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The Surprising Movie Robert Downey Jr. Calls His Best Film

Robert Downey Jr.'s career may have reached astronomical heights when he was cast as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in the very first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but before that, his presence in Hollywood wasn't so solid. He started out doing roles in '80s comedies like "Weird Science" and "Back to School," and then proved his dramatic acting chops "Less than Zero." In the '90s, Downey Jr.'s film credits were a bit hit or miss. Though he received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the biopic "Chaplin," movies like the sappy rom-com "Heart and Souls" and the underwhelming thriller "In Dreams" weren't a big help in moving his career forward.

That isn't to say that Downey Jr. didn't have a few successes in the '90s and early 2000s. His starring role in the 1995 historical drama "Restoration" was well received by critics (via Rotten Tomatoes), and the film itself earned two Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Art-Set Direction, per Oscars.org. Downey Jr. also had a recurring role in the hit David E. Kelley dramedy series "Ally McBeal," playing the title character's love interest in Season 5.

Downey Jr.'s many film and TV roles over the decades have, in one way or another, helped to shape his career. Yet, there's one film in the actor's repertoire that he credits as his best — and even claims helped land him the role of Iron Man.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is RDJ's 'calling card'

In January 2020, Robert Downey Jr. sat down as a guest on the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast. The pair talked a lot about Downey Jr.'s role in the MCU, as well as the process of how the movies are made. At one point in the conversation, Downey Jr. mentioned the 2005 action-packed dark comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which was produced by Downey Jr.'s friend Joel Silver. Surprisingly, he considers "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" the best movie he's been in, and credits it with being a driving force in helping him join the MCU.

"'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' which is, I think, in some ways the best film I've ever done," Downey Jr. told Rogan. "It wound up being a calling card. It came out, and it bombed, but Jon Favreau saw it, and he said, 'This guy could do an action movie.' And so that wound up being my calling card into the Marvel Universe." Jon Favreau, of course, directed "Iron Man" in 2008, and gave Downey Jr. his next big launch into stardom. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," written and directed by Shane Black as his directorial debut, made only $15.7 million worldwide at the box office, but was a big hit with critics and later with audiences after being distributed for home release. The film has a Certified Fresh score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 87%. 

Downey Jr. had such fond memories of the film that he tagged Black to direct and write the script for "Iron Man 3" after Favreau bowed out of the franchise (via the Hollywood Reporter). Although "Iron Man 3" is largely considered the weakest of the "Iron Man" films, it now makes sense why Downey Jr. put so much faith in Black. Whatever fans may think of Black's interpretation of Iron Man, fans have him to thank for RDJ's entrance into the MCU — at least, according to the man himself.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a risky, low-budget action comedy

At this point in Downey Jr.'s career, the actor was at one of his lowest points, having lost any credibility in the entertainment industry due to his public drug use scandal and multiple arrests in the early 90s, which led to Downey going to prison for a year. After he was released, most people in Hollywood wanted nothing to do with the actor, so it took a while before someone was willing to take a chance on Downey. 

Like Downey Jr., Black was also in a career slump before "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." The writer/director had previously found great success writing and producing movies like "Lethal Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," but after "The Long Kiss Goodnight" bombed at the box office in 1996, earning only a little over $33 million compared to a $65 million budget, he became similarly undesirable (Box Office Mojo). "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was his attempt to branch off from straight action movies and start over, and it worked. But because Black had trouble getting approval and funding, he was obviously willing to take a chance on an actor like Downey Jr., who was clearly very talented and would be an affordable pick (The Hollywood Reporter). 

Black took the risk and hired Downey Jr. to play one of the main characters named Harry, which ended up being the right choice. Like his previous film, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" didn't do very well at the box office either, but it was the critics response that made it worthwhile, and Downey Jr. was able to restart his career. The actor must have some sort of unique charm that endears him to others, as both "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Iron Man" were the result of someone risking their career to give Downey Jr. another chance. It's really no wonder that Downey Jr. is so thankful for Black and the 2005 action comedy film.