5 Performances That Demonstrate Robert Downey Jr.’s Acting Range

Robert Downey Jr

Robert Downey Jr. has cemented himself as the consensus pick for probably the coolest guy in Hollywood, in large part thanks to a couple of iconic roles he has embodied in the last five years: Tony Stark aka Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes. These characters call for an overabundance of charisma, and such a quality comes in massive quantity with Downey. This has bled into his personal character, the public character of Robert Downey Jr., whose stardom is now as massive as Tony Stark’s and whose egocentric persona is almost indistinguishable from the characters he plays. Whether he’s dramatically taking off his sunglasses, making people aware of just how much more good looking he has become with age, or any of his other gif-worthy moments, he finds a way to be entertaining and amusing in just about every situation.

The downside of his intensified interest in these two iconic roles, to which he’s devoted his work almost exclusively since 2008, is that he hasn’t often been able to demonstrate just how much range he actually has as an actor. He got his start in the 1980s, with memorable roles in movies like Weird Science and Less than Zero, showing audiences how easily he could transition from one definitive character to the next. As he’s matured, his talents have progressed considerably, although he still has a tendency to continue to inhabit his characters long after leaving the work behind. He’s one performer who doesn’t seem to really let his characters go.

Here are 5 performances that really exhibit Robert Downey Jr.’s range of abilities in making his on-screen characters every bit as believable and entertaining as the one the Iron Man 3 star plays in real life.

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Comments (36)

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  1. MrCustomersays:

    How did you bypass Less Than Zero for Tropic Thunder? He was the scene stealing star of that movie, and played a truly scary character – not for what he was doing, but for what was happening to him while spiraling down the dark hole of addiction. Maybe the biggest anti-drug message of the 80’s and 90’s…

  2. MrCustomersays:

    How did you bypass Less Than Zero for Tropic Thunder? He was the scene stealing star of that movie, and played a truly scary character – not for what he was doing, but for what was happening to him while spiraling down the dark hole of addiction. Maybe the biggest anti-drug message of the 80’s and 90’s…

  3. MrCustomersays:

    How did you bypass Less Than Zero for Tropic Thunder? He was the scene stealing star of that movie, and played a truly scary character – not for what he was doing, but for what was happening to him while spiraling down the dark hole of addiction. Maybe the biggest anti-drug message of the 80’s and 90’s…

    1. Zena Lewissays:

      Excellent response

    2. Carter Mckinneysays:

      first movie I thought of was Less than Zero

    3. Carter Mckinneysays:

      first movie I thought of was Less than Zero

    4. Jackie Jormpjompsays:

      I was thinking the same thing! How the heck is less than zero not on this list?

  4. Alex Lowesays:

    Game 6 is another really solid performance from him.

  5. chclttrfflssays:

    Soapdish is also a comedic gem from his past.

  6. Glidessays:

    If not for Heath Ledger, The Downey should’ve won an Oscar for Tropic Thunder.

  7. Katherine Ksays:

    I have to say I would have thought Heart and Souls would have made the list especially since he has to act as 5 different characters in just one movie

    1. Darnitolsays:

      Yes, it’s still my favorite Downey film.

    2. Can_You_Dig_Itsays:

      Not to mention that this movie was “adapted” into a Korean movie, which will soon be released as a Chris Columbus and Adam Sandler remake.

  8. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most talented actors working right now eventually he’ll start directing and get Oscars that way too

  9. Zena Lewissays:

    Loved him in Less than ZERO

    1. debsidsays:

      less than zero is what ended his initial carrear.
      He actually did the drugs to play the role, and got hooked.
      His career since the hiatus has exploded, and respect is deserved for comeback as an actor.

      1. Tabinda Touseefsays:

        I disagree. Because
        A) He is not a method learning actor. He said so himself.

        B) His father introduced him to drugs when he was 8 years old. He had been on drugs since then and it has nothing to do with this movie.
        C) This movie was released in 1987 while Downey’s drug troubles started around 1996. So even if we mistakenly assume that he did drugs particularly for this movie didn’t it took a lot of time for the drug to work.

  10. Choochsays:

    Yeah, I’m not sure how many people have posted this same sentiment, but I’m guessing it is a lot! How can you not mention Less Than Zero!!?? Furthermore, how can his role in said movie NOT be at the top of your list?? Oh wait, I know, this article was written by some guy who was probably born in the late nineties and who’s only reference for RDJ prior to Tropic Thunder is Iron Man. Come on dude, if you are gonna post this rubbish, at least do some research first!!

  11. zengrrlsays:

    I would’ve replaced A Scanner Darkly and Zodiac with Less Than Zero and The Soloist. But it’s a decent list. =)

    1. Dusitn Stapletonsays:

      The Soloist was amazing.

  12. Kathysays:

    I loved RDJ in “The Singing Detective”. Playing a character that l ooks repulsive. You can’t take your eyes off him and loving the transformation to his beautiful self in the end. The self in his dreams. Loved the kiss he planted on Robin Wright. Also RDJ knows who to work a hat.

  13. Anja Radiesays:

    I did see Less than zero as a teenager and it was shocking and felt so realistic. But i fell in love with RDJ watching Chaplin. And ever since then I followed him and was so happy when he got his life sorted and had an awesome comeback. He is awesome as Stark/Iron Man and as Sherlock Holmes. But to this day i keep telling ppl to give esp chaplin a go. Because i think he was outstanding in it and i love Charlie Chaplin who was more than just a funny man.

  14. NATURAL BORN KILLERS

  15. NATURAL BORN KILLERS

  16. NATURAL BORN KILLERS

  17. SitizenKanesays:

    Chaplin came out when I was 5, and I watched it when I was 10, because I loved Charlie Chaplin and had a deep fascination with him since I was a toddler, with him never talking and his (what I thought as a kid) obscure appearance. It didn’t occur to me until I was a teen how Downey transformed himself thoroughly to Chaplin. It was a truly uncanny performance, just pure brilliant. And this was back when he was on massive amounts of drugs! I truly believe that Chaplin is his greatest performance, followed by kirk lazarus in Tropic Thunder.

  18. Marksays:

    Downey was HILARIOUS in Back to School, with Rodney Dangerfield.

  19. AdonisBishopsays:

    His range is great and I understand Less Than Zero over Tropic Thunder but this list is about range and Tropic Thunder did show that as well.He is just a great actor and I’m glad he had turned his life around when he did.

  20. Tabinda Touseefsays:

    Other than these ‘The Singing Detective’ is one of my most favorite. And I loved him as a psychopathic killer in ‘In Dreams’ even though it might not be considered as a big role. And even it has been said like a gazillion time I would like to repeat: WHY IS ‘LESS THAN ZERO’ NOT THERE??

  21. A movie that without a doubt shows his fantastic range, though not super well-known, is Fur (the Diane Arbus story). He plays a man with hypertrichosis (werewolf syndrome), and so the only really recognizable part of him is his eyes. Very quiet and absolutely beautiful performance, my personal favorite.

  22. Prasanna Rajansays:

    ‘Richard III’ and ‘A guide to recognize your saints’

  23. Milton Mooreheadsays:

    His portrayal of David Seaton Barnes, producer of The Sun Also Sets, in the comedic classic Soapdish

  24. แครี ดันsays:

    Air America ! That is the first movie I recall seeing him in, and thought he was great ! Mel Gibson was the “star” of that movie, but it was Downey’s performance that made the movie memorable (for me at least).

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