Total Recall: Robert Downey, Jr.'s Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Iron Man 3 star.

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Robert Downey, Jr.

With more than 50 movies listed in his filmography, Iron Man 3 star Robert Downey, Jr. has obviously had his share of ups and downs, but we'd argue that the positives outnumber the negatives; in fact, the lowest-rated film on the top 10 we assembled for this week's Total Recall boasts an 83 percent Tomatometer rating. With so many well-reviewed films jostling for a spot, there are bound to be some surprising omissions, as well as a few obscure inclusions -- so what say we get down to business and find out what they are by taking a look at the cream of the crop, shall we?


10. Tropic Thunder

We've all watched enough of the Biography Channel to know that Hollywood comebacks aren't exactly rare, but Robert Downey, Jr.'s is surely the first to include a role performed in blackface. Downey's industry-spoofing appearance as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian method actor who undergoes a pigment-dying procedure to play a black soldier, was the perfect way to cap off a resurgence that would have seemed all but impossible at the turn of the century. Audiences responded to Tropic Thunder's acid mix of action and satire, sending it over the $100 million mark, and critics resisted the opportunity to make C. Thomas Howell jokes, delivering high marks for the movie -- which Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer referred to as "raunchy, raucuous, and riotously funny" -- and Downey's performance in particular, which, in a fabulously ironic turn of events, earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.


9. Zodiac

He's done a number of projects over the last 15 years, but to many people, David Fincher will always be best remembered for the splash he made with 1995's serial killer thriller Seven -- so when word got out that Fincher was directing an adaptation of Robert Graysmith's memoir about the years he spent trying to track down the Zodiac Killer, it seemed like a perfect fit, and it came as no surprise that a long list of highly regarded thespians -- including Jake Gyllenhaal, Chloe Sevigny, Mark Ruffalo, Philip Baker Hall, and, of course, Robert Downey, Jr. -- signed on for what were often little more than extended cameos. As the liquor-loving reporter Paul Avery, Downey has one of Zodiac's larger roles, acting as a sort of besotted, bitterly cynical Jiminy Cricket to Gyllenhaal's curiously, dangerously driven cartoonist-turned-investigator. Zodiac failed to meet expectations at the box office, but critics were almost unanimous in their appreciation, sending it to 89 percent on the Tomatometer on the strength of reviews from the likes of the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, who called it "a long work of completely sustained suspense and dark humor."


8. Back to School

It's often remembered as the decade of action heroes with impossible physiques, but the 1980s were also a golden era for another type of character: the quirky, anti-establishment wiseacre, a part which Robert Downey, Jr. happened to play extremely well. Case in point: 1986's Back to School, in which Downey, as campus weirdo Derek Lutz, gave audiences an early example of the easy charm and deadpan wit that he'd bring to The Pick-Up Artist and Johnny Be Good the following year. (He'd also show off his dramatic chops in Less Than Zero, but that's another story.) Though it was far from his first film, and really only a supporting role, Back to School gave the former SNL cast member his first major hit -- both at the box office and among critics like the New York Times' Nina Darnton, who called it "a good-natured potpourri of gags, funny bits, populist sentiment and anti-intellectualism."


7. Good Night and Good Luck

Downey spent the early aughts working his way back from the brink of career suicide, and though the comeback trail was sometimes bumpy (2003's Gothika, 2006's The Shaggy Dog), this period produced some of his most interesting work -- including 2003's The Singing Detective, 2006's A Scanner Darkly, and a supporting role in George Clooney's cinematic paean to Edward R. Murrow's courageous battle against McCarthyism, Good Night and Good Luck. As CBS reporter Joseph Wershba, Downey was given the opportunity to sink his teeth into a script with the sort of dramatic heft that brings out the best in an actor -- and in the process, he got to share screen time with a stellar cast that included Clooney, Frank Langella, Patricia Clarkson, and David Strathairn, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Murrow. A dialogue-heavy drama filmed in black and white, Good Night never had bright commercial prospects, but it was a hit with critics like Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote that the film "stands tall, solid, impressive and expressive, joining not only the best films about journalism, but also those about real Americans."


6. Iron Man

$582 million in worldwide grosses later, it's easy to forget that when Downey was announced as Jon Favreau's choice for the man who would be Tony Stark, reactions ran the gamut from bemused acceptance to outright hostility (and fans suggesting everyone from Billy Zane to The Young and the Restless' Eric Braeden as superior alternatives). Of course, that was before the world got to watch Iron Man -- and see how Downey had matured from offbeat character actor (and tabloid-friendly star of middling romantic comedies) into someone who could not only help us suspend disbelief while he flew around in a metal suit for two hours, but make us care about his character in the process. The Dark Knight ended up getting more attention that summer, but at 93 percent on the Tomatometer, Iron Man was an unqualified success with audiences and critics -- and Downey received some of the best reviews of his career from scribes such as Roger Ebert, who wrote, "at the end of the day it's Robert Downey Jr. who powers the lift-off separating this from most other superhero movies."