15 Underrated Robin Williams Performances That Remind Us Why We Love Him

List Rules
Vote up the Robin Williams performances that deserve more love.

You might not think there could be too many underrated Robin Williams performances, given how universally beloved the late actor was. Remember, though - he not only made movies for several decades, but also worked across just about every genre you can image, except for the Western. Few performers have had the kind of career breadth that he did.

It's easy to appreciate his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting, or his blockbuster work in Mrs. Doubtfire, or the legendary vocal performance he gave in Disney's Aladdin. Those are just a few of his most beloved performances. Plenty of others were just as interesting - they just either weren't properly appreciated at the time or they've been overshadowed by his biggest works. Each of the following roles he played offers a chance to see one of our greatest-ever movie stars showcasing a different side of his immense talent.

Which of these Robin Williams performances is the most underrated? Your votes will determine the answer.

  • 1
    395 VOTES

    Williams was mesmerizing when he was in full-on manic mode, but he knew there was power in going the complete opposite direction, too. He did just that in One Hour Photo, playing an introverted, mentally unstable person to captivating effect. Because the performance is so different from what we expect, the unhinged nature of the character is magnified.

    That character is Seymour Parrish, a guy who works at a photo developing stand. He commits the ultimate no-no, going through the pictures people bring in. When Seymour becomes obsessed with the photos of one particular family, he crosses a line into stalking behavior. Hidden beneath thinning hair and big glasses, Williams understood that the further he pulled inward, the more disturbing Seymour would be. It works. You'd never think that lovable Robin Williams could thoroughly creep you out, but he does.

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Dylan Smith
    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Mark Romanek

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  • What Dreams May Come is not an easy film to watch. In fact, it can be a pretty depressing experience. And yet, it's totally worth doing because Williams's superb performance helps give it a real punch. His character, Chris Nielsen, perishes in a car accident. He goes to heaven, where an angel guides him through a beautiful afterlife. The scenario changes when Chris's distraught wife takes her own life and is sent to hell. Determined to rescue her, he ventures into hell, too, and what he finds is terrifying.

    Obviously, a guy would have to seriously love his wife to put himself through that. This is the quality Williams brings to the film. His makes Chris's passion so genuine that we believe he'd sacrifice a peaceful eternity in order to save her. What Dreams May Come works on your emotions, so have a box of tissues nearby when you watch it. 

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow, Jessica Brooks Grant
    • Released: 1998
    • Directed by: Vincent Ward

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  • Death to Smoochy is an oddball comedy set in the world of children's television programming. Williams stars as a popular kids’ show host known as Rainbow Randolph. Despite his jolly on-air appearance, he's actually a foul-mouthed drunk who takes bribes in exchange for putting people's kids on his show. After he's arrested for doing so, the network looks to bring in a squeaky-clean replacement. That would be Smoochy (Edward Norton), a performer in a purple rhino costume. Randolph figures the way to get his job back is to do away with his new rival.

    The genius thing about Robin Williams is that he could work successfully anywhere on the comedy spectrum. Death to Smoochy has a combination of dark/quirky humor, and unsurprisingly, he nails it. Even though the guy he's playing is a louse through and through, the actor makes all his negative qualities amusing enough that we aren't turned off by him. He makes a bad dude weirdly appealing. 

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Ed Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart
    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Danny DeVito

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  • 4
    362 VOTES

    The Birdcage is an American remake of the very funny French classic La Cage aux Folles. The original is more restrained in its humor, but that's okay because Williams is at his peak doing the kind of frenzied comedy his fans love. He plays Armand, the gay owner of a drag club in Miami. When his son becomes engaged to the daughter of a very conservative Republican senator (Gene Hackman), Armand pretends to be straight, going to great lengths to hide his relationship with Albert (Nathan Lane). 

    The story is very much a farce, and Williams pumps it full of energy. When straight actors play gay characters, there's a tendency to teeter into stereotype. The actor definitely goes broad with his performance, yet it's never mocking or insulting. The whole tone of The Birdcage is wild and over-the-top, so his fast-paced antics fit right in. In other words, he's hilarious without ever making Armand feel like a caricature.

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria
    • Released: 1996
    • Directed by: Mike Nichols

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  • 5
    336 VOTES

    Jumanji remains a popular movie with '90s kids, and it's found a new generation of fans thanks to the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart revival. That said, the quality of Robin Williams's work is often overshadowed by the visual effects and action scenes. The truth is that the movie wouldn't work if he wasn't so good in it. 

    As Alan Parrish, a guy who has been trapped inside a magic board game for two decades, Williams is the heart and soul of the picture. He was shrewd enough to know that the CGI animals running amok would provide a lot of laughter. Therefore, he pulls back a little bit, capturing the bewilderment Alan feels in returning to a world that has dramatically changed, yet not going too broad with it. Had he tried to compete with the wildlife, Jumanji would have gone into overload. By modulating his performance, the movie hits all the right notes to deliver nonstop fun.

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bebe Neuwirth
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Joe Johnston

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  • 6
    195 VOTES

    Robin Williams earned an Academy Award nomination for his work in 1991's The Fisher King, and yet it still somehow doesn't register as strongly as the other films for which he was Oscar-nominated (Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, and Good Morning, Vietnam). Jeff Bridges plays a radio shock jock who inadvertently provoked one of his callers into a shocking act of violence. Williams is Perry, a now-homeless man whose wife was one of the victims of that act. Due to the mental toll of the trauma he faced, Perry believes he's on a quest for the Holy Grail, and he enlists the DJ's help in the mission.

    Despite some weighty subject matter, The Fisher King also has a whimsical side. Who better to meld fantasy and pathos than Robin Williams? He strikes exactly the right note, making Perry's quest humorous yet still heartfelt. His touching work ensures that you care about Perry, even when it's most apparent that he's in the grip of severe delusions. 

    • Actors: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, Mercedes Ruehl, Michael Jeter
    • Released: 1991
    • Directed by: Terry Gilliam

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