Robert Downey Jr Movies: Robert Downey Jr. has had one of the most interesting jobs of any actor working in Hollywood right now. Downey Jr.’s career took off when he was cast as Tony Stark in Jon Favreau’s 2008 comic book movie “Iron Man.” The part almost went to Tom Cruise instead of Downey Jr., who had been a teen movie heartthrob. After playing Tony Stark in 10 movies, Downey Jr.’s attitude has become almost the same as Stark’s. He has the same snarky, quick-witted sense of humor that makes Tony so funny. Even though actors sometimes “phone it in” after playing the same character for so long, he seemed to get better as the “Infinity Saga” came to an end. He added new levels to Tony, and his performance in “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019 was surprisingly moving.
Some MCU fans may be sad to see Downey Jr. leave the character behind, but it opens up an exciting new stage in his film career. As an actor, he can do a lot of different things, and he has been in a lot of interesting projects over the course of his career. Downey Jr. has done a lot more than just “Iron Man.” Here are his 14 best movies, ranked from best to worst.
14. Due Date (2010)
Tony Stark is often the comic relief in the MCU, but Robert Downey Jr. had to play the straight man in Todd Phillips’ 2010 road trip comedy “Due Date.” The movie is about two strangers who have to walk across the country to get to Los Angeles. Peter Highman, who is played by Downey Jr., is a well-known builder who is worried about the birth of his child. But Peter’s flight from Georgia to California goes horribly wrong when he meets Zach Galifianakis’s quirky actor-wannabe Ethan Tremblay.
Ethan gets them both kicked off the plane, which makes things hard for Peter. He has to figure out a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”-style way to get back to his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) during one of the most important times in their lives. Even though he’s mad at Ethan at first, as they travel together, they start to trust each other more. Peter finds out that Ethan is having a hard time getting over the death of his father, and he is later charmed by Ethan’s quirks. Phillips has a crude sense of humor, but “Due Date” is surprisingly sincere in how it shows these two guys getting closer. Downey Jr. has a great way of using his defensive sense of humor as a weapon. Peter is afraid to be vulnerable and struggles to be real when he needs to be. His scene with Sarah at the end of such a silly movie is surprisingly moving.
13. Chef (2014)
Robert Downey Jr. gets credit for getting the MCU off the ground, but director Jon Favreau also played a big role in making the franchise. Favreau has made a lot of great movies that aren’t just Marvel flicks. After making a series of Hollywood action movies, Favreau decided to go back to his roots with the 2014 independent comedy “Chef.” Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in this movie about a very unhappy Los Angeles chef named Carl Casper who serves some of the most important people in the area but is limited by the strict menu that the restaurant’s owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), wants. After having a nervous breakdown, Carl buys a food truck so that he and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) can move across the country.
Along the way, Favreau puts in side roles played by some of the people he works with most often. Downey Jr. shows up as Marvin, who used to be married to Carl’s ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara). He does a funny job as Marvin. Carl is surprised by how open Marvin is, and his awkwardness is played up for laughs. It’s funny to see Downey Jr. play a strange person in a very different way. But Marvin is also important to the story because he gives Carl the food truck.
12. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
George Clooney’s riveting 2005 biopic “Good Night, and Good Luck” shows how good Robert Downey Jr. is as a supporting character. The film sends an important message about freedom of speech and the value of good journalism that is more important than ever. “Good Night, and Good Luck” is based on a true story and looks at the career of TV journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) when he is targeted by U.S. Joseph McCarthy was a senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy’s “witch hunt” for Communist sympathizers in Hollywood bothers Murrow, so he chooses to use his platform to speak out. This makes things hard for Murrow and his team because they are getting more attention.
Joseph Wershba, a CBS reporter who works with Murrow, is played by Downey Jr. in a strong supporting role. Wershba worries about what McCarthy’s investigation might show, since he is privately married to his coworker Shirley (Patricia Clarkson). Wershba’s emotional talks with his wife show what writers have to give up when they become activists. If they join a movement, their private lives may become known to the public.
11. Soapdish (1991)
“Soapdish” is a funny look at what goes on behind the scenes of making a daytime soap show. The movie looks at how these silly TV shows get their plots and the strange people who work on them. David Seton Barnes, played by Robert Downey Jr., is the smooth producer who tries to cover up all the chaos on the set of “The Sun Also Sets.” At first, David is in an unenviable position, as he struggles to keep his show on the air while his leading lady, Celeste Talbert, played by Sally Field, shows her displeasure with where the show is going. But David chooses to keep the show on the air by pushing the cast and crew to their limits. He makes the writers come up with stories that are more and more unbelievable, and he gets Celeste’s old rival, Jeffrey Anderson, played by Kevin Kline, to be a regular on the show. It’s interesting to watch Downey Jr. play a figure who is creepy and cynical.
As David tries to convince Edmund Edwards (Garry Marshall), who works for the network, that everything is going as planned, things get funnier and funnier. David comes up with a crazy plan to make Celeste, Jeffrey, and their daughter Lori Craven (Elizabeth Shue) appear in a live broadcast that will show which of them will be cut from the show. When everyone goes off-script, he tries to keep his cool in a funny way.
10. Bowfinger (1999)
Like “Soapdish,” “Bowfinger” looks at the chaos behind the scenes of Hollywood shows, the weirdness of actors, and the strange people who end up in the entertainment business. The movie is about a down-on-his-luck B movie producer named Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), who has always wanted to be a director but has never had the chance. After saving up enough money to direct his dream project, Bowfinger puts together a team and tells the powerful studio boss Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.) about his idea.
Renfro has a lot of expectations, which is bad for Bowfinger. Downey Jr. shows how uncaring Hollywood executives can be when they don’t give the green light to projects that aren’t likely to make money. Renfro says that Eddie Murphy’s Kit Ramsey, who is a well-known action star, needs to be in Bowfinger. He doesn’t seem to care that Ramsey is known for being rude and probably won’t be interested in the project. This is a key scene that makes Bowfinger’s position more understandable, since he’s obviously talented but no one will give him a chance. Downey Jr.’s acting is interesting because his character seems more stupid than mean. Someone like Renfro would never stop to think about what problems someone like Bowfinger would face every day during production.
9. Charlie Bartlett (2007)
Robert Downey Jr. started out his career with roles in teen comedies like “Johnny Be Good,” “Weird Science,” and “Back to School.” It was fun to see him in “Charlie Bartlett,” a modern high school drama/comedy, but instead of playing a young person, Downey Jr. was cast as the public school principal Nathan Gardner. Gardner (Kat Dennings) has trouble connecting with his daughter Susan (also played by Kat Dennings) because he doesn’t feel the same way about schooling as he used to.
When Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin), played by Anton Yelchin, starts at the school, Gardner’s job gets harder. Bartlett is a rich kid who wants to live a somewhat normal life. His mother, Hope Davis, has tried to send him to special schools, but he has been kicked out of almost all of them. Charlie doesn’t want to make trouble, but he has a knack for it. Charlie notices that Gardner’s strict rules are causing social problems at his new school, so he becomes an underground counselor for his friends. This makes Charlie and Gardner fight, which is a lot of fun to watch. Gardner seems to make Charlie more famous every time he tries to stop Charlie’s moves or punish him. Downey Jr. does a great job showing how frustrated Gardner is and, surprise, making him sympathetic. In a moving scene, he tells Charlie that all he really wants to do is teach history. He’s happy when he’s in the classroom.
8. 1994’s “Natural Born Killers”
The 1994 dark comedy “Natural Born Killers” by Oliver Stone is a frightening look at how the media shows violence. In a modern version of the “Bonnie and Clyde” story, the movie follows criminals Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Wilson (Juliette Lewis) as they go on a killing spree across the country. Their crimes get the media’s attention, and their deeds are made to look good. Mickey and Mallory are surprised to learn that they are now seen as heroes by a small group of people.
Robert Downey Jr. plays tabloid reporter Wayne Gale, who decides to cover Mickey and Mallory on his show “American Murderers.” He knows that this kind of reporting will give the killers exactly what they want, but he also knows that he will end up making money from the publicity. When Gale starts to believe the same lies he has been telling, the movie goes in an even darker direction. It’s one of the scariest things Downey Jr. has ever done on stage. Gale joins Mickey and Mallory’s cause and starts acting violently after he is taken hostage during a live show. This shows that bloodshed will keep happening as long as people don’t care about their own morals.
7. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
During his comeback, Robert Downey Jr. joined more than one big franchise. He was in Guy Ritchie’s action-packed adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Even though there have been many Holmes movies since the beginning of the film, Ritchie’s 2009 film remade Holmes (Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) as a funny pair who argue with each other. The movie was fun to watch because of how well these two got along.
Downey Jr. used an odd sense of humor to show how different Holmes was from other people. Holmes is very careful about how he solves problems, and Ritchie uses freeze frames, slow motion, and voiceovers in interesting ways to show what Holmes is thinking. It kept the film’s setting in the past while giving it a current look and feel. During the crazy action scenes, Downey Jr. does some truly amazing acts of physical comedy. It’s almost as if he’s using some of the skills he learned while playing Charlie Chaplin.
6. Wonder Boys (2000)
“Wonder Boys,” a drama-comedy by Curtis Hanson, is a very moving movie about the power of the written word. It would be easy for a story about college life to seem pretentious, but Hanson cares about his characters and gets why they want to be writers. Even though the movie is about a midlife crisis, the supporting characters make it funny. Robert Downey Jr.’s role as the stressed-out editor Terry Crabtree brings some welcome humor to the movie.
In “Wonder Boys,” Michael Douglas plays a writer with writer’s block named Professor Grady Tripp. The movie follows his life and work. Grady teaches at a university where Crabtree goes to a seminar. Crabtree pretends to be interested in the event, but he’s really there to see if Tripp has written anything worth posting. Crabtree makes the movie more interesting by reminding Tripp that he needs a hit to save their jobs. Downey Jr. is strangely showy, nervous, and silly, which is very different from the confident performances he usually gives. When Crabtree starts having an affair with Tripp’s student James Leer (Tobey Maguire), this becomes a very funny story.
5. Iron Man (2008)
It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that “Iron Man” is one of the most important movies of the 21st century. Even though the movie started as one of the most popular series of all time, it still works very well as a stand-alone story. “Iron Man” is different from other comic book movies because it takes serious problems like alcoholism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, global terrorism, and U.S. militarism head-on. The tone of the movie is held together by Robert Downey Jr.
Because of its story, “Iron Man” is still one of the best movies in the MCU. Even though its action scenes aren’t as complicated as those in “Avengers: Infinity War” or “Endgame,” they are just as exciting because they show how happy Tony is to accept his fate. It really is the story of a man who sees his flaws, figures out what he can do, and gives everything he has to make the world a better place.
4. Tropic Thunder (2008)
“Tropic Thunder” is where Robert Downey Jr. showed the most courage in a part. If he had played the part just a little bit differently, it could have been very insulting and embarrassing. It’s the kind of performance that can make or break a career, so it’s not surprising that Downey Jr. pulled it off and was even nominated for an Oscar. In the 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder,” he plays Kirk Lazarus, a well-known Australian method actor who is known for going too far for his parts. Downey Jr. had to wear blackface when Lazarus agreed to play an African-American role.
The idea itself is offensive, but the movie uses Lazarus to make a point: Lazarus is obviously an unintelligent person who uses tricks to act. The movie makes fun of his stubborn pride, and it’s clear that it doesn’t support the use of blackface. Alpa Chino, who is played by the black actor Brandon T. Jackson and is Lazarus’ co-star, says bad things about him. Downey Jr.’s performance didn’t feel racist. Instead, it made fun of “method actors” like Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Colin Farrell.
3. Chaplin, in 1992
It’s hard for an actor to play a well-known figure like Charlie Chaplin because he was so important to the history of movies. People still watch Chaplin’s movies because they are still as funny and important as they were when they came out. Robert Downey Jr. had to not only act like one of the most famous movie stars of all time but also look at the man behind “The Tramp.” Charlie Chaplin’s personal life was full of scandals and issues.
“Chaplin” is 145 minutes long, which is long enough to cover the man’s whole life. Downey Jr. shows how Chaplin’s personality changes over time and how his early years in London’s variety scene make him the character he will become. Even though Chaplin’s poor childhood makes the movie feel sorry for him, it doesn’t make him out to be a hero. Downey Jr. was brave enough to talk about the court cases and affairs that could have ruined Chaplin’s career.
2. Zodiac (2007)
“Zodiac” is one of the best crime tales that has ever been made. David Fincher didn’t focus on how shocking a serial killer’s crimes were. Instead, he showed how hard law enforcement and the media worked to find the notorious “Zodiac killer.” The movie works as both a critique of how journalists work and a scary paranoia thriller. “Zodiac” does a great job of showing how different people involved in the case saw things. Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as true crime reporter Paul Avery is especially good.
Downey Jr. is attractive because of how cheeky he is, but Avery’s confidence isn’t without reason. He has spent his whole life saying the truth, and he can back up what he says with his own life. Avery learns that he may have been too smart for his own good when he helps Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, artist Robert Graysmith, look into the Zodiac case and ends up putting his own life in danger.
1. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Shane Black is the only person who writes buddy cop flicks like he does. As the author of the “Lethal Weapon” series, Shane Black knows how to have two very different characters team up for funny and unexpectedly sad adventures. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a loving homage to hard-boiled detective books and crime movies. It’s a great example of what makes Robert Downey Jr. special because he gets to be sarcastic, introspective, surprisingly relatable, and inspiring all at the same time.
Downey Jr. plays the role of Harry Lockhart, a thief who has to act like an actor to get away from the police who are after him. Harry is asked to come back for another audition when he does well on a screen test. He is sent to Los Angeles to learn from a real detective, Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), who will teach him how to act like a detective in a realistic way. Things get bad, though, when Harry gets mixed up in a real crime. Downey Jr. shows how funny it is that Harry has to put on a show even though he is neither an actress nor a detective. This makes him even funnier when he talks about the facts of the case, and his chemistry with Kilmer is electric.
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