Here Are Robin Williams’ 10 Most Underrated Performances

10. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Williams’ only Woody Allen film is essentially a series of sketches in which Allen works out his demons. Williams is in the film for only a few minutes but he makes them count in a brilliant bit part as Mel, a film actor whose life is such a blur that he has literally gone out of focus.

9. RV (2006)

At this stage of his career, Williams was tagged, not unfairly, as an actor given to mugging in broad comedies aimed at children, but in this family-vacation laffer he is far more restrained, largely content to be the put-upon dad holding himself in check as chaos erupts around him. The movie is far funnier than critics gave it credit for.

8. Happy Feet (2006)

Williams’ performance as the genie in Aladdin was groundbreaking, but he was almost as memorable playing both the nutty rockhopper penguin Lovelace and as Ramon, the chipper best friend who helps the protagonist, Mumble, find his voice.

7. Robots (2005)

In another brilliant sidekick role, Fender the oddball robot, Williams was able to use his freewheeling improvisational style in a hilarious animated adventure stuffed with jokes from start to finish.

6. Fathers’ Day (1997)

Williams plays a suicidal poet in one of the many comedies with dark undertones that characterized his career. Billy Crystal co-stars as one of two middle-aged friends on a road trip during which they will discover which of them is the father of a teen whose mom they both dated. The movie, seen as a failed attempt at commercial comedy, has moments of poignance and soul.

5. The Survivors (1983)

Williams teamed with Walter Matthau for what appeared to be a routine pairing of a curmudgeon and a manchild, but in fact this Michael Ritchie film was an early sign that Williams was attracted to dark satire. His character becomes an on-the-spot hero by showing unexpected resolve during a restaurant robbery but then turns into a paranoid survivalist freak who moves to a training camp in the woods. Williams manages to keep hold of the character’s winning childlike simplicity even as he becomes a dangerous crackpot.

4. World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Doomed by its bland title and (perhaps) unfairly dismissed by its pedigree as the brainchild of writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait, who wore out his welcome as an annoying standup, this ultra-black comedy could only have received its full due if it had come from, say, the Coen Brothers. Williams plays a frustrated English teacher (a sort of parody of his Dead Poets Society hero) whose dim-witted son dies in an auto-erotic-asphyxiation accident. The dad makes his son a post-mortem hero by faking the boy’s journals and making him seem like a beautiful, sensitive soul who was taken from us far too early. The circumstances of Williams’ own death have blanketed this film in an extra layer of bleakness, though. 

3. One Hour Photo (2002)

Williams is mesmerizing as a creepy photo developer who works in a discount store. He becomes obsessed with one happy family’s pictures and insinuates himself into their lives in an attempt to sow heartbreak and fear. The film was a modest hit at the time but has become neglected over the years.

2. Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Highly acclaimed at the time — just a couple of years after Williams shed his Mork persona — this Paul Mazursky film quickly became dated, and is now all but forgotten. Williams plays a visiting Russian saxophone player who defects to America in the middle of Bloomingdale’s. Few films of the era were as forthright about the daily deprivations of life in the freedom-strangling USSR, and though the New York City his character becomes attached to was then near its nadir, through the eyes of Williams’ Vladimir we can see the exhilaration of a society where possibility is unlimited.

1. Insomnia (2002)

Al Pacino plays a detective sent from the mainland to investigate a crime linked to a mysterious thriller writer played by Williams in a bone-chilling performance. Williams was never more restrained, clinical or terrifying. This magnificent role would made any actor proud, but for Williams it was the capstone of his transformation from the amiably sharp-witted standup he was at the start of his career.