Four years ago the world was shocked by the sudden death of comedic legend Robin Williams. Famous for his TV role of Mork (from Happy Days and Mork & Mindy) and for his stand up comedy that was frenetic yet always incisive. However, it was his appearances on film that garnered him the most notice.
His roles in Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, the original Jumanji, Patch Adams, Night at the Museum and many others made him an American treasure. He won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, six Golden Globes, four Grammys, two Kids’ Choice Awards, and many others.
A new biography about him has premiered on HBO, titled Come Inside My Mind. The biography explores the legacy of the comedy icon and tries to make sense of his suicide.
Even though he is gone, we still have William’s many appearances in films that have nerd connections. Here are just a few:
When E.C. Segar created Popeye as a comic strip in 1929, there is no way he could have foreseen the coming of this 1980 adaption. After losing the fight over the film right to the musical Annie, Paramount was desperate to have their own comic strip adaption or musical. Unfortunately, they got both in Popeye
Respected director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, The Long Goodbye), along with Williams and the well cast Shelley Duvall (as Olive Oyl) could not save this film from its uneven script and unimaginative staging.
While the music seems to fit the scenes, the story feels forced. The only highlights are Williams antics as the title character and Duvall’s believable characterization of his girlfriend. The two would reunite for an episode of her Faerie Tale Theatre, “The Tale of the Frog Prince,” in 1982 on Showtime.
The 1988 fantasy adventure film, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, was based on the tall tales about the 18th century German nobleman and his fictional wartime exploits dealing with the Ottoman Empire. Directed by Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), it starred John Neville as the title character.
After several other adventures to start the film, Munchhausen and his troop arrive on the moon via balloon, he is confronted by The King of the Moon (Williams). Apparently, the Baron had a romantic past with the Queen and the King’s jealousy is very strong. Williams is at his frenetic, over the top best in this role.
The King is able to separate his head from his body so he can be a being of pure thought and Williams is just as funny without a body. The Three Stooges like interplay the separation creates is Williams at his very best.
Any fan of Williams or Python should give this film a look, it is worth the time.
Just a few years after Munchhausen, Gilliam would again direct Williams in 1991’s The Fisher King.
Besides Gilliam’s strong direction, the cast of the film were all stellar. Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, and Amanda Plummer all turned in Oscar caliber performances and provided a solid foundation for Williams to plant himself on while going far more esoteric than audiences were used to seeing him.
Williams plays Parry, a homeless man who believes he is on the quest for the Holy Grail who hallucinates a “red knight” that is after him. Bridges is the ex-shock jock who is trying to make an old wrong right. Ruehl plays Bridges girlfriend and won the Oscar for her performance. Plummer plays Williams love interest and her penchant for playing oddball characters made them an almost perfect couple.
Even though the film and cast won many awards, the film did not fare well at the box-office. But it is a good film with a great message about redemption and grief.
In 1992, Barry Levinson directed Williams in the movie Toys. Like most of his other work the project attracted a lot of talented co-stars including Michael Gambon, Joan Cuzak, LL Cool J, Robin Wright and Jamie Foxx in his first film.
Unfortunately, all that star power could not save this film about a toy maker who picks his militant son (Gambon) over the son that lives with childlike wonder (Williams) to take over the family business. While the sets and acting were all of a high caliber, the plot of the story was longer than it needed to be and, frankly, boring in places.
Williams does the best he can with the few tools he can bring to bear in a film that seems meant for children. Due to some more adult slanted scenes it ended up with a PG-13 rating which may be why the film didn’t make even half of its budget at the box office.
It may be one of the most lavish failures ever filmed. Still it was cool seeing LL Cool J using camouflage and Jamie Foxx in his first film.
No film that Williams made has closer ties to science fiction than What Dreams May Come from 1998. Science fiction luminary Richard Matheson penned the novel that this film is based on.
You might know his work. He wrote novels and stories that became films like I Am Legend, Somewhere In Time, and Real Steel. He also wrote sixteen episodes of the seminal Twilight Zone series (including Shatner’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). He also wrote screenplays for movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Pit and the Pendulum, and (strangely enough) Jaws 3-D.
This film is about Chris (Williams), a pediatrician whose children die in a car crash. His wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra) has a mental breakdown. When she has recovered and they seem to be getting past their issues, Chris dies in a car crash too. After lingering on Earth confused, he wakes up in heaven and is shown around by a friend and mentor from his residency days, Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.). He reunites with his daughter but before the joy can truly settle on him, Annie commits suicide and ends up in hell.
It turns out that Albert is really his son, Ian, who knew Chris would accept the opinions of Albert over those of his dead son. Chris decides to save his wife from hell and sets out to do so.
This film is so over the top in its representation of heaven that it allows Williams to be subdued and more layered in his portrayal of Chris. While the film won the Oscar for the effects work it wasn’t well received by the critics and didn’t make back the money it cost to make. But the film itself is an interesting interpretation of the afterlife and how far someone would go for love.
It wasn’t his swan song. His final film was 2015’s Absolutely Anything, where Williams voiced Dennis the Dog. Directed by Terry Jones, this was the first film to feature all the living Python troop since The Meaning of Life in 1983. They all did voices of aliens and the only other person to do voice work in the film is Robin.
Neil (Simon Pegg) is given amazing powers to see if humans should be admitted to the Galactic Council (the Pythons) by seeing how the powers are used. His first act is making his dog, Dennis, talk.
It is fitting that his last work on the big screen was with Pegg and the Pythons. But it is not an amazing film or even really worthy of any of their talents.
Most people that want to remember Robin Williams will likely prefer him like this:
What are your favorite Robin Williams performances? Let us know in the comments.