Robin Williams's Ten Best Movies, According to Critics

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Looking back at the actor's extraordinary career. Columbia/Online USA Inc.

Robin Williams was one of the major comic film actors of the 20th century. Known for his wild impersonations and improvisations, his ability to draw back a mesmerizing comic performance to reveal glimpses of an underlying sensitivity endeared him to audiences across the world.

After dropping out of the prestigious but conservative performing arts academy Juilliard in the mid-70s, Williams found his footing in San Francisco’s comedy scene, which was more receptive to his inventive, madcap acting style.

His screen career started inauspiciously in the long-forgotten 1977 comedy Can I Do It... 'Til I Need Glasses?, in which he played a man with a toothache. The next year he was cast as the lead in sitcom Mork & Mindy, which quickly turned Williams into a star.

He starred in a number of comedy films over the 1980s, but despite his acclaimed performances, none of them made much of an impact. That all changed when he was cast as a shock jock radio presenter in 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam, a role that would earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Williams worked prolifically during the 1990s, appearing in much-loved children's films Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as Good Will Hunting, for which he won his only Academy Award.

His suicide in 2014 came as a shock; it was later revealed the star was suffering from Lewy body disease, which can cause fear, anxiety and depression in sufferers. Then-President Barack Obama summed up the thoughts of many when he eulogized Williams in a statement: “He was one of a kind… He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most.”

Using data from critical review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, as well as user-submitted reviews from IMDb, we’ve found the ten Robin Williams movies, excluding documentaries, which were best-received by critics.

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The Birdcage: MGM

10. The Birdcage (1996). Total score: 69.7%
Metacritic score: 72. Rotten Tomatoes score: 67. IMDb score: 70. Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring: Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Robin Williams
Plot summary: Mike Nichols remakes "La Cage Aux Folles." The comedy features a flamboyant gay couple (Williams and Lane) who attempt to "play it straight" for their son's prospective in-laws.
What the critics said about The Birdcage: "If The Birdcage isn't exactly the Mike Nichols-Elaine May movie of our dreams, it does manage to transform what was formerly a campy bit of French fluff into one of the loopiest, most hysterical family-values movies ever made." Hal Hinson, Washington Post

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Happy Feet: Warner Bros.

9. Happy Feet (2006). Total score: 70.3%
Metacritic score: 77. Rotten Tomatoes score: 69. IMDb score: 65. Directed by George Miller, Warren Coleman, Judy Morris. Starring: Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams
Plot summary: A tone-deaf, tap dancing penguin proves that by being true to yourself, you can make all the difference in the world.  
What the critics said about Happy Feet: "You should see Happy Feet -- not only because it's stupendous, but also because it features the best dancing you'll see on the screen this year." David Edelstein, New York Magazine/Vulture

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Good Morning, Vietnam: Buena Vista

8. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). Total score: 71%
Metacritic score: 67. Rotten Tomatoes score: 73. IMDb score: 73. Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby
Plot summary: In 1965, an unorthodox and irreverent DJ named Adrian Cronauer begins to shake up things when he is assigned to the U.S. Armed Services radio station in Vietnam.
What the critics said about Good Morning, Vietnam: "Make no mistake about it: Mr. Williams's performance, though it's full of uproarious comedy, is the work of an accomplished actor. ''Good Morning, Vietnam'' is one man's tour de force." Vincent Canby, New York Times

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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: Sony Pictures

7. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Total score: 71.3%
Metacritic score: 69. Rotten Tomatoes score: 73. IMDb score: 72. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring: Eric Idle, John Neville
Plot summary: The enchanting adventures of Baron von Munchausen follow him on his journey to save a town from defeat. Being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, a trip to the moon, a dance with Venus and an escape from the Grim Reaper are only some of the improbable adventures.  
What the critics said about The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: The sheer volume and invention of Gilliam's visual largess sets him apart, and his wit operates for the most part at a dangerously sophisticated level." Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

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Awakenings: Columbia Pictures

6. Awakenings (1990). Total score: 73%
Metacritic score: 74. Rotten Tomatoes score: 67. IMDb score: 78. Directed by Penny Marshall. Starring: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams
Plot summary: A true story of a maverick doctor and the patients whose lives he changes. Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a shy research physician who uses an experimental drug to "awaken" the catatonic victims of a rare disease beginning with Leonard, the first patient to receive the controversial treatment. His awakening, filled with awe and enthusiasm, proves a rebirth for Sayer too, as the exuberant patient reveals life's simple but unutterably sweet pleasures to the introverted doctor.
What the critics said about Awakenings: "Williams gives his best 'straight' performance, shorn of all his marvelous manic vaudeville. The man he plays here is not a performer, which he was even in Dead Poets Society, but simply a man." Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

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Insomnia: Warner Bros.

5. Insomnia (2002). Total score: 75.7%
Metacritic score: 78. Rotten Tomatoes score: 77. IMDb score: 72. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams
Plot summary: From acclaimed director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") comes the story of Will Dormer (Pacino), a veteran LAPD detective who travels to a small Alaskan town with his partner Hap (Donovan) to investigate the disturbing murder of a seventeen-year-old girl.  
What the critics said about Insomnia: "With a run-of-the-mill bad-guy actor playing chief suspect Walter Finch, the movie might have tipped too far Pacino's way. But Robin Williams is a shockingly effective counterweight." David Edelstein, Slate

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Dead Poets Society: Buena Vista

4. Dead Poets Society (1989). Total score: 77.7%
Metacritic score: 79. Rotten Tomatoes score: 73. IMDb score: 81. Directed by Peter Weir. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Robin Williams
Plot summary: Robin Williams stars as John Keating, an unconventional teacher at a conservative New England prep school who inspires his students and encourages them with the rallying call "carpe diem" (seize the day).
What the critics said about Dead Poets Society: "Williams, who has comparatively little screen time, has come to act, not to cut comic riffs, and he does so with forceful, ultimately compelling, simplicity." Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine

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Good Will Hunting: Miramax Films

3. Good Will Hunting (1997). Total score: 78%
Metacritic score: 70. Rotten Tomatoes score: 81. IMDb score: 83. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Robin Williams
Plot summary: Will Hunting (Damon) is a brilliant mathematician, but also an angry young man. To avoid jail time, he agrees to work with Sean (Williams) a therapist who comes from the same tough Boston neighborhood.
What the critics said about Good Will Hunting: "The film works as a character-driven narrative because Mr. Van Sant and his co-screenwriters are not afraid to unlock the psychological mysteries of their five major characters with clear and concise dialogue." Andrew Sarris, Observer

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Hamlet: Sony Pictures

2. Hamlet (1996). Total score: 79.5%
Metacritic score: n/a. Rotten Tomatoes score: 81. IMDb score: 78. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi  
Plot summary: Kenneth Branagh writes, directs and stars in this four-time Oscar-nominated classic Shakespeare saga about the melancholy Dane. With an all-star cast, including Kate Winslet and Julie Christie, as well as appearances by Charlton Heston, John Gielgud, Jack Lemmon, Gerard Depardieu, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and many others.  
What the critics said about Hamlet: "With his handsome and compelling Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh brings the Bard's greatest tragedy passionately alive on the screen." Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

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Aladdin: Buena Vista

1. Aladdin (1992). Total score: 82.3%
Metacritic score: 86. Rotten Tomatoes score: 81. IMDb score: 80. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Starring: Charles Adler, Robin Williams, Scott Weinger
Plot summary: When a street urchin vies for the love of a beautiful princess, he uses a genie's magic power to make himself off as a prince in order to marry her.
What the critics said about Aladdin: "What makes this animated feature such intense, giddy fun is the eruption of uninhibited parody that Robin Williams provides as the voice of the Genie in Aladdin's lamp." Michael Sragow, New Yorker