Robert Downey Jr. returns as cinema's favorite sleuth in director Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which opens in theaters everywhere today. This time Sherlock Holmes convinces a just-married Dr. Watson (Jude Law) to accompany him on one last adventure: the investigation of a series of crimes all connected to criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace appears as a fortune-telling gypsy, but the movie's scene stealer is still its leading man, Downey Jr.
Both Downey Jr.'s screen life and personal life have had extraordinary highs and desperate lows, but the talented actor has been enjoying a winning streak for several years now. Like any young actor that started performing in the 1980s, Downey Jr. first made an impression in a John Hughes film: Weird Science. He then starred opposite Hughes-muse Molly Ringwald in the romantic comedy The Pick-up Artist before his dark turn as Julian Wells in Less Than Zero, which is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. Julian was a hard-partying rich boy with a self-destructive streak—a character that mirrored Downey Jr.'s own substance-abuse issues at the time. Downey Jr. finished off the '80s, if you can believe it, playing a supporting role to Anthony Michael Hall in Johnny Be Good and more dramatic turns in 1969 with Kiefer Sutherland and Winona Ryder as well as in the courtroom drama True Believer opposite James Woods.
In the 1990s when many of his fellow Brat Packers were struggling for relevance, Downey Jr. scored an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Chaplin, in which he wowed audiences and critics with his portrayal of comedian Charlie Chaplin. Two years later, in 1994, he played Australian journalist Wayne Gale and tails a thrill-killing couple in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. From 1996 to 2001, however, Downey Jr. was in and out of jail and rehab for a variety of drug-related charges, and his movies from that period—Danger Zone, One Night Stand, Two Girls and a Guy, In Dreams and others—were either unmemorable or featured Downey Jr. in a supporting role. His choicest role from those dark years is in Wonder Boys as Michael Douglas's flamboyant editor who shares a tryst with a young college student played by Tobey Maguire. Yes, folks, the future Iron Man and Spider-man in bed together for you to check out on DVD.
After slumming it in the craptastic Halle Berry horror show Gothika in 2003, Downey Jr. began to clean up his act and get his groove back. He got nominated for awards for his turn as a petty criminal in the noirish Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005 and for his appearance as reporter Joe Wershba in George Clooney's broadcast journalism opus Good Night, and Good Luck. Downey Jr. played a reporter again in David Fincher's chilling 2007 thriller Zodiac about the real-life serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the '60s and '70s.
Everything then changed for Downey Jr. as he headed up two blockbuster franchises: Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. Both his role as playboy billionaire Tony Stark and a beefed-up version of the beloved detective, respectively, were big-budget gambles that paid off wonderfully. Downey Jr. reprised his Tony Stark role in Iron Man 2 and will do it again in the upcoming The Avengers, and his latest turn as Sherlock Holmes on the big screen should add another blockbuster to his résumé. In between the mega-hit sandwich of Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, Downey Jr. earned another Oscar nomination for his hilarious turn as pretentious method actor Kirk Lazarus in the ensemble comedy Tropic Thunder, a reminder that, despite his troubled past, the actor is surely having the last laugh.