The summer movie season officially kicks off this Siete de Mayo with Iron Man 2, which is selling out screenings and poised to break box-office records. Much of this is due to charismatic leading man Robert Downey Jr., who reprises his role of playboy industrialist Tony Stark in the sequel (he also appeared as Tony Stark in a post-credits scene at the end of The Incredible Hulk). Downey’s career and personal life has had its highs and lows since the early ‘80s, but he’s clearly on an upswing. Before you wait in line for Iron Man 2, here are seven fine Robert Downey Jr. flicks worth renting.
1. Sherlock Holmes: Downey, under Guy Ritchie’s direction, reinvented the iconic detective as an action hero who uses his brawn as much as his brains to solve crimes. Audiences ate it up to the tune of $209 million domestically, and a sequel is in development.
2. Tropic Thunder: Downey ruffled some feathers in Ben Stiller’s tropical comedy as Kirk Lazarus, a respected actor who tries to stay in character as a jive-talking black man during the shooting of a war movie. PC people might have panicked, but his hilarious performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
3. Iron Man: Critics were skeptical as to whether or not moviegoers would show up to see Downey fly around as a cocky superhero in a red-and-gold metal suit, but Iron Man became one of the highest-grossing ($318 million) and best-reviewed comic book adaptations of all time.
4. Zodiac: In David Fincher’s chilling interpretation of the San Francisco Bay Area Zodiac killings in the 1970s, Downey plays San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery. Avery tries to crack the case with the help of the paper’s cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) until booze does Avery in.
5. Wonder Boys: Downey plays literary agent Terry Crabtree in this Pittsburgh-based adaptation of Michael Chabon’s wonderful book about popular author Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) suffering from seven years of writer’s block. One of Tripp’s star students (Tobey Maguire) arouses homo-erotic urges in Crabtree, so rent this one if you want to see Iron Man and Spider-man in bed together.
6. Natural Born Killers: Downey plays an unscrupulous tabloid TV reporter who will stop at nothing to get the scoop on thrill killers Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) in Oliver Stone’s demented crime drama. In the end he gets his just dessert, like we hope several gossip-site bloggers we can think of do as well.
7. Less Than Zero: No one is very likable in Bret Easton Ellis’s misanthropic novels, but Downey somehow made you feel sorry for his spoiled, self-destructive character who will sink to any depths to score more cocaine in this movie adaptation. This 1987 role is the one that really made Downey’s career skyrocket like, well, Iron Man.