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Robert Downey Jr. Roles (Besides Iron Man) That Prove He's A Great Actor

List RulesVote up the likable performances of Robert Downey Jr. that have nothing to do with the MCU.

Robert Downey Jr. pretty much owns the role of Iron Man, but many other roles as well. His abilities go way beyond playing a snarky billionaire with a metal suit in a blockbuster superhero film. Like other things you might not know about Robert Downey Jr., he's acted in films like Tropic Thunder (2008), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Only You (1994), and The Judge (2014). Downey, son of director Robert Downey Sr. and actor Elsie Ford, has also had TV roles, including a stint on Ally McBeal

Moviegoers should count their lucky stars he was able to overcome personal issues and get back in front of the camera, because he's pulled off an array of memorable characters.

  • In another example of Robert Downey Jr. getting rave reviews for his performance in a movie that didn’t, The Judge features him as a hard-hearted Chicago lawyer. The plot sees him reconcile with his father, a senile small-town judge (played by Robert Duvall) who just may have committed vehicular manslaughter. Acting opposite the likes of Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Billy Bob Thornton, Downey successfully expresses the pain of dealing with a relative with Alzheimer’s, and the scene in which his character suffers an emotional breakdown after failing to save his father from receiving a guilty conviction is gut-wrenching.

    Critics appreciated his willingness to step outside the blockbuster box, with Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly expressing how he was "happy to see Downey leave the Marvel universe and Baker Street behind.”

    Awesome performance?
  • It’s a credit to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in the 2008 film Tropic Thunder that his career is still in good shape even after appearing in blackface. Playing a method-acting Australian actor who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” surgery to portray a Black Army sergeant was as challenging as it was risky. But the film was a satire, and the whole point was to make fun of actors who take themselves too seriously, and Downey received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for the role.

    Some people still criticize the blackface element, but in 2020, Downey said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast that although he hesitated at first, after carefully thinking about it, he decided to take the role and makes no apologies for it:

    I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion... And 90% of my Black friends were like, "Dude, that was great." I can’t disagree with [the other 10%], but I know where my heart lies. I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it blasted the cap on [the issue]. I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, "Yeah I effed up." In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.

    Awesome performance?
  • Dozens of famous actors have donned the deerstalker hat to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes at some point in their career, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch. Robert Downey Jr. gave a unique spin on the pipe-smoking detective in director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 version, believing they both shared a personality that was “quirky and kind of nuts.”

    His commitment to the project was admirable because he lost weight (at the urging of Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin) to gain a more authentic “giant and skinny” appearance, which he accomplished via the incredibly lucky break of accidentally ingesting an intestinal parasite.

    Awesome performance?
  • Chaplin garnered Robert Downey Jr. his first Academy Award nomination in 1993 (Al Pacino won best actor that year, for Scent of a Woman) in no small part because Downey prepared thoroughly for the role of the iconic Charlie Chaplin. Not only did he learn to play tennis left-handed and competently rock the violin, but he also changed his posture and profoundly altered other physical characteristics to become a carbon copy of the Little Tramp.

    He achieved such a magnificent impersonation that he was almost indistinguishable from the man in the historical footage director Richard Attenborough included in the film. Downey told the Los Angeles Times in 1992:

    I know I was not the studio’s dream to play Chaplin. There are five or six people I can think of, without actually naming them, who would have been considered more viable for this role. But I know that I was supposed to play this. I’ve never had anyone back me the way [director Richard] Attenborough did and I’m so proud that I made the film without having a real nervous breakdown. But I know that he (Chaplin) also had a hand in this, that somehow he and I are connected. You don’t do something like this where his spirit doesn’t check in.

    Awesome performance?