Below are some examples of the underrated or neglected “other” Robin Williams, which I would encourage you to give another look.
The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen—In his brief role as The King of the Moon, whose head and body are disconnected, in Terry Gilliam’s uneven but fascinating 1989 fantasy, Williams may have taken his fast talking, haywire routine as far as he ever did; he was like Mork squared, or like a live-action version of the Genie in Aladdin. This is one of several films on which Williams worked under a pseudonym—Bob Goldthwait’s notorious Shakes the Clown was another. Under his own name, Williams later gave an immensely touching performance in Gilliam’s The Fisher King.
Hamlet—Williams was just right for the foppish, fawning courtier Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s full-text version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Pity he didn’t get to do more Shakespeare. He was also terrific in a funny, quietly intense turn as the psychiatrist in Branagh’s Dead Again.
One Hour Photo—Mark Romanek’s odd little thriller about a lonely, alienated snapshot developer who becomes fixated on a seemingly picture-perfect family of customers is sad, unsavory and ultimately unsatisfying. But Williams brings so much gravity and pathos to the part that it’s essential viewing.
The Birdcage—This hilarious and sweet American version of La Cage Aux Folles was a hit, certainly, but much of the attention went, rightly, to Nathan Lane as Albert, the maternal drag queen. It’s possible that the quieter excellence of Williams as the father posing as straight for his conservative future in-laws was a little overlooked. His scene with Lane on a bench, while a ship passes behind them, is one of the best he ever played.
Being Human—Bill Forsythe’s reincarnation drama, in which Williams played five people—or rather, the same person in five different lifetimes—doesn’t quite add up, but Williams is great in all five. As a prehistoric man in the opening segment he has a shattering moment, screaming “Mine! Mine!” as he sees his family being abducted.
Cadillac Man—Williams is a philandering, hustling car salesman who finds himself frantically trying to manage a hostage situation when jealous husband Tim Robbins brings a gun into the car dealership where he works. This 1990 comedy with dramatic overtones from director Roger Donaldson shows Williams as an irresponsible but essentially humane guy trying to stave off disaster.
Moscow on the Hudson—Williams plays a Soviet circus musician who defects in the middle of Bloomingdale’s in New York in Paul Mazursky’s comedy-drama. This performance was one of the first to demonstrate his remarkable range.
Popeye—Williams is buried in the title character’s persona in Robert Altman’s live-action version of the cartoon. But he gives amusing, stoic line readings, and his warmth and sweetness shine through the makeup.
The Best of Times—This football comedy, directed by Roger Spottiswoode from a script by Ron Shelton, is my favorite Robin Williams movie, but it doesn’t seem to be anybody else’s. It’s about a group of middle-aged men who get bamboozled into replaying a high school football game in Taft, California, by the bank manager (Williams) who dropped what would have been the game-winning pass back when. Williams is at his very best here. He never seems to be self-consciously playing the sad clown—something that, for all his great talent, he was quite capable of doing—and thus he’s truly lovable and poignant. And, of course, magnificently funny.