Moviegoers may have noticed that Robert Downey Jr. had a rare villainous turn as Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. It served as a nice reminder that even after a decade of playing Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Downey remains one of the greatest actors of his generation. Downey started acting when he was five years old, and aside from a very difficult personal period when he battled addiction, he has been continuously appearing in films and TV shows for over fifty years.
With so many roles under his belt, it’s easy to overlook some of Downey’s best roles in the earlier years of his career. That’s why we’re taking a look back at 3 underrated Robert Downey Jr. movies that you should check out. These are only three of the films that helped Downey establish himself as one of the very best in front of the cameras.
Downey isn’t the main character of Less Than Zero, but the film largely revolves around his performance as Julian Wells. When Julian’s childhood friend, Clay Easton (Andrew McCarthy), returns to Los Angeles for the holidays, he’s alarmed to find that his ex-girlfriend, Blair (Jami Gertz), and Julian have given over their lives to illicit drugs.
While Blair is able to get sober fairly quickly, it’s not as easy to save Julian from himself. Downey’s character is so dangerously self-destructive that it’s hard not to see parallels between this role and Downey’s own widely publicized struggle with sobriety. This is one of Downey’s darkest performances, and you can’t take your eyes off of Julian when he’s onscreen.
Watch Less Than Zero on Starz.
Although Downey earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his turn as Charlie Chaplin, Chaplin has been overshadowed in the three decades since its release by all of his subsequent blockbuster movies. That’s unfortunate because Downey is absolutely incredible as he channels one of Hollywood’s original superstars. The story follows Chaplin from his humble beginnings and chronicles his life as his fortunes rise, fall, and rise again. As with Less Than Zero, there do seem to be some very specific parallels between Downey the actor and the role he portrays here. The key difference is that Downey got the second act that Chaplin was denied, which is the real tragedy at the heart of this film.
Stream Chaplin on Paramount+.
Downey reestablished himself as a leading man in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his first collaboration with Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. Downey plays Harold “Harry” Lockhart, a man who inadvertently finds himself in the running to portray a private investigator in a movie. While in Los Angeles to research the role, Harry is paired with a real P.I., Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), who is working a case for Harry’s childhood crush, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan).
As Harry starts to embrace his new role, he and Perry fall deeper into Harmony’s orbit as their case takes some very dangerous turns. And this is one role that Harry is going to see through to the bitter end.
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