Movies

Go beyond 'Garp': Watch these 6 lesser-known Robin Williams films

Aug. 15, 2014 at 7:03 AM ET

Maybe you hold fond memories of the late Robin Williams as Mork, Garp, and Mrs. Doubtfire, and can still quote lines from "Good Morning Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society," or "Good Will Hunting." But the prolific actor and comedian made dozens of movies, many of which didn't have the same box-office buzz.

If you're looking to remember Williams with a video rental or online streaming marathon this weekend, catch up on these lesser-known performances.

MORK & MINDY, Robin Williams, Pam Dawber, 1978-82, © Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collec
©Paramount Television/Courtesy
"Na-nu Na-nu" and "O Captain, my Captain": Robin Williams will best be remembered by the characters he played and lines he delivered.

'One Hour Photo,' 2002
By 2002, few doubted that Williams could play serious, but in "One Hour Photo" he plays scary — a photo clerk whose obsession with a family mixes with his own traumatic past to form a perfect storm of terror. There's not one Morkian gesture or giggle to remind us of the manic comedian we're used to, and the crisp and stark cinematography and subtly menacing score all combine to make this a horror film without the gore.

Why see it? Because you never thought Mork could be terrifying.

'The Fisher King,' 1991
Williams was nominated for four Oscars and won only for "Good Will Hunting," but "The Fisher King" is probably his least-seen nomination. He plays Perry, a homeless man on a quest for the Holy Grail, and with a tragic secret that ties him to co-star Jeff Bridges. Williams is as imaginative as ever, swinging between sanity and fantasy, and director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam's distinctive style gives Williams a perfect playground of story in which to prance.

Why see it? Because Williams often intentionally acts crazy on stage, but here, that insanity has a context and a poignancy.

'Insomnia,' 2002
Williams is often frenetic and babbling, but in "Insomnia," it's exhausted cop Al Pacino who's dancing on the edge of losing it all. He's trying to solve a teen's murder in Alaska, where the long daylight hours and his own inner demons are keeping him up. And now he has to deal with creepy Williams, who shows that despite his comic persona, he does know the meaning of "understated." Williams' performance was critically acclaimed, but somehow this chilly thriller slipped under most moviegoers' radar.

Why see it? Because when Williams carefully keeps his trademark zaniness in check, you believe he can do anything, even kill.

'Awakenings,' 1990
You'll find elements of "House M.D." and "Flowers for Algernon" in "Awakenings," which features Williams as a painfully soft-spoken neurologist (based on author and doctor Oliver Sacks) who discovers a drug can seemingly revive patients (including Robert De Niro) who've been catatonic for decades. It's fascinating to see the normally bold and brash Williams as a physician so shy he backs away from his patients

Why see it? Because Williams is a much better doctor here than in "Patch Adams."

'The Butler,' 2013
If you missed the fascinating 2013 historical drama "The Butler," you should see it now, and for more reasons than Williams' brief performance. It's a fascinating trip through America's racial history. Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, who rose from a sharecropping background to serve as White House butler for 30 years under eight presidents. Williams plays the first president Gaines meets, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it's at a pivotal time: The desegregation crisis is raging in Little Rock and Gaines himself has two sons on the verge of manhood in a nation that doesn't like the color of their skin. He's only onscreen for minutes, but Williams plays Ike as a weary man who sees in Gaines an example of why he must keep the nation together as racial issues threaten to tear it apart.

Why see it: As a reminder that Williams didn't always have to rule the screen. He could serve just as well in a small role.

'Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction,' 2008
Williams' 1986 comedy performance "A Night at the Met" is better known, but 2009's definitely-R-rated "Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction" reminds us that he never lost his edge. Swooping around the stage at Washington's DAR Constitution Hall, he gets digs in at Sarah Palin, hurricanes, cats vs. dogs, the elderly, his own heart surgery and anything else that crosses his wonderfully loopy mind. Let's just say latecomers to a Williams show should always beware.

Why see it: Because Williams' stand-up is the purest form of his terrifically inventive id.

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