A New Zealand director's movie on the afterlife starring Robin Williams is enjoying renewed popularity since the entertainer's death.

Vincent Ward's 1998 drama What Dreams May Come was yesterday the 46th most-downloaded movie on iTunes and 48th on Amazon's best sellers list for movies and TV.

Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63.

While the film was not a big hit at the box office - making US$55 million ($64.3 million) in the US, and about US$83 million worldwide - it received an Academy Award for best visual effects and an Art Directors Guild Award for excellence in production design.

It was also nominated for the Academy Award for best art direction.

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Williams, 63, died from an apparent suicide one week ago.

Ward, who became good friends with him while shooting What Dreams May Come, said the film's recent popularity was "interesting".

Based on a novel of the same name, it follows Williams' character, Chris Nielsen, in his journey through the afterlife - which begins when Chris wakes up in a heaven which he can control with his imagination.

"It's interesting that they have gone for that film," Ward said.

"I think it was interesting that it was one of Robin's more dramatic roles, where he doesn't rely on his humour. I'd like to think it was a breakthrough film in some respects."

Ward admitted the film had been "a lot softer emotionally" than he originally envisioned, and said that was part of working with a large budget for a big studio.

"Perhaps that helped make it appealing for its wide fan base, as it becomes ultimately a very optimistic film."

It was remarkable that Williams had such a gift for making people laugh, considering the unhappiness that plagued his own life, Ward said.

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"You just knew it was there."

Interest in several of Williams' well-known films has surged since his death, including Dead Poets Society, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting.