Koda, the unstable bat.
What Dreams May Come (1998)
Some critics found this visually stunning drama schmaltzy and it was only a moderate box office hit, but this drama endures. The film deals with the universal themes of life, love, loss, and death, and Robin is moving as a deceased husband and father whose love for his family is so great that he seeks to reconnect with them in the afterlife.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
This Woody Allen comedy is about a writer who uses the people in his real life for inspiration, but really it’s all about Robin Williams’ scene-stealing part as the out-of-focus Mel. It’s not one of his most-remembered or talked-about roles, but it is damn funny and it stands out in a cast that included the likes of Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Demi Moore, among others.
Cadillac Man (1990)
Williams was a ’90s superstar, but his turn as a New York car salesman dealing with some unique problems (multiple mistresses, mafia debt, a hostage-taker with an AK-47) didn’t get much attention from critics or moviegoers. Still, the actor showed his ability to shine in non-kid-friendly comedies and anyone who wants to appreciate the full range of Robin’s artistic genius should look under the hood of this one.