Anytime you ever hear it said of an actor or actress with a troubled offscreen life, “his career is over,” remember Robert Downey, Jr., and remember that no matter how bad someone screws up their career, they can always come back, maybe even to become the face of a multibillion-dollar film franchise like the Marvel Comics film universe.
Whatever his troubles may have been in real life, nobody ever doubted that RDJ was a massive talent, as a review of his filmography proves. All the titles below are a click away on Blockbuster On Demand!
A couple of nerds (Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith) use their computer to create their own woman (Kelly Lebrock) in one of the sillier John Hughes ’80s teen flicks — Downey plays one of the cool kids that torments the heroes but changes his tune when he gets a look at their science project.
Another supporting role, here as the too-hip-for-comfort best friend to Rodney Dangerfield’s college freshman son, whose life is made uncomfortable when Rodney decides to join them on campus. As in Weird Science, Downey makes an impression, even in a small part.
In Oliver Stone’s prescient satire of the American fascination with violence in the media, Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis supply the violence as a pair of murderous lovers, while Downey stands in for the media as a sleazy tabloid-news host who gets a little too close to the story.
This severely underrated ensemble comedy, set behind the scenes at a daytime soap opera, features Downey as a slimy network executive whose every decision is influenced by sexual favors, along with Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Carrie Fisher, and Elisabeth Shue.
Downey got one of his two Academy Award nominations in the role of the first film superstar, Charlie Chaplin, in Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic spanning the silent-film comic’s entire career.
After a long dance on the dark side that made him uninsurable and thus unemployable, rock-star screenwriter took a chance on Downey to take the lead in his first feature as director, a small L.A. potboiler with a debt to the classic film noir of the ’40s but both feet planted firmly in the 21st century. Downey is hilarious in the role, and it saved his career, paving the way for a certain billionaire industrialist playboy also known as…
When director Jon Favreau first suggested RDJ for the role of Tony Stark, Marvel was unambiguous: “under absolutely no circumstances will be he considered.” Somehow Downey and Favreau won them over, and four films (and counting) later, it’s tough to imagine what Marvel will do if (when?) Downey leaves the franchise. In any case, he proves here that Stark is the role he was born to play, funny and smart and wounded all at once, tied together with Downey’s trademark motormouth charm.
David Fincher’s meditation on obsession traces the investigation of the Zodiac murders of the late ’60s and early ’70s, both by the police and the media. Downey plays a flamboyant San Francisco Chronicle reporter trying to solve the crimes who eventually gets rattled when the killer sends him a threatening letter. Downey’s scenes with Jake Gyllenhaal, the film’s main character, are some of the best in the movie. Aqua Velvas, anyone?
Having launched one multi-billion dollar franchise, Downey teamed up with British crime comedy director Guy Ritchie to launch another: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s erstwhile 19th-century freelance detective. Ritchie’s take emphasizes action and eschews the deerstalker hat, and Downey’s restless intelligence (and mouth) proves well-suited to the role.
Now here’s an acting stretch: an American actor playing an Australian actor playing an African-American soldier in a Vietnam movie. Downey somehow makes that bizarro premise work in hilarious fashion, along with strong turns by Ben Stiller (as a washed-up action star) and Jack Black (as a junkie comedian) in Stiller’s excellent takedown of Hollywood self-importance.