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Top 10 Robin Williams Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Whether you first met him when he was an alien from Ork, or when he was a defected Soviet saxophonist, or when he was a supportive but controversial English literature professor, or when he was a father so desperate to see his kids he dressed in drag, there’s a good chance you’ve seen – and loved – at least one Robin Williams movie. Obviously, the man has endless comedic talent and his brain runs a mile a minute; but his dramatic skills might be even more impressive. For proof of that, check out his Oscar-winning turn in "Good Will Hunting." In honor of the release of his movie "The Big Wedding" on April 26th, 2013, counts down our top 10 favorite Robin Williams performances. 

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Top 10 Robin Williams Performances

He’s known for his impersonations and manic stand-up, but he also shines in dramatic roles. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for Robin Williams’ top 10 performances.

#10 – Armand Goldman: “The Birdcage” (1996)

You’d think a movie this screwball would be license for Williams to showcase his brand of manic comedy – but no: he turns in a restrained performance as a drag club owner whose son is marrying into an ultra-conservative family. Opposite Nathan Lane’s screaming queen, Williams is the straight man – pun intended – who blends comedy and kindness. While he mostly keeps himself in check, he does let fly sometimes.

#9 – Seymour “Sy” Parrish: “One Hour Photo” (2002)

Williams earned rave reviews by stepping far out of character to play a photo technician who develops an unhealthy obsession with a young family. The usually effervescent comedian tones himself down so much Sy practically disappears, with a forgettable face and voice that hide his anguish and isolation. By making us sympathize with this creepy character, Williams proves he can channel his energy into both comedy and thrilling drama.

#8 – Vladimir Ivanov: “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984)

Flaunting his ear for accents, Williams becomes a sensitive Soviet saxophonist who defects while visiting New York – which means he completed crash-courses in both Russian and sax playing. This early dramatic role earned Williams a Golden Globe nomination, as he uses his eccentric and endearing qualities to fade into the part of an immigrant who’s confronting culture shock and the difficulties of building a new life.

#7 – The Genie: “Aladdin” (1992)

Williams and cartoons are a match made in heaven thanks to his rapid-fire improv and stream-of-consciousness comedy: the medium allows him to zoom between impersonations, musical numbers and improvised dialogue – in fact, most of the Genie’s lines are ad-libbed. While kids may not get all his jokes, both young and old love this movie thanks to Williams’ contributions: his performance was so out-of-this-world, a special Golden Globe was created to honor him.

#6 – Dr. Malcolm Sayer: “Awakenings” (1990)

In the most understated performance of his career, Williams portrays a doctor who discovers a miracle drug that temporarily cures a group of catatonic patients. The normally unrestrained actor is borderline geeky in this emotional real-life story: his shyness and introversion are indicated by subtle body language rather than dialogue. Williams’ uncluttered work anchors the movie, and earned him another Golden Globe nod.

#5 – Parry: “The Fisher King” (1991)

This role was made for him: Williams landed his third Oscar nomination and his third Golden Globe win by playing an unbalanced but kindhearted homeless guy with a tragic past in this Terry Gilliam masterpiece. Showing he can easily lean towards insanity, Williams goes all out, but also shines during quiet moments. He and Jeff Bridges both excel amid Gilliam’s theatrics in this heartbreaking tale of compassion and redemption.

#4 – Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire: “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

You’d think all that gear would be restrictive, but Williams’ talent, dynamism, and insanity burst through the mask, wig, muddled accent and fat suit – and earned him another Golden Globe. “Mrs. Doubtfire” showcases everything we love about Robin Williams, and he is definitely able to sell it both as the dedicated father who’ll do anything to see his kids, and the eccentric but strict British nanny.

#3 – John Keating: “Dead Poets Society” (1989)

Williams brings the classics to life as an unconventional, idealistic prof at an exclusive boarding school, and earned an Oscar nod for his work. This film may not have won every critic’s praise, but it’s a highpoint on Williams’ résumé that cemented his place as a dramatic force. At his best when he’s playing against type, Williams and his simple, controlled performance definitely seize the day.

#2 – Adrian Cronauer: “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)

This film balances the elements that make Williams great: as an army DJ during the Vietnam War, he’s able to go off the rails with ad-libbed monologues. But he also treats the seriousness of war with dignity, and brings authenticity to the role. His hyper energy is put to excellent use, and for that reason, this Williams masterpiece earned him his first Oscar nod and a Golden Globe.

#1 – Sean Maguire: “Good Will Hunting” (1997)

Williams finally took home Oscar gold for his vital supporting role as a counselor to Matt Damon’s troubled Will Hunting. This film has none of the manic comedy that made him famous in “Mork and Mindy,” though he did improv such hilarious dialogue he made the cameraman laugh and shake the shot. Instead, Williams presents the most sincere, gentle and human performance of his career.

Do you agree with our list? Which is your favorite Robin Williams performance? For more top 10s about your favorite actors, be sure to subscribe to

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