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9 Roles That Defined Robert Downey Jr’s Career

9 Roles That Defined Robert Downey Jr’s Career

Rdj top movies

Robert Downey Jr’s story is so inspiring. An imperfect but hugely talented actor, Downey has gone through various struggles in his life, most of them related to drug addiction. After years of substance abuse, Downey met the love of his life and turned his life around. Today, he stands as one of the most famous actors in the world and one of the finest of his generation.

We know Robert Downey Jr. mostly as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But RDJ is much more than that. In an imperfect career, Downey has shown the range of his acting prowess in a variety of roles. One can only wonder how the man hasn’t won an Oscar yet. Avengers: Endgame saw Tony take centre stage in an ensemble of mega stars, and as usual, steal the show. Hopefully he’ll be getting his due credit this time.

But in the meantime, let’s take a look at 9 incredible RDJ performances that prove that he’s one of the best in Hollywood.


9. Hank Palmer in The Judge (2014)

Director: David Dobkin

Robert Downey Jr best movies
Image Source: The New York Times

Okay, I know a lot of you may not agree with this one, but hear me out. The Judge was a courtroom drama with strong family overtones, with an uneasy relationship between a father, a Judge accused of a crime he doesn’t remember committing, and his hotshot lawyer son who despises his father. Sure, the movie isn’t perfect, but hey, I’m a bit of a romantic, and this one really got to me.

Say what you will about the movie, but no one can deny the impeccable performances given by Robert Duvall (who got nominated for an Oscar for his role) and RDJ himself, who played the charismatic, cocky hotshot lawyer. This movie is bound to hit you in the feels.


8. Wayne Gale in Natural Born Killers (1994)

Director: Oliver Stone

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Image Source: IMDb

Another slightly controversial choice. I feel Natural Born Killers is given more flak than it actually deserves. This Oliver Stone-directed black comedy satire stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, but you can’t not recognize RDJ as Wayne Gale, bloodthirsty tabloid journalist. Brilliant as always.

Some people may feel it was too dark and violent for them. But for me, it was a genius way for Oliver Stone to portray violence. Not for the sake of portraying, but to show how human beings react to violence.


7. Julian Wells in Less Than Zero (1987)

Director: Marek Kanievska

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Image Source: Hollywood Reporter

Less than Zero was Robert Downey Jr.’s breakthrough role, as Hollywood saw the emergence of a young exciting talent. RDJ plays Julian Wells, a rich L.A. boy who loses everything to drugs. While the movie didn’t fare so well critically or financially, RDJ’s unmistakable talent was spotted.

For a guy who went on to encounter many struggles with drugs, problems which almost ended his career, this hit pretty close to home.


6. Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Director: David Fincher

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Image Source:

One of David Fincher‘s finest films also contained one of RDJ’s finest performances. This is right up RDJ’s alley, and is also a Tony Stark-esque performance of sorts. He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, squeezes a few clever quips in, and we’re always ready to see where his instincts take him.

For a movie that starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo, it was RDJ (as usual) who stood out with his performance of real life journalist Paul Avery, who investigated on the infamous Zodiac Killer.


5. Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Director: Shane Black

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Image Source: The New York Times

Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite black comedies of all time. It’s literally a parody of itself and the genre it represents (crime) and it does it in such an unapologetic manner. Robert Downey Jr. gives one of the most funniest and most enjoyable performance of his career as Harry Lockhart, a burglar who accidentally gets cast for a movie whilst running away from a botched robbery, and then getting caught up in a murder with a PI he’s assigned with, which involves a girl from his past.

Sounds ridiculous at first, but Downey wastes no time in making that evident in his voiceover narration. His chemistry with Val Kilmer, who plays the PI, is extremely funny. I love absolutely everything about his performance. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a hugely underrated cult classic and deserves a lot more recognition.

4. Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Director: Guy Ritchie

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Image Source: CNN

Leave it to Guy Ritchie to make a Sherlock Holmes action comedy. And leave it to RDJ to portray that vision of Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth so brilliantly. This isn’t the Sherlock Holmes you know from the books. This is an extremely Ritchie-fied version of the great detective with brilliant visuals and slow-mo action featuring Holmes’ brilliant deductive brain.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern day version may be more popular, but this one is still pretty damn fun. RDJ won a Golden Globe for his troubles, so at least he got credit there.


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3. Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder (2009)

Director: Ben Stiller

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Image Source: Basement Rejects

Tropic Thunder is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever watched. Period. I’ve seen it God knows how many times and it still leaves me gasping for air, due to extreme laughter. The movie was packed with comedy stars like Ben Stiller and Jack Black, with great performances from Brandon T Jackson and Matthew McCounaghey, a little Tom Cruise role that induced bouts of laughter.

But once again, it was Robert Downey Jr, who plays the dude playing a dude disguised as another dude. RDJ’s performance should definitely be considered as one of the top comedic performances of the century, or at the very least, that decade. Words cannot express how much I love that movie. In fact, I think I might watch it again. RDJ got an Oscar nomination for his splendid performance, but lost out to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Not a bad one to lose out to.

Where to Watch: Netflix 


2. Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992)

Director: Richard Attenborough

RDJ gives an eerily uncanny performance of the silent screen legend. He even looks almost like Chaplin himself. Chaplin deals with a more sorrowful period of Chaplin’s life, like his failed romances and his mother’s descent into madness. While this Richard Attenborough-directed movie doesn’t delve too deeply into the life of Charlie Chaplin, Downey’s portrayal of the legend, his demeanour and his mannerisms are nothing short of perfect.

RDJ earned his first Oscar nomination for Chaplin. This near-perfect performance stands as an age-defining performance during the 1990s. In other circumstances, this would’ve been a dead ringer for top spot. But there’s one more.


1. Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

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Image Source: Comic Book

Was there ever any doubt? Robert Downey Jr has acted in several MCU films as the eccentric genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark, but his best came in Avengers: Endgame. I know it’s been a couple of months since the movie’s been out, but for the sake of not spoiling it for those of you who STILL (seriously, come on.) haven’t seen the movie, I’m not going to spoil it.

But what I can say is this. To have such an influence on a character that’s been around for decades in comic book literature, that the writers themselves base the source material’s version on your portrayal is the highest form of praise. Of all the performances RDJ has given, this one struck me right in the heart and left me crying my way out of the theater. It may sound a little far-fetched, but to hell with it. RDJ’s name better be there on the Best Actor Oscar nominations. That’s the very least I could ask for.


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