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The 11 best Robert Downey Jr. movies, ranked

Is your favorite RDJ movie on this list?

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man
Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Productions

Sometimes an actor will become so synonymous with one character or franchise that a mention of their name instantly makes you think about the movies from that universe. Speaking about Daniel Radcliffe brings nostalgic yearnings for elementary school screenings of Harry Potter. Harrison Ford’s name will conjure arguments of Indiana Jones vs. Han Solo. And when you talk about the greatness of Robert Downey Jr, you’re most likely going to think about the massive list of Marvel Cinematic Universe  (MCU) films he has graced as the ingenious but emotionally scarred rich kid Tony Stark.

Iron Man is one of the most critical on-screen heroes ever because of Downey Jr.’s portrayal, but the MCU has also typecast the actor and cornered him into a genre that he may now want to start venturing out of. With Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Downey Jr. got to go the biopic route with fantastic results. We want to look at the 10 best Robert Downey Jr. movies, from his talented beginnings to his superhero stardom and everything in between.

11. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

11. Good Night, and Good Luck.
Genre Drama, History
Stars David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney
Directed by George Clooney
George Clooney directs and stars in this film about U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his eventual downfall at the hands of reporter Edward R. Murrow. Robert Downey Jr. plays Joseph Wershba, another CBS journalist who helped Murrow in his battle against McCarthy’s lies. The film’s black-and-white aesthetic gives it a classic look.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Genre Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Drama
Stars Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Jon Watts
The re-launching of the Spider-Man franchise required a lot of creative liberties and chances taken by Marvel and the casting directors. They were pretty sure that Tom Holland was the perfect choice to depict Peter Parker in this reboot, but writing Iron Man into the plot as a mentor to him was something that left an indelible mark on the film. Downey Jr. makes an exquisite transition to second banana in this film, letting Holland get his feet wet and eventually soar as Marvel’s most famous hero.

9. Short Cuts (1993)

9. Short Cuts
Genre Drama, Comedy
Stars Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon
Directed by Robert Altman
This Robert Altman-directed picture is filled with a massive supply of talent, from Julianne Moore and Jack Lemon to Lily Tomlin and Frances McDormand. Robert Downey Jr. was still in his pre-Marvel phase here, but his abilities stand out amongst a strong cast of stars in a movie about struggling Los Angeles residents whose stories are told in short bursts. The movie is based on short stories by Raymond Carver.

8. Sherlock Holmes (2009)

8. Sherlock Holmes
Genre Action, Adventure, Crime, Mystery
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Released in the glowing aftermath of Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes is an incredibly entertaining adaptation of the famous mystery story by Sir Author Conan Doyle. Downey Jr. plays the titular detective, and Jude Law portrays sidekick John Watson, the two actors creating a memorable chemistry that makes for compelling fun. The film was supposed to be a sign that Downey Jr. would appear in more non-Marvel projects in the 2010s, but that never really materialized.

7. Zodiac (2007)

7. Zodiac
Genre Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by David Fincher
One of the most underrated David Fincher films, Zodiac is an in-depth look into the tumultuous journey of law enforcement while trying to track down the Zodiac Killer in the 1970s in the Bay Area. Downey Jr. plays real-life journalist Paul Avery, a media member with significant time spent trying to solve the case of the serial killer in San Francisco.

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Genre Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Directed by Shane Black
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was Robert Downey Jr.’s first big film after recovering from addiction in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He plays a thief who accidentally tries out for a role in a movie, and the antics that ensue as he tries to play the part are hilarious. Val Kilmer is especially excellent in a supporting role in this mid-2000s classic.

5. Richard III (1995)

5. Richard III
Genre Drama, War
Stars Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent
Directed by Richard Loncraine
While Ian McKellan gives the shining performance of this modernized Shakespeare adaptation, Robert Downey Jr. is stellar in the supporting role of Rivers. The movie depicts the deceit and struggles for power that readers of classic literature are used to, and the score and atmosphere created by director Richard Loncraine give this one a different feel than previous Shakespearean movies.

4. Chaplin (1992)

4. Chaplin
Genre Drama
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys
Directed by Richard Attenborough

Seeing actors portray other actors is always a fascinating bit of irony, and RDJ absolutely knocked this role out of the park. Charlie Chaplin was the defining performer of the first half of the 20th century, and at this point in his career Downey Jr. was a rising star with much to prove. He embodied the life and career of Chaplin with eerie skill and incredible attention to detail. This was the performance that made people understand he was going to be a big deal

3. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

3. Avengers: Endgame
Genre Adventure, Science Fiction, Action
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
The culmination of all of Downey Jr’s work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also one of his best performances. As Tony Stark deals with the fallout of Thanos’ actions and his responsibilities as one of the original members of the Avengers, Downey Jr. is able to inhabit all of the emotions and weight that fans expect Stark to possess at this point in his journey. RDJ has always been the poster boy for Marvel, and this final film was exquisitely climactic.

2. Oppenheimer (2023)

2. Oppenheimer
Genre Drama, History
Stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Since the end of his time in Iron Man’s suit, Downey Jr. has been quiet for the most part. His roaring return to Hollywood in the most recent Christopher Nolan film was critically acclaimed and helped Marvel fans see the actor in an entirely new light. Oppenheimer is a thrilling and harrowing look at the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Downey Jr. is Lewis Strauss, a founder of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

1. Iron Man (2008)

1. Iron Man
Genre Action, Science Fiction, Adventure
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
Directed by Jon Favreau
Jon Favraeu’s Iron Man not only kicked off superhero movies as we know them, but it allowed Robert Downey Jr. to embody a character that otherwise would have never realized its full potential. Downey Jr. makes a smug, cocky nepo-baby likable through sheer charm, combining real-life struggles with comic book solutions. Jeff Bridges is iconic as Downey Jr’s antagonist, the Iron Monger.

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Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek,, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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