Today is Robert Downey Jr.’s birthday; to celebrate, we decided to take a break from looking at his biggest roles – Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chaplin – to celebrate some smaller roles. Here’s our list of the ten feature films you may have forgot featured Mr. Downey Jr.
Back to School (1986) – This was a Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, but Downey Jr. has a wonderful little role as the spacey, wise-ass college roommate of Dangerfield’s son. He’s in the movie for about ten minutes in total, but he almost steals the film – just watch this clip.
Weird Science (1985) – The movie, as a whole, doesn’t age as well as the majority of John Hughes movies, but there’s enough here to be entertained (it’s a great showcase for the late Bill Paxton, for example). Downey, Jr. pops up again, this time in stereotypical 1980s teen-movie-bad-guy mode as a teenage tormentor. Check out his amazing 80s style here.
Natural Born Killers (1994) – This is an ugly, hard-to-watch film; watching it now, it’s easy to wonder what Quentin Tarantino would have done with his screenplay rather than the version Oliver Stone finished up with. Either way, Downey Jr. has a memorable little role as a shock television journalist, providing some of the most crazed moments of a very crazed film.
Richard III (1995) – Richard Loncraine directed this lush adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, turning Ian McKellen loose as the leader and transferring the setting to a V for Vendetta-like England. There’s a fine, deep cast here (and another American, Annette Bening, as the Queen); Downey has a standout role as Lord Rivers.
U.S. Marshals (1998) – Forgot they made a sequel to The Fugitive? They did, and frankly, it’s not really that bad, as far as late-1990s lower tier action films go. Part of the fun is seeing Downey Jr., as a federal agent, match up with Tommy Lee Jones’s Sam Gerard.
Black and White (1999) – This is a big ensemble film from James Toback, who had collaborated with Downey, Jr. on both the much better Two Girls and a Guy and The Pick-Up Artist. It’s an ambitious film, but it’s unfocused and rather on the nose – think an even dumber Crash. The most entertaining part may be when Downey Jr. gets slapped by Mike Tyson. Seriously.
Wonder Boys (2000) – One of the most overlooked movies of the decade, this adaptation of the great Michael Chabon novel stars Michael Douglas as a pot-addled writer/college professor at a Pittsburgh college. Downey Jr. has a hilarious supporting role as Douglas’ literary editor. His on-screen romantic relationship with a prize student (Tobey Maguire) was parodied in Tropic Thunder.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) – A fine, forthright liberal film from the heart of the Bush presidency, this movie was scripted and directed by George Clooney and featured an Oscar-nominated turn from David Straitharn as Edward R. Murrow. Easy to forget, then, that the film had a nice little role for Downey Jr. as reporter Joe Wershba.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) – The great Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame wrote and directed this snappy, brilliant L.A.-set modern detective noir, featuring Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer as a pair of bickering detectives ensnared in a murder conspiracy. The movie flopped, but Downey Jr.’s performance cemented his comeback and brought about greater things for just about all parties involved.
The Shaggy Dog (2006) – One of Downey’s low points before Iron Man is this Disney stinker, starring Tim Allen as a workaholic attorney turned into a… well, shaggy dog. Downey Jr. is the evil doctor bad guy. Not exactly one of the banner roles on Downey’s IMDB page, but he’s still lovable.