10 Great Robert Downey Jr. Movie Moments

Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm
By Shane Rivers

Iron Man 2 is right around the corner, so why not take a peek at 10 great Robert Downey Jr. movie moments? There’s plenty to choose from, too, as the versatile 45-year-old actor started his career at the age of five in films directed by his father. Even more amazing is how little his various stints in prison and drug rehab over the years have affected his output–since 1985, there have only been two years when movies featuring Downey didn’t appear in theaters. Drug-free since 2003, he’s taken his career to a whole new level in recent years, mainly thanks to his real-life resemblance to charming-yet-snarky playboy Tony Stark in the Iron Man franchise. With the sequel a no-brainer for blockbuster status, expect to hear the name Robert Downey Jr. for many years to come.

Instantly watch unlimited TV episodes & movies over the Internet right on your TV, computer and various mobile devices. Watch instantly on your TV via your Wii™ console, PS3™ system, Xbox 360, network connected Blu-ray players, HDTVs and more. Watch as much as you want, as often as you want for only $7.99 a month. Start your free trial today!

In addition to discussing each scene, I’ve also included links to YouTube so you can watch what I’m talking about. For maximum enjoyment, of course, I’d recommend that you join a service like Netflix and watch the films in their entirety.

Movie: Less Than Zero (1987)
Downey plays: Julian Wells
Great moment: Based on the drug-fueled novel by Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero gives Robert Downey Jr. plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his acting chops. Portraying a rich kid hopelessly hooked on drugs and forced into life as a male prostitute, Julian Wells reaches the end of his rope and seeks reconciliation with his father while the latter is practicing his backhand. Since Julian has already compromised the trust of his family, the elder Wells is skeptical at best. But Downey’s vulnerability shines through in the touching scene, and he wipes the tears away from his battered face. The two men hug and agree to give it a try…unfortunately it doesn’t last for long (it‘s an Easton Ellis story, after all).

Movie: Back to School (1986)
Downey plays: Derek Lutz
Great moment: Playing the best friend to Jason Melon (the son of Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Thornton Melon), Downey Jr. shows off the comedic skills honed during one season of Saturday Night Live. A dyed-in-the-wool prankster, Derek takes special delight in thumbing his nose at the more popular students and institutions of Grand Lakes University, and this culminates in a hilarious display at the climactic diving meet. Noting that such events rarely draw hecklers, Derek proceeds to whip out an air horn and wreck the dive of an athlete from a rival school (thus gaining the admiration of Melon’s chauffeur and bodyguard, Lou, in the process). But he’s not done, yet, as he uses the power of the sun–perfectly reflected from a hand mirror–to send another competitor flopping unceremoniously off the diving board.

Movie: Black and White (1999)
Downey plays: Terry Donager
Great moment: In a film about white high school kids interacting with the black hip hop crowd from Harlem, Downey shows up as the undoubtedly gay Terry Donager. While attending a gathering in a New York loft, he encounters Mike Tyson (playing himself), and decides to talk to the volatile boxer despite repeated warnings from the former champ. Things start off rocky enough, but they don’t get any better when Terry insists on telling Iron Mike about an erotic dream he recently had about the two of them. Tyson wastes no time in slapping and choking the stunned Terry, and the fighter’s priceless explanation about assaulting the “fag” involves his coming from a “different culture.” For his part, Downey takes his manhandling like a consummate professional, and it’s more than a little surreal to watch the two felonious performers share screen time together.

Movie: The Singing Detective (2003)
Downey plays: Dan Dark
Great moment: While in the hospital battling crippling arthritis and psoriasis, author Dan Dark goes in and out of reality like a fishing cork bobbing in the water. Even the well-meaning hospital staff aren’t immune to his hallucinations, as evidenced during his fourth session with shrink Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson with glasses and a fake bald spot). Prior to rising from his wheelchair, dancing with Gibbon, and singing “Three Steps to Heaven,” Dark painfully recounts his mother’s infidelity, trying unsuccessfully to connect with his father, and the eventual split of the family. Wracked with both mental and physical pain, he weeps openly, trying to wipe away the tears with hands still clenched shut from arthritis. Powerful stuff.

Movie: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Downey plays: Harry Lockhart
Great moment: I know I’ve already mentioned this one as part of the My Favorite Movie Scenes series, but I feel obliged to go over it again. Downey plays Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who gets whisked to L.A. for a possible lead role in a detective film. Paired up with “Gay” Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), a real-life detective who’s supposed to show him the ropes, Harry finds himself in the middle of a real whodunit. After capturing an uncooperative guard, Harry and Perry play “fag and New Yorker,” but this proves less than successful. That’s when Harry decides to up the odds, placing a live round in his pistol, spinning the chamber, then pointing it directly at the guard’s head. The gun goes off, the guard goes down, and Harry is left hilariously debating the mathematical chances of such an event.

Movie: Tropic Thunder (2008)
Downey plays: Kirk Lazarus
Great moment: Take a group of prima donna actors, drop them in the middle of the Vietnam jungle without a script, and watch the resulting fun. That’s the premise of Tropic Thunder, and there’s little doubt that Downey Jr. steals every scene he’s in as obsessive method actor Kirk Lazarus, the star of such films as Satan’s Alley (about two gay monks in an 18th-century Irish monastery) and Moonshot (where he played Neil Armstrong). In this film-within-a-film, he’s underwent a radical pigmentation process in order to play African-American soldier Lincoln Osiris. Never breaking character and constantly speaking in exaggerated black-speak, Lazarus described himself as “I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude.” But his greatest moment comes when Lazarus volunteers to fool a group of drug manufacturers by pretending to be a simple Asian farmer. Fortunately, he knows a smattering of Mandarin Chinese from starring in Land of Silk and Money with Gong Li (“Second Globe. Third Oscar.”). The results, however, are all over the place, as he confuses the camp guards with phrases such as “Chillness and calmness,” “But hold your cock,” and “Observe God’s mistake!” (upon revealing a tied Jack Black, who he claims to have captured). All the while, he keeps raising his head dramatically when he speaks, just like something out of a kung fu movie. Finally cornered about what kind of farmer he really is (he claims to be both a poppy and rice farmer), Lazarus unloads with a pair of machine guns filled with blanks, exclaiming, “I’m a lead farmer, mothafucka!” Now that’s some funny shit, right there.

Movie: Natural Born Killers (1994)
Downey plays: Wayne Gale
Great moment: The host of American Maniacs, Gale launches spree killers Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) to stardom, then, one year later on Super Bowl Sunday, he sits down for an interview with the amiable Mickey. But trouble is brewing in the prison, and soon a full-fledged riot engulfs the facility and leads to the death of Gale’s crew. Snapping under the pressure, he grabs a firearm and sides with the killers (even rolling on the ground a la Martin Riggs), crying “Let’s kill all these motherfuckers.” After making their escape, however, Gale learns that he’s to be the final victim of Mickey and Mallory. From that moment on, it’s classic Downey Jr. He begs, pleads, accuses, and even suggests they take a page from author Salmon Rushdie. In the end, though, Wayne accepts his fate, outstretches his arms, and emits a bizarre chant as the natural born killers take aim.

Movie: Chaplin (1992)
Downey plays: Charlie Chaplin
Great moment: After seeing Chaplin play a drunk character, producer Max Sennett (Dan Aykroyd) hires him to come to America. But as he arrives on the set and disturbs a scene already in progress, Sennett has serious doubts that the young man (minus his fake moustache) in front of him is really Charlie Chaplin. Challenged to prove himself, Chaplin launches into an impromptu drunk act, complete with pratfalls and a nifty bit involving a cigarette. In the process, Downey demonstrates his own skills at physical comedy, and his Oscar nomination for the role was well deserved.

Movie: Only You (1994)
Downey plays: Peter Wright
Great moment: Downey shows his passionate side in this romantic comedy about a young woman, Faith Corvatch (Marisa Tomei), who believes that the love her life is a man she’s never met named Damon Bradley. After encountering her in Italy and getting the brush-off, Peter fibs and tells her that he’s Damon Bradley. Cue the romantic music, as the couple demonstrate the fine art of making out to audiences around the world. When Faith confesses that she’s engaged, Peter fakes astonishment, but he’s soon ready to go back to the kissing (especially when he learns that he’s supposed to be the former classmate of her fiancee). But honesty eventually gets the better of him, and he admits that he simply claimed to be Damon Bradley in order to get to know her. Predictably, Faith doesn’t take that too well. This fast-paced scene allows Downey Jr. to demonstrate a number of thespian abilities, including romance, comedy, and even a dash of drama thrown in for good measure.

Movie: The Pick-Up Artist (1987)
Downey plays: Jack Jericho
Great moment: A confirmed bachelor and unrepentant womanizer, Jack Jericho tries every trick in the book to win the affections of the independent-minded Randy Jensen (Molly Ringwald). But Jack’s quick wits really come in handy when the pair walk down an alley and are confronted with an armed robber who speaks a few lines of the classic song “Blue Suede Shoes.” Jack wastes no time in joining in, and his decent rendition allows he and Randy to skirt around the perplexed-looking thief.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of 10 great Robert Downey Jr. movie moments, and be sure to check back in the future for more feature articles from Only Good Movies. In the meantime, here are a few more submissions that you might be interested in: