Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

Robert Downey Jr.'s Career In 7 Films

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist April 30, 2013 at 1:02PM

"Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away then what are you?" asks Captain America (Chris Evans) in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers." "Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist," shoots back Tony Stark, in a quip that, delivered either of two ways, is only slightly more impressive than the actual truth. Because of course, outside the suit, and outside the Marvel films, Iron Man/Tony Stark is in fact, Robert Downey Jr, and he's one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.
4
Robert Downey Jr., essential performances

"Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away then what are you?" asks Captain America (Chris Evans) in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers." "Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist," shoots back Tony Stark, in a quip that, delivered either of two ways, is only slightly more impressive than the actual truth. Because of course, outside the suit, and outside the Marvel films, Iron Man/Tony Stark is in fact, Robert Downey Jr., and he's one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.

But damned if he didn't make quite a meal out of getting there. When you consider Tom Cruise made "Risky Business" after only four other film roles, (read about his early days here), and Will Smith's first-ever role as the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" meant that he'd be leading "Bad Boys" after just three feature roles, it seems to have taken Downey Jr. an inexcusable amount of time to attain anything like a similar degree of stardom to those fellows. Of course, it doesn't help that for the better part of a decade there, he was in the throes of a high-level drug addiction, and the arrests, court cases and incarcerations that happened between 1996 and 2001 made him largely unhirable and uninsurable.

But what's perhaps more of a story than how much his drug problems hampered his career, is how much they didn't. Unhirable as he was, he kept getting hired. And perhaps that's because, as well as having some very loyal friends in Hollywood (itself a fact worthy of mention in that notoriously fickle town) even at the height of his off-screen excesses, Downey Jr. was never truly an unpopular actor with audiences. While some of his choices were questionable and definitely money-motivated, he was often, in fact usually, pretty great even when the films weren't. So he's been a fairly constant presence on our screens for over two decades now, and he's flirted with that top level of stardom not just once, but on quite a few occasions, only for it seemingly to evaporate at exactly the point that it should have been a sure thing.

One reason we'd hazard for that constant bubbling-under is actually one of RDJ's great strengths -- he is all types of actor at once. Take a stroll through his back catalogue and you can see it as a series of near-misses or you can see it as an extended trial run for all the different kind of performer he might have wanted to become -- a serious, Day-Lewis style "important" actor? An indie darling? A Hugh Grant-esque romantic lead? An out-and-out comedian? There are roles he not just won, but nailed, that suggest he could have been any of these things in a bigger way than he ever was. And luckily, blessed with all that to burn, Downey Jr. conquered his demons and finally channelled some of that restless energy into what we could grandly call a "career plan." And it has paid off in spades, leading up to his casting as "Iron Man," a defining role in what could be called the second half of his career.

With his third, and potentially last, time donning the suit coming to your theaters on Friday in the shape of the only-question-is-how-huge "Iron Man 3," we thought the time was ripe to take a look at Robert Downey Jr.'s back catalogue, to see how he climbed so high. So here goes a whistle-stop tour, in which we pick seven films to use as handy milestones: good or bad, each illustrates a particular phase or a recurring theme in the actor's long career. There've been many twists and turns, but is there any big star whose success feels quite so satisfying?

Less than Zero RDJ

"Less Than Zero" (1987)
Prior to the release of this 1987 film based (rather loosely) on the Bret Easton Ellis novel, Downey Jr. was one of the lesser orbiting satellites of the Brat Pack, boasting a small role in "Weird Science" among other '80s teen comedies. And 1987 first saw him in another of those -- "The Pick-Up Artist" -- which was notable for being an early lead as opposed to a best-friend role for Downey Jr., though it was more a rather dull vehicle for then-teen-queen Molly Ringwald. But it was "Less than Zero" that brought the actor the first real attention of his film career, as he got props for the eerily prescient role of Julian, the privileged college graduate who dissipates his promise and his father's money on a drug habit that gradually spirals out of control and threatens his relationships with best friends Clay and Blair (Andrew McCarthy and Jamie Gertz).

The film has subsequently earned a kind of cult status, though we're hard pushed to see why it deserves it, salacious themes aside. It's true that Downey Jr., along with James Spader, gets closest to giving the film some actual bite, but with too much screen time accorded the sappy reunion/love story between Clay and Blair, the original material is shorn of most of its irony -- where Ellis is a past master at using shallowness to comment on shallowness, the film lacks that subtlety and ends up more or less "St. Elmo's Fire" with drugs, bisexuality and hooking. So really, it's hard to tell if Downey Jr. is actually great in this, or if he's merely much better than the other two (McCarthy and Gertz -- adorable: yes, tragic: not so much) but either way, the role, which the actor claimed was "a catharsis" but also "probably the first time I created a character from scratch," got him noticed, and became something of a template for future films in which Downey Jr. takes a slightly less central role and plays the oddball character, the misfit, the joker, the damaged one, as opposed to the straight lead.

In fact next up was "Johnny Be Good" in which he played just such an oddball to Anthony Michael Hall's jock (whaaa?), followed by a few other middling comedies, until his 1990 film "Air America" teamed him with Mel Gibson. Gibson would prove one of RDJ's staunchest friends during his most troubled periods, loyalty that Downey Jr. now seems to be paying back -- casting his invisibility cloak of superstardom over persona non grata Gibson at the last Golden Globes, for example. "Air America" for its part was never a great film, but has aged badly. "Good intentions, sad result" said RDJ of it at one time. "By the time we were done, the only positive thing was meeting Mel Gibson."

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Iron Man 3, Less Than Zero, Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates