Ranking Robin Williams Roles


I recently saw the following tweet from @Wellybelly6 (yeah, I get that it was posted on August 11th. I’m generally way late to all the parties):

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 12.08.20 PM.png

I do agree that Robin Williams was a unique and excellent actor. I don’t think anyone sensible would argue otherwise. And as a wannabe data nerd, I really like doing deep dives into pop culture questions and applying ludicrous formulas to “solve” them. Of course, these don’t produce any kind of conclusive assessment. But the part I like best is the “research”. It’s not work. It’s fun.

So, yeah, I’m crazy.

So without further ado, here are the results of my quest to rank all (some) of Robin Williams’ roles from best to worst. In order to qualify for this prestigious list, the role had to meet the following criteria:

  1. I saw the movie
  2. It was a feature film
  3. It was memorable

The formula is laid out in lovely anal-retentive spreadsheet below. Here are some clarifying (or likely more confusing) notes:

  • The detail column should be self-explanatory.
  • The range is just what it says it is: worst score – best score.
  • The multiplier is so that I can have the four factors max out to the same number (100). The weight simply means how important that factor is to the final assessment.
  • The awards factor carries the most weight. And it’s also the most complicated (annoying). I’m not saying I support or even like awards for movies but it’s safe to say that there are some quality professionals who contribute to the nomination and selection of the winners. To wit:
    • I added one point for each nomination IF the nominating body was one that I subtracted a point for any roles that garnered a Razzie or similarly negative “award”.
    • I added another point for each win.
    • I did not include the Blockbuster Awards because a film had to make a certain amount of money to qualify for an award. That’s BS.
    • I subtracted a point for every negative award (Like the Razzies).
    • I’m sorry for making you read all those points.

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.49.00 PM.png

So now that I’ve revealed my incredibly awkward formula, here’s the final ranking of the 27 Robin Williams roles that qualified:

Title SW Oct My Take Awards $$ My Rank Slor
Good Will Hunting 38 4 His most nuanced turn ever. 11 138 100 94.42
One Hour Photo 37 3.3 It’s weird but I feel bad for this creepy guy. That’s because Williams delivers nuance. 12 31 65 89.13
Mrs. Doubtfire 35 3.5 He’s the whirling dervish comical center of this hilarious flick with a sincere undercurrent 10 219 75 87.34
Aladdin (1992) 42 4 His funniest turn ever. 8 217 90 82.88
Good Morning Vietnam 32 3 He plays it hilarious and serious and that itself is impressive. 9 123 70 76.17
The Fisher King 34 3.2 Few people could play a romantic, shattered, madman poet. 8 41 83 70.83
Dead Poets Society 41 4 Before Good WIll Hunting, this was his most iconic role. You could make the argument that it still is. It’s a horse race between the two. 6 95 95 68.30
The Birdcage 35 3.5 He is a comic hurricane that you want to linger over your consciousness forever 4 124 80 54.29
Awakenings 31 3 He plays a doctor again but this time one that feels like a real person, not some idealized version of some savior physician. 3 52 60 41.38
Jumanji (1995) 33 2.7 A solid straight man role where he’s unusually the rock in the storm, not the storm itself. 3 100 35 40.32
Insomnia 36 3 An understated performance that gets far too quiet. 2 67 50 37.73
Patch Adams 27 2 He is tasked with playing a human Hallmark card. There’s not much he could do here. 3 135 18 36.15
Moscow on the Hudson 32 2.7 He plays a man with cold war culture shock with sweetness and subtlety. 2 25 48 33.82
Robots 32 2.7 At this point, it seems like he’s mailing it in when it comes to comic animation roles. All pales compared to his opus in Aladdin (1992). 2 128 19 33.59
Hook 28 2 He skillfully captures the energy of a grown-up child. 2 119 30 32.76
Night at the Museum 29 2.5 He’s saddled with a character that doesn’t make use of his massive comic powers. 0 250 25 27.93
Happy Feet 27 3 His performance is basically a tiny shadow of his legendary performance in Aladdin. 0 198 33 26.37
The World According to Garp 33 2.8 One of the earliest examples of his acting range. He’s a bright spot in a dim film. 0 29 55 25.52
FernGully: The Last Rainforest 36 3.4 Batty Koda is fun AND funny. One of my favorite underrated roles. 0 24 45 25.44
Nine Months 28 2 He had some funny moments but this was no acting performance, 1 69 26 25.16
Deconstructing Harry 36 3.2 He just plays a straight man here with no spin except for the fact that he’s literaslly out of focus. Not a major role but a funny footnote. 0 10 32 22.84
A. I. Artificial Intelligence 35 3 An interesting mess of a movie and Robin Williams’ role was as ridiculous as the film’s tonal instability. 0 78 15 22.47
Jack 26 2 A “serious” attempt at a serious fairy tale. But his performance here is lackluster and cloying. 1 58 12 21.72
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb 28 2 I don’t know why he returned to this two dimensional role but i can’t give him a pass this time. 0 113 20 21.02
Bicentennial Man 33 2.5 He’s playing a walking trope. He doesn’t do it disservice but it’s no revelation. -2 58 28 12.50
Popeye 22 1.5 His trademark energy is on display but it’s woefully misdirected and embarrassing. -1 49 10 9.04
Death to Smoochy 16 0.5 He should have never been put in this terrible role. No on should have. -1 8 13 4.70

There are some surprises here. I feel like my formula betrayed me. Why?

  • How can Dead Poets Society fall all the way to 8th?
  • One Hour Photo snagging the silver medal was a big surprise. I thought it was a good performance but not that good.
  • Patch Adams should be in the bottom 5; maybe lower.
  • Not much love for Garp but the movie was pretty terrible.
  • My heart says Batty Koda from FernGully should be in the top 15.

Despite my post hoc whining, I have faith in the formula. I can live with the Top Ten. I’ll concede it’s problematic afterward. What do you expect when a liberal arts major tries to mess with statistics?

One thought on “Ranking Robin Williams Roles

Leave a Reply