The 14 Best Robert Downey Jr. Movies, Ranked

Robert Downey Jr. has had one of the most amazing careers of any actor working in Hollywood today. Once a heartthrob in teen movies, Downey Jr. completely revitalized his career when he was cast as Tony Stark in Jon Favreau's 2008 comic book movie "Iron Man." The role nearly wasn't his, as it had previously been offered to Tom Cruise. After 10 movie appearances as the character, Downey Jr.'s personality has become synonymous with Tony Stark's. He has the same quick-witted, snarky sense of humor that makes Tony so entertaining. While sometimes actors can "phone it in" after playing a character for so long, he seemed to only get better, adding new layers to Tony as the "Infinity Saga" reached its conclusion, and his heartfelt performance in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" was surprisingly moving.

While some MCU fans may be sad to see Downey Jr. leave the character behind, it opens up an exciting new chapter in his filmography. He has versatility as an actor and has been in a plethora of interesting projects throughout his career. Between powerful biopics, hilarious comedies, intimate character studies, and harrowing crime thrillers, there's much more to Downey Jr. than just "Iron Man." Here are the top 14 best Robert Downey Jr. movies, ranked.

14. Due Date (2010)

While Tony Stark is often the comic relief in the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. actually had to play the straight man in Todd Phillips' 2010 road trip comedy "Due Date." The film follows two strangers forced to hitchhike across the country in order to make it to Los Angeles. Downey Jr. stars as Peter Highman, a respected architect who is nervous about the upcoming birth of his child. However, Peter's flight from Georgia to California goes disastrously wrong when he runs into the eccentric aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis).

Ethan ends up getting them both kicked off the plane, which puts Peter in a tough situation. He has to find a way to get back to see his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) during one of the most important moments of their life, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"-style. Although he's initially furious with Ethan, the two begin to open up to each other as they make their journey. Peter discovers that Ethan is struggling to mourn his father's death, and later finds himself charmed by Ethan's idiosyncrasies. Although Phillips has a crass sense of humor, "Due Date" is remarkably sincere in showing these two men bonding. Downey Jr. has a great way of weaponizing his defensive sense of humor, with Peter afraid of being vulnerable while struggling to be sincere when he needs to be. His reunion scene with Sarah is a surprisingly touching note to end such a goofy movie.

13. Chef (2014)

Although Robert Downey Jr. deserves credit for effectively launching the MCU, director Jon Favreau was just as important in creating the franchise. Favreau has a great filmography that is much more than just Marvel movies. After making a series of Hollywood action films, Favreau decided to go back to his roots with the 2014 independent comedy "Chef." Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in this film about a deeply unhappy Los Angeles chef named Carl Casper who serves some of the most respected clients in the area, yet finds that he is limited by the strict menu that the restaurant's owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) demands. After having a nervous breakdown, Carl decides to purchase a food truck to travel across the country with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). 

Throughout their journey, Favreau inserts side characters played by some of his frequent collaborators. Downey Jr. pops up for a hilarious performance as Marvin, who was once married to Carl's ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara). Marvin's openness catches Carl off guard, and his awkward nature is played for laughs. It's amusing to see Downey Jr. play a much different version of an eccentric weirdo. However, Marvin is also essential to the plot, as he is the one that offers Carl the food truck.

12. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Robert Downey Jr.'s value as a supporting actor is evident in George Clooney's riveting 2005 biopic "Good Night, and Good Luck." The film tells an important message about freedom of speech and the merits of good journalism that are more relevant than ever. Based on a true story, "Good Night, and Good Luck" examines the career of the television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) when he is targeted by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy's "witch hunt" for Communist sympathizers in Hollywood disturbs Murrow, and he decides to use his platform to speak out. This puts Murrow and his team in a difficult position, as they find they are under increased scrutiny.

Downey Jr. delivers a powerful supporting performance as Joseph Wershba, a CBS correspondent that works with Murrow. Wershba fears what McCarthy's investigation may uncover, as he is secretly married to his co-worker, Shirley (Patricia Clarkson). The emotional conversations between Wershba and his wife show the sacrifices that journalists have to make when they become activists; if they choose to be part of a movement, their private lives may become public.

11. Soapdish (1991)

"Soapdish" is an amusing behind-the-scenes romp that explores the chaotic filming of a daytime soap opera. The film examines how the ridiculous storylines in these television programs are created, and the eccentric personalities that are involved in their production. Robert Downey Jr. appears as David Seton Barnes, the smooth producer who tries to cover up all the chaos that happens on the set of "The Sun Also Sets." At first, David is in a somewhat unenviable position as he struggles for his show to remain relevant while leading lady Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) indicates her displeasure with the direction that the series is landing. However, David decides to push the cast and crew beyond their limits in order to keep the show on the air. He forces the writers to come up with increasingly unbelievable storylines and hires Celeste's old rival Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline) to be a series regular. It's interesting to see Downey Jr. play a creepy, cynical character.

Things get increasingly hilarious as David tries to insist to the network's representative Edmund Edwards (Garry Marshall) that everything is going according to plan. David comes up with a madcap scheme to force Celeste, Jeffrey, and their daughter Lori Craven (Elizabeth Shue) to appear in a live broadcast that will reveal which of them will be cut from the series. He hilariously tries to retain his composure when everyone goes off-script.

10. Bowfinger (1999)

Similar to "Soapdish," "Bowfinger" examines the chaotic behind-the-scenes of Hollywood productions, the eccentric nature of actors, and the strange personalities that find themselves in the entertainment industry. The film follows the down-on-his-luck B movie producer Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), who has dreamed his entire life that he will become a director. After saving up to direct his dream project, Bowfinger puts together a crew and pitches his idea to the influential studio executive Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.).

Unfortunately for Bowfinger, Renfro is not without his demands. Downey Jr. shows the inherent dispassion of Hollywood execs who refuse to green-light projects that don't have the potential to be financially successful. Renfro insists that Bowfinger needs to cast the popular action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) in his film. He seems to ignore the fact that Ramsey is notoriously prickly and unlikely to be interested in the project. This is a critical scene that makes Bowfinger's situation more empathetic, as he's clearly a talented guy but no one is willing to give him a chance. What's interesting about Downey Jr.'s performance is that he seems more ignorant than cruel. Someone like Renfro would never stop to think about what challenges someone like Bowfinger would have to face on a daily basis during production.

9. Charlie Bartlett (2007)

In his early career, Robert Downey Jr. starred in many teen comedies, including "Johnny Be Good," "Weird Science," and "Back to School." This made it fun to see him appear years later in the modern high school dramedy "Charlie Bartlett," but instead of playing a relatable young person, Downey Jr. was cast as the public school Principal Nathan Gardner. Struggling to find the same passion for education that he once had, Gardner finds it challenging to connect with his daughter Susan (Kat Dennings).

Gardner's job gets more difficult when the school accepts a new student, Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin). A rich child who wants a somewhat normal life, Bartlett has managed to get himself kicked out of nearly every private institution that his mother (Hope Davis) has tried to send him to. Charlie doesn't want to cause problems, but he has a way of initiating chaos. Charlie takes note of the social issues at his new school resulting from Gardner's strict policies, then becomes an underground psychiatrist for his classmates. This starts an engaging feud between Charlie and Gardner. Every time Gardner tries to block Charlie's moves or punish him, the young boy seems to get even more popular. Downey Jr. does a great job of bringing out Gardner's exasperated nature and surprisingly makes him empathetic. There is a powerful moment where he explains to Charlie that he really just wants to be a history teacher. He's at his happiest when he's teaching.

8. Natural Born Killers (1994)

Oliver Stone's 1994 dark comedy "Natural Born Killers" is a disturbing examination of how the media portrays violence. In a modern-day version of the "Bonnie and Clyde" story, the film follows outlaws Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Wilson (Juliette Lewis) as they go on a killing spree across the country. Their crimes generate the attention of the media, and their actions are glorified. Mickey and Mallory surprisingly find that they're now hailed as cult heroes.

Robert Downey Jr. shows the consequences of dishonesty in journalism playing tabloid reporter Wayne Gale, who decides to cover Mickey and Mallory on his program "American Murderers." Even though he knows that this type of reporting will only give the killers exactly what they want, he realizes that he will end up profiting from the publicity. The film takes an even darker route when Gale begins to buy into the same lies that he has been perpetuating. It's one of the most disturbing performances that Downey Jr. has ever given. After being taken hostage during a live broadcast, Gale commits himself to Mickey and Mallory's cause and begins acting violently. This shows how the cycle of violence is bound to continue when people sacrifice their personal ethics.

7. Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The MCU isn't the only major franchise that Robert Downey Jr. joined during his comeback. He appeared in Guy Ritchie's action-centric version of the "Sherlock Holmes" stories created by Arthur Conan Doyle. While there have been countless Holmes films since the earliest days of cinema, Ritchie's 2009 film reimagined Holmes (Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) as a bickering comic duo. It was the chemistry between these two that made the film so entertaining.

Downey Jr. explored Holmes' idiosyncratic personality with a quirky sense of humor. Holmes is exacting in the way that he solves problems, and Ritchie finds an interesting way of showing his inner thoughts by using freeze frames, slow motion, and voiceovers. It helped retain the period setting while giving the film a modern look and feel. Downey Jr. performs some truly incredible feats of physical comedy in the chaotic action sequences, almost as if he was using some of the same skills he picked up from his performance as Charlie Chaplin.

6. Wonder Boys (2000)

Curtis Hanson's sensitive dramedy "Wonder Boys" is a remarkably poignant film about the power of the written word. While centering a narrative around academic life could easily become pretentious, Hanson has empathy for his characters and understands why they are driven to be writers. Although the film deals with a midlife crisis, it finds humor in the supporting players. Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as the stressed-out editor Terry Crabtree adds a welcome sense of comic relief to the film.

"Wonder Boys" follows the career of novelist Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), who is suffering from a bout of writer's block. Crabtree attends a seminar at the university where Grady teaches, and although he feigns interest in the event, he's really there to figure out if Tripp has written anything that is worth publishing. Crabtree adds stakes to the film, reminding Tripp that he needs a hit to save both of their careers. Downey Jr. is strangely flamboyant, high-strung, and goofy, which is much different than the type of confident performances that he usually gives. A particularly amusing subplot develops when Crabtree begins having an affair with Tripp's student, James Leer (Tobey Maguire).

5. Iron Man (2008)

It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that "Iron Man" is one of the most influential films of the 21st century. While the film deserves credit for creating one of the most successful franchises of all time, it still works remarkably well as a standalone story. There's an earnestness to "Iron Man" that makes it unique among comic book movies as it openly deals with serious issues such as alcoholism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, global terrorism, and American militarism. Robert Downey Jr. is the anchor that helps balance the film's tone.

"Iron Man" remains one of the best movies in the MCU because of its story. While its action sequences seem quaint compared to the elaborate battles in "Avengers: Infinity War" or "Endgame," they are just as enthralling because the audience gets to experience the joy of seeing Tony accept his destiny. It truly is a story of a man who recognizes his faults, realizes what he can do, and gives everything he has to make the world a better place.

4. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in "Tropic Thunder" is his bravest role. If he had played the character just a smidge differently, it could have been incredibly offensive and embarrassing. It's the type of performance that either makes or breaks a career, so leave it to Downey Jr. to pull it off and even land an Oscar nomination. He co-stars in the 2008 satire "Tropic Thunder" as Kirk Lazarus, an acclaimed Australian method actor known for his ridiculous commitment to roles. When Lazarus agrees to play an African-American character, it meant that Downey Jr. had to wear blackface.

The very idea is inflammatory, but the film uses Lazarus to make a point: Lazarus is clearly an ignorant person who relies on gimmicks to give his performances. The film satirizes his willful arrogance, and it's clear that it is not condoning the use of blackface. Lazarus is criticized by Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a black actor who is cast as Lazarus' co-star. Instead of feeling racist, Downey Jr.'s performance lampooned "method actors" like Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Colin Farrell.

3. Chaplin (1992)

It's particularly challenging for an actor to play an icon as beloved as Charlie Chaplin because he's someone that's essential to film history. Chaplin's films are still watched today because they remain as funny and influential as they were during their release. Not only did Robert Downey Jr. have to capture the exact mannerisms of one of the most iconic film stars of all time, but he had to look at the man beneath "The Tramp." Chaplin's personal life had no shortage of controversies and scandals.

At 145 minutes, "Chaplin" has enough time to explore the man's entire life. Downey Jr. shows how Chaplin crafts his personality over time, and how his youthful experiences in London's variety scene shape him into the actor that he would become. Although the film has sympathy for Chaplin due to his poor upbringing, it does not completely lionize him. Downey Jr. bravely explored the court cases and affairs that threatened to derail Chaplin's career.

2. Zodiac (2007)

"Zodiac" is one of the most pitch-perfect crime thrillers ever made. Rather than focusing on the shock of a serial killer's crimes, David Fincher focused on the meticulous efforts that law enforcement and members of the media took to search for the infamous "Zodiac killer." The film succeeds as both a deconstruction of journalistic practices and a terrifying paranoia thriller. "Zodiac" does a great job of exploring the perspectives of various characters involved in the case, particularly Robert Downey Jr.'s role as the true crime reporter Paul Avery.

There's an inherent cheekiness to Downey Jr. that makes him charismatic, but Avery's confidence isn't without merit. He's dedicated his life to telling the truth, and he backs up his claims with experience. Avery ends up learning that he may have been too smart for his own good when he helps the cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) dig into the Zodiac case and winds up putting his own life on the line.

1. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

No one writes buddy cop movies quite like Shane Black. As the creator of the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, Black knows how to show two completely different characters teaming up for adventures that are hilarious and surprisingly emotional. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is a loving tribute to crime cinema and hard-boiled detective novels. It's the film that exemplifies all of the things that make Robert Downey Jr. unique as he gets to be sarcastic, introspective, surprisingly relatable, and empowering all at once.

Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a thief who has to pretend to be an actor in order to avoid the authorities in pursuit. When he ends up nailing a screen test, Harry is called to come back for another audition. He's sent to Los Angeles to learn from Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), a real detective who will teach him how to realistically act like a detective. However, things turn sour when Harry becomes intertwined in a real crime. Downey Jr. hilariously shows the performance within a performance that Harry has to give since he's neither an actor nor a detective. This makes all of his reactions to the details of the case even more hilarious, and his chemistry with Kilmer is electrifying.