The other day, August 11, 2016, we reached the two-year anniversary of the tragic death of Robin Williams. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long and it still hurts to know he’s gone. The man was a comedic genius who could make anything funny. If you gave Robin Williams a scarf, he could make ten jokes about that scarf off the top of his head and they would all be hilarious. Whether it be his movies, his stand-up comedy or his portrayal of Mork from Ork, there’s no doubt the impact this man had on our funny bones and our hearts.
So today, I wanted to take a look back on some of Williams’ more obscure work. By obscure, I mean films that weren’t well received by critics upon release. These are films that I personally believe have gotten better with time and deserve more recognition. So in honor of Robin Williams, here are The Top Five Underrated Robin Williams Movies.
5. Aladdin & The King Of Thieves
Aladdin was a massive hit for Disney, following the success of both The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast. However, while Aladdin had good story and characters, the one thing that made the movie so funny and so successful was Robin Williams voicing The Genie. Williams made the character iconic and created one of the funniest Disney characters ever put on screen. Which is why when Return Of Jafar was released on video, it wasn’t met with the same kind of love. The Reason: Robin Williams didn’t voice The Genie for the first sequel. The Genie was voiced by Dan Castellaneta for both Return Of Jafar and the animated series. Return Of Jafar wasn’t bad by any means, nor was Castellaneta, but it was clear just how much we missed Williams in the role.
Luckily, Disney was able to settle their feud with Williams (yes, there was a feud), allowing him to come back and voice The Genie for the third film, Aladdin & The King Of Thieves. However, it’s funny to note that this film, despite Williams’ presence, wasn’t well received either. I personally never saw why. I mean, yeah the animation is downgraded a bit but it’s still Disney animation. This sequel saw Aladdin and Jasmine’s wedding being interrupted by The King of Thieves, who turns out to be Aladdin’s long lost father. There’re some unique character designs for The Forty Thieves and some good character development for the heroes. Not to mention, having the villain voiced by Jerry Orbach is always a plus. Jerry Orbach & Robin Williams… what’s not to love? This sequel is awesome.
I was debating whether to put this or Jumanji in the number four slot. But since Jumanji was better received than this was (and is getting a remake), I felt this deserved a bit more attention. How many of you grew up with this film as a staple of your childhood? Growing up, Hook was quintessential Robin Williams material. In Steven Spielberg’s take on Peter Pan, Williams portrays Pan himself but with a slight twist; Peter Pan has grown up. He is now a neglectful father, who has no time for his wife and kids. On top of this, he has forgotten all about Neverland. However, after Peter gets a visit from Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), he is whisked back to Neverland, where he must become the Pan once again in order to save his children from the vengeful Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
Where to even begin with this film. First and foremost, the concept was original and intriguing. What would Peter Pan be like if he grew up? Watching Robin Williams go from a neglectful stick in the mud to a kid again was both interesting and hilarious. The acting is wonderful. Williams & Hoffman have a great chemistry as hero and villain. Hoffman in particular is so over the top as Hook that it’s impossible not to enjoy him. The set designs were well done and Neverland is beautifully realized. The movie’s take on The Lost Boys is unforgettable. Rufio (Dante Bosco) was such a good character that he’s fondly remembered to this day by most fans. His performance is arguably more celebrated than both Williams and Hoffman. From the story to the acting, to the memorable sets and characters, Hook just rocked.
#3: The Night Listener
The Night Listener was a Robin Williams film that was pretty much under the radar from the get-go. I was working in a movie theater when this film came out and I remember us only having the film for two weeks before we pulled it. That being said, it’s a crying shame. The Night Listener finds Robin Williams playing writer Gabriel Noone, a popular NYC radio show host. Noone soon receives a memoir from one of his listeners, a teenage boy who chronicles years of child abuse. After developing a relationship with the boy and his adoptive mother via telephone, Gabriel makes the decision to visit the boy. However, what he finds upon his arrival is not what he expected and he soon finds himself questioning the humanity and sanity of others.
Now, I know the description was a tad vague but I don’t have much of a choice. The Night Listener is a film that messes with your mind at every turn once it gets going. Therefore going further into detail could reveal things that I don’t want to spoil. That being said, this is an often overlooked Williams movie that deserves more attention. It’s clever, it’s dark, it’s suspenseful and dripping with atmosphere. Toni Collette’s supporting performance is one of the best of her career. It was also nice to see Williams in a serious role again after so many hit or miss comedies (RV & Robots to name a few). Oh, and speaking of serious roles…
#2: What Dreams May Come
What Dreams May Come was a movie that was split amongst critics upon release. Many hated it while others loved and admired it. However, It has managed to garner a significant cult following over the years and it’s not hard to see why. Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra play a married couple dealing with the death of their two sons. One year later, in a cruel twist of fate, Williams dies in a car crash and finds himself in heaven. However, when he learns that his wife has committed suicide, he and his heavenly guide, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., must journey through the depths of hell to retrieve her soul and bring her into paradise where she belongs.
What Dreams May Come is a film that explores the concepts of heaven and hell, in a way I have never seen. The performances by Williams and Sciorra are just wonderful. You really feel their torment in this film and you believe that there is not a thing this man wouldn’t do for his wife. The film is never boring or preachy and given the subject matter it would have been all too easy to fall victim to that trap. But the thing that strikes me the most about this film is how gorgeous it is. It oozes with atmosphere and the set designs and effects work that went into creating heaven and hell are just breathtaking. Even if I hated everything else, I would watch the film on mute just to gaze upon the beautiful visuals in this film. What Dreams May Come is one of Williams’ finest films.
#1: Bicentennial Man
Bicentennial Man sees Williams portraying the robot, Andrew Martin, whose goal in life is be recognized as a human being. The film chronicles his journey through over 200 years as he tries desperately to achieve that dream. Bicentennial Man isn’t just an underrated Robin Williams film. Bicentennial Man is one of the most underrated and unappreciated science fiction adaptations I have ever seen. I am speaking now not just as a fan of Robin Williams, but as a fan of Isaac Asimov. It always does me good to see adaptations of great sci-fi material done well on screen. In Asimov’s case, we had this which was thought provoking, funny, interesting and heartfelt. Then we had the adaptation of I, Robot which was absolutely terrible. Like so terrible that just mentioning it makes me feel like the devil.
Bicentennial Man is a film about equality and acceptance. Not just acceptance by society, but acceptance of one’s self. There are great themes explored in this film and the emotions feel genuine because we care about Andrew Martin. This is a character who, despite being a robot, learns the value of emotion. He learns to feel and think for himself and all he wants is to be recognized as a human being. There’s depth to this character that many sci-fi movies today don’t bother to explore. Robin Williams was great, the effects are wonderful and the story is beautifully told, despite being a 200-year journey of a character. I’m not gonna say it’s 100% perfect or say that it doesn’t have corny moments. It’s not and it does. However, if you’re a fan of Robin Williams or just good science fiction, this is not one you should skip.
The character of Andrew Martin from Isaac Asimov’s book “The Bicentennial Man” was the main inspiration for the android Data on Star Trek: TNG. That is all.
So what are some of your favorite Robin Williams films? Do you think there are other films that should have been on this list? please comment below and be sure to check out more great reviews and articles right here at TheNerdStash.com.
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.