After the epic conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Robert Downey Jr. bid farewell to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His departure marked the end of the series of films that brought his career to new heights and established him as one of Hollywood’s biggest figures. Throughout his career, he has faced numerous challenges, including personal struggles, only to redeem himself and emerge as a celebrated actor.
Robert Downey Jr. began his career in the 1980s with supporting roles in a number of films and by the end of the decade had his first big leading role in Less Than Zero. His portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the eponymous 1992 film which earned him his first Academy Award nomination.
Despite his initial success, Robert Downey Jr. faced personal struggles with substance abuse and legal issues that affected his career in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, he managed to turn his life around and made a remarkable comeback, which started with films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Zodiac. He showcased his versatility and brought depth to his characters. However, it was his portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that catapulted him to international stardom. Downey Jr.’s dedication and perseverance not only revived his career but also cemented his status as a formidable actor and reliable leading man capable of skyrocketing a project all by himself. These are his twenty best films according to Rotten Tomatoes.
20 A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints – 76%
In this coming-of-age drama, Downey Jr. takes on the role of Dito Montiel, a man reflecting on his troubled youth in Astoria, Queens. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints explores themes of friendship, family, and the impact of one’s upbringing with scenes set in 2001 and 1986.
19 Iron Man 3 – 79%
The final Iron Man standalone film proved to be superior to its predecessor and nearly as good as the original. In this Shane Black-directed movie, Tony Stark he faces a formidable terrorist known as the Mandarin. The film delves into Stark’s vulnerability and explores the consequences of his actions, resulting in the most personal of all Iron Man films.
18 Wonder Boys – 81%
In this comedic drama directed by Curtis Hanson, Downey Jr. plays Terry Crabtree, the flamboyant and enigmatic editor of a struggling author (Michael Douglas). Wonder Boys explores themes of creativity, personal struggles, and redemption. Filmed amidst Downey Jr.’s struggling times, he manages to bring his unique energy to match Douglas and the rest of the cast. The film though a financial failure was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for various awards.
17 Bowfinger – 81%
Downey Jr. stars in this comedy film as Jerry Renfro, a movie producer. Directed by Frank Oz, Bowfinger follows a struggling filmmaker (Steve Martin) who attempts to make a movie with a major action star (Eddie Murphy) without his knowledge and an incredibly small budget.
16 Tropic Thunder – 82%
In this satirical action comedy, Downey Jr. delivers a brilliant performance as Kirk Lazarus, a method actor who undergoes an extreme racial transformation for his role in a war film. Tropic Thunder is, to this day, controversial and hilarious, it’s full of A-listers who delve into the absurdity of their profession taking this satire to comedic heights rarely seen before. Downey Jr. is an absolute standout and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his performance.
15 Avengers: Infinity War – 85%
A sort of changed Tony Stark finds himself in a battle for the fate of the universe in of the darkest Marvel films, Avengers: Infinity War. As the Avengers face the formidable and ruthless Thanos, Stark becomes a key player in the battle to save the universe where he must put aside the differences with some of his former colleagues while battling forces that transcend all those he has faced before.
14 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – 86%
Downey Jr. shines in this darkly comedic crime thriller directed by Shane Black. He plays Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who finds himself entangled in a murder mystery in Los Angeles. Downey Jr.’s performance in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is perfectly complemented by Val Kilmer’s as they shine through this witty dark comedy.
13 Back to School – 86%
In this classic Rodney Dangerfield comedy, Downey Jr. portrays Derek, the best friend of the main character’s son. Back to School follows a wealthy businessman (Rodney Dangerfield) who decides to enroll in college alongside to rekindle his relationship with his son. What ensues is a series of comedic situations characterized by Dangerfield’s unique brand of humor.
12 Chef – 87%
In this heartwarming comedy-drama, Downey Jr. joins forces with his good friend Jon Favreau, who directs and stars in the film. In Chef, he has a small but memorable role as Marvin, an eccentric friend of Favreau’s main character that helps his dreams of being a chef come true.
11 Zodiac – 90%
Directed by David Fincher, Zodiac is a gripping thriller based on the true story of the Zodiac Killer, a well-known serial killer in the San Francisco area. Downey Jr. portrays Paul Avery, a journalist investigating the case alongside Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. The ensemble cast shines as they come together to bring a mysterious and chilling story to life.
10 Captain America: Civil War – 90%
In this thrilling chapter of the Marvel saga, Downey Jr. faces one of the most challenging films as Iron Man. In Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers become divided over differing ideologies, Stark finds himself in direct conflict with his friend Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). The characters in the film must grapple with guilt, responsibility, and the consequences of their actions. The new elements brought in by the Russo Brothers added a layer of complexity to the MCU.
9 The Avengers – 91%
As the cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man in The Avengers is central to the success of this superhero ensemble film. From here on the myth of what a superhero film means in today’s film landscape was born and established, and it owes a lot to Downey Jr.’s charisma.
8 Spider-Man: Homecoming – 92%
Robert Downey Jr. makes a memorable appearance as Tony Stark/Iron Man in this Spider-Man reboot. Serving as a mentor to a young Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Downey Jr. brings his trademark charisma and wit to the role, offering guidance and humor amidst the superhero action in Spider-Man: Homecoming. His chemistry with Holland’s Spider-Man is felt through each of their scenes together.
7 Good Night, and Good Luck – 93%
In this fantastic historical drama directed by George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. plays Joe Wershba, a CBS news reporter. Set during the McCarthy era, Good Night, and Good Luck depicts journalist Edward R. Murrow’s (David Strathairn) battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film highlights the ethical dilemmas faced by journalists during a tumultuous time in American history.
6 Iron Man – 94%
The film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and marked Downey Jr.’s comeback, Iron Man, introduced audiences to his iconic portrayal of Tony Stark. His charismatic and witty performance breathes life into the brilliant billionaire, Tony Stark, as he transforms into the superhero Iron Man. This film not only established Downey Jr. as a fan-favorite, but also set the stage for the success of the entire Marvel franchise.
5 Avengers: Endgame – 94%
In the epic culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga, Robert Downey Jr. delivers his best performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame. As the Avengers face their greatest threat in Thanos, Stark becomes a pivotal figure in the battle to save the universe. The film is a proper farewell to the role that forever altered the course of his career.
4 Short Cuts – 95%
Directed by the legendary Robert Altman, Short Cuts is an ensemble drama that weaves together multiple interconnected stories set in Los Angeles. Robert Downey Jr. delivers a standout performance as Bill Bush, a troubled man grappling with his failing marriage and personal demons. His ability to embody vulnerability and navigate the nuances of his role makes him standout among a star-studded cast.
3 True Believer – 96%
In this legal drama, Robert Downey Jr. portrays Roger Baron, a young lawyer who teams up with an experienced attorney (James Woods) to investigate a potential wrongful conviction. As they delve into the case of a Korean man accused of murder, Baron faces ethical dilemmas and confronts systemic injustices in True Believer.
2 Richard III- 96%
In this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s historical play, Robert Downey Jr. takes on the role of Rivers, a key figure in the tale of Richard III. Directed by Richard Loncraine, the film sets the story in a fascist 1930s England, providing a fresh and visually stunning take on the classic play. Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Rivers showcases his talent for tackling classical material and infusing it with his own unique style.
1 “Sr.” – 97%
“Sr.” is a 2022 American documentary film that explores the careers and relationship of Robert Downey Jr. and his late father, Robert Downey Sr. The documentary, which allows Robert Downey Jr. to recount his father’s life and career, has been hailed as an illuminating look at a fascinating filmmaker and a poignant tribute to a father from his son, earning a 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also won the National Board of Review Award for Best Documentary Feature.