Top 10 Robert Downey Jr. Roles, Ranked

Dr. John Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr.) rests his chin on his hand as a squirrel sits on his right shoulder against a sky background in an excerpt from a character poster for Dolittle (2020)

The life and acting career of Robert Downey Jr. sounds like something out of a Hollywood script itself, coming from an early life of addiction and homelessness to becoming one of the industry’s highest paid actors of all time! Beginning with a series of small roles in the early 80’s, Downey climbed the totem pole of stardom to become one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces, taking on hit roles like Sherlock Holmes and Marvel’s poster child, Iron Man

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From his humble beginnings to his ever-growing fame and recognition, Robert Downey Jr. has built up quite an astounding filmography. As we anticipate his latest role as Dr. John Dolittle in Dolittle, opening at Regal January 17th, we wanted to look back at some of the greatest roles from RDJ’s career. 

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Natural Born Killers (1994)

Natural Born Killers movie-Harrelson and Downey Jr
Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) in Natural Born Killers (1994)

In Oliver Stone’s gritty and satirical movie circling the mass-media culture, we find Downey in one of his most acidic roles to date. As ratings-obsessed, tabloid reporter Wayne Gale, his character follows the story of two psychotic killers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) on a ruthless killing spree in the effort to make them media sensations. Donning a cartoonish Australian accent, Downey’s take on this character fits perfectly into the absurdity of Natural Born Killers

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Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Good Night, and Good Luck movie-Robert Downey Jr
Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) in Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Not so similarly to his role in Natural Born Killers, Downey takes on another role as a journalist, this time as a journalist for CBS who gets caught up in a forbidden romance and government scandal. Though Robert Downey Jr. is certainly cut out to be the leading man, he does a fantastic job in this supporting role giving testimony to the importance of free press, especially in the face of government deceit. 


True Believer (1989)

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Roger Baron (Robert Downey Jr.) in True Believer (1989)

If you’re looking to find Robert Downey Jr. in a role unlike anything you’ve seen him in, look no further than True Believer. As Roger Baron, Downey plays a young attorney who is working under the mentorship of civil rights activist Eddie Dodd (played by James Woods). We follow the two in their effort to defend Korean-American prisoner Shu Kai Kim (played by Yuji Okumoto) in this exciting thriller that touches on many (still relevant) social issues.


Less Than Zero (1987)

Less Than Zero movie-Robert Downey Jr
Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) in Less Than Zero (1987)

In this 1987 drama, Downey’s portrayal of the college-age drug addict Julian Wells hit a little too close to home for the actor. The role was originally an exaggerated depiction of Downey, but as life went on, his real life became more of an exaggerated depiction of the character—Downey even referred to Julian as being the “Ghost of Christmas Future” to his personal life. His role in the movie went on to receive great acclaim from audiences and critics alike. 


Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes movie-Law and Downey
Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) and Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) in Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Many actors have taken up the mantle of the iconic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character, Sherlock Holmes, but in the 2009 period-action directed by Guy Ritchie, we received a whole new take on everyone’s favorite consulting detective. With a more mischievous and bare-knuckled version of the titular character, RDJ’s rendition of Holmes has earned him a lot of praise and even secured him the Golden Globe® for Best Comedy/Musical Actor. 

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Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac movie-Robert Downey Jr
Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) in Zodiac (2007)

Playing yet another reporter, Robert Downey Jr. drives the plot of David Fincher’s Zodiac as Paul Avery alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in this high-strung thriller following the real-life Zodiac Killer. As Avery becomes the next target for the unidentified serial killer, we see him launch into a spiral as he becomes more and more obsessed over a case he cannot crack, giving truth to the movie’s tagline: “there’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.” 

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Chaplin (1992)

Chaplin movie-Tomei and Downey Jr
Mabel Normand (Marisa Tomei) and Charles Spencer Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr.) in Chaplin (1992)

Robert Downey Jr. is strikingly uncanny as the silent movie legend, Charles Chaplin. Drastically different from many of the roles that would follow, Downey did a remarkable job of bringing Chaplin to life from beginning to end. Not only does he greatly resemble the silent movie star, but he manages to capture the lighthearted spirit and devious charm that made Chaplin such a recognizable figure. 


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang movie-Kilmer and Downey Jr
Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

In Shane Black’s neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Downey works alongside Val Kilmer in this darkly funny, crime satire. Downey Jr. plays a small-town thief who is mistaken as an actor when attempting to evade police and ends up being trained to become a real detective. In this whirlwind of a movie, we received some of Downey’s best acting as Harry Lockhart, which allowed him to show off his ability to balance his sincerity and comedic timing.


Tropic Thunder (2008)

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Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) in Tropic Thunder (2008)

There is no riskier role that any modern actor could have taken on than that of Kirk Lazarus—a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian actor who surgically darkens his skin to play the movie’s African-American platoon leader. This satirical movie-within-a-movie directed by Ben Stiller is a modern comedy classic, following a group of narcissistic actors who become lost in the Vietnam jungle while filming a pretentious war epic. In a role that could have easily been distasteful and cringe-worthy, Downey made this character into a lampoon of racial stereotypes and egotism. 


Iron Man Series (2008 - 2013), The Avengers Series (2012 - 2019)

Iron Man movie-Robert Downey Jr
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Iron Man (2008)

In his biggest (and arguably the best) role of his career, Robert Downey Jr. masterfully plays Tony Stark (or Iron Man) in not one, but eleven movies throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)! As the MCU frontrunner, we got our first taste of what Marvel movies were about to become—and we couldn’t have started off on a better foot. Each and every one of his movies in this franchise have been massive box-office success and have launched him into the height of stardom. From the very start of Iron Man (2008) to the heart wrenching end of Avengers: Endgame (2019), we couldn’t imagine a more perfectly brilliant, sarcastic, and charismatic version of Stark that reportedly emulates the true character of Robert Downey Jr. 

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See one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Robert Downey Jr., in his latest role as Dr. John Dolittle when Dolittle comes to Regal this Friday, January 17th.

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