Tag Archives: The Avengers

[Stop Button Lists] Robert Downey Jr., Nine Movies of the Megastar

Robert Downey Jr., filmography, 2008-13

I have been a Robert Downey Jr. fan since Soapdish. Looking to escape sounds of the Bulls playing the Los Angeles Lakers, my dad and I went to see Soapdish in the theater. I’d seen Downey in Weird Science and maybe Johnny Be Good, had wanted to go see Air America (but didn’t–and still haven’t seen it) and definitely knew him from the Pick-Up Artist. I watched a lot of 20th Century Fox movies and CBS/FOX Video loved playing the Pick-Up Artist preview on tapes.

After Chaplin, I waited for Downey’s movies. Heart and Souls, Short Cuts; I even saw Only You, something I’ve never forgiven myself for doing. After Only You, I fell off until One Night Stand. I’ve seen some of the interim movies since, including Home for the Holidays and Restoration. I saw Gingerbread Man, was mad at Downey’s terrible performance in U.S. Marshals, liked him in In Dreams and Wonder Boys. Then fell off until Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, even though I’ve meant to see Singing Detective.

So I’ve been a conscious Robert Downey Jr. fan since I was twelve years old. And I was thrilled when he signed on to do Iron Man. He’d just been awesome in Zodiac. It’s a shame he hasn’t stopped playing the Iron Man part, which actually seems based on his characterization of “The Pick-Up Artist” Jack Jerricho.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. star in IRON MAN, directed by Jon Favreau for Paramount Pictures.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you have the face of a Botticelli and the body of a Dégas?” Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. star in IRON MAN, directed by Jon Favreau for Paramount Pictures.

For his part, Downey has suggested he doesn’t want to do a film unless he gets paid a lot of money. He also doesn’t like poor people. He’s also still a great actor, even if people are starting to find Tony Stark a little much.

Beginning in 2008, with Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, Downey has entered the least artistically successful phase of his career. Maybe ever. I haven’t seen his eighties stuff in fifteen years plus. The two films are the division point. Iron Man or Tropic Thunder. The former plays on Downey’s ability to be likable regardless of the situation (I won’t get into the drugs but until this point in his career, they were extremely important to his career) and the latter showcases his ability to turn in a fantastic, impossible performance.

Iron Man made more than three times as much money as Tropic Thunder.

Now a potential box office draw as the dramatic equivalent of Johnny Depp (throw “serious” actor Downey in a franchise, it crosses over between kids and more discerning ticket buyers), Downey tested his popularity. Sherlock Holmes was a new franchise where Jude Law had been in bigger movies than the top-billed Downey. The Soloist was Downey trying for an Oscar in a drama. Holmes did well, Soloist did not.

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis star in DUE DATE, directed by Todd Phillips for Warner Bros.
You can tell by the suit. Robert Downey Jr. plays straight man to Zach Galifianakis in DUE DATE, directed by Todd Phillips for Warner Bros.

So Downey stopped trying Hollywood dramas. He went with a comedy (Due Date), it flopped, he corrected the course of his career. Did he hire Tom Cruise’s original manager or something?

Thanks to Downey, Disney has made a lot of money with the Marvel movies. Marvel has made a bunch of money. Warner Bros. could be happier, but Downey’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world; Sherlock Holmes 3 is inevitable.

What’s frustrating is his acting ability. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Sure, the Marvel movies don’t ask him to stretch, but he sold the silliness of the element discovery in Iron Man 2 and he and Gwyneth Paltrow’s chemistry in that series gives it a solid foundation the filmmakers seem entirely unconcerned with. It isn’t necessary for the box office, but Downey can’t help being really good.

Even in The Avengers, Downey was the one who sold the reality of the film (not just its contents, but its very existence) to the audience.

A scene from THE AVENGERS, directed by Joss Whedon for Walt Disney Pictures.
Tin can or not, Robert Downey Jr. cashed a check bigger than the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes combined in THE AVENGERS, directed by Joss Whedon for Walt Disney Pictures.

When I first thought of this topic–Downey’s “road to super-star” films, I did the math to make sure I wouldn’t have to talk about The Judge. I also asked some friends what they thought about doing a post on this topic. I felt like I should make a list of Downey’s best films, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of the nineties films. Though you should see every film listed in the first two paragraphs as soon as possible.

For lack of a better term, Downey’s the one who creates Marvel’s reality distortion field. His presence makes it seem like it should be not just good, but worthwhile.

Look at Iron Man, Downey’s got issues with father figure Jeff Bridges failing him. Or Iron Man 2, Downey’s got issues with his father’s nemesis, played by Mickey Rourke (can you imagine the eighties Hollywood stories they could’ve shared?), while one of his same-aged peers is after him. Plus, it’s Sam Rockwell as that guy. Oh, and he’s got a brewing romance with his assistant, who sort of runs his life and company. The Iron Man movies always have a strong enough dramatic cast to make a synopsis–an artfully written one–sound like a great mainstream drama. They just happen to be superhero movies. And those dramatic plots usually fail miserably amid comic book nonsense. But the movies are still good.

Robert Downey Jr. stars in IRON MAN 3, directed by Shane Black for Walt Disney Pictures.
“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” Wait, wrong movie. Robert Downey Jr. sits with his box office golden boy in IRON MAN 3, directed by Shane Black for Walt Disney Pictures.

Why? Because Downey.

The Sherlock Holmes movies are a little different, of course, because Downey’s not playing the same kind of jerk. He’s playing a more lovable jerk; maybe the third one is still potential just because Downey’s rocking the jerk persona in public now too.

No matter how many movies Downey makes for Marvel, no matter how much money he makes for them, he’s never going to be as good as he was in Chaplin in any of them. He’s not even going to be as good as he was in Heart and Souls. Hopefully he’ll always be better than he was in U.S. Marshals, because I’m probably going to see all of those movies eventually.

Because I really do want to see a rematch between Julian and Rip; I just know, with Downey’s range these days, it’s not worth the price of a movie ticket.


[Stop Button Lists] The Ten Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever

The Ten Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever (or since 1999)

source: WhatCulture

  1. The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)
  2. Cloverfield (2008, Matt Reeves)
  3. The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)
  4. Tron: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski)
  5. Avatar (2009, James Cameron)
  6. The Matrix (1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)
  7. Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli)
  8. 28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)
  9. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)
  10. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez)

Stop Button Lists is a new feature. When I thought of it, I wanted something flexible. Possibly scalable, definitely flexible. The first week’s post discussed a top ten list from thirty-five years ago, last week’s post looked at home video releases; those same films will be discussed in a different context in a coming post–see what I mean by flexible?

The idea is to look at different containers and how their contents relate to both the container and the other entries. The first week’s list was created by a single person, the second week’s list came from LaserDisc release dates. Containers can made in many different ways.

So for this post, I thought about doing an entirely different kind of container. I wanted to look at the most successful movie marketing campaigns and talk about those films. However, with the exception of an “AdWeek” article I couldn’t motivate myself to read, most such lists appear not on film or business sites, but on desperate-for-profit clickbait nonsense sites.

Cillian Murphy stars in 28 DAYS LATER, directed by Danny Boyle for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Cillian Murphy stars in 28 DAYS LATER, the eighth best marketed film of all time, directed by Danny Boyle for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

On WhatCulture, which pays its authors based on pageviews (but nothing upfront), I found two lists with the same title. “10 Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever.” Two different authors, two months apart. I went with the list where I’d seen seventy percent of the films. And I wrote a post about the list.

Try as I might not to attack the bad choices, there was nowhere else to go with it. The list’s creator wasn’t interested in a conversation about the effectiveness of movie marketing, he wanted to get paid. He didn’t see a penny until he got a thousand hits or whatever.

I’m not a stranger to figuring out what will, based on available data, get the best Google results. I do it a little bit with the tags on the site now, trying to conform to existing Google keywords. So I’m not above being mercenary, I just try not to be intrusive with it.

And this list is intrusive. It plays its reader, who’s not just getting played for reading the article, but giving the hits–clicking between each photo to get to the next part of the post. Just reading it requires, through UI, a lot of commitment.

So the list has to be worth it. Either to enrage or to validate.

Once I got through a draft of the post, I couldn’t forgive the lack of research on the list. Analysis would actually be interesting, looking at a bunch of different factors. But WhatCulture isn’t about providing brief scholarly posts, it’s about getting hits.

A scene from THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan for Warner Bros.
A scene from THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan for Warner Bros. Its marketing campaign encouraged people to dress as The Joker and emulate the character’s psychotic behavior.

And putting The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Avatar on a list are going to get some hits. I’m still surprised how much of a readership boost I got around the time of my Avengers post on all the related films. It has enthusiastic fans who read about it.

That anecdote aside, The Avengers gets an average of approximately half a million searches a month. It’s a good search term for the list getting seen. And Dark Knight and Avengers are probably mutually exclusive, so you’d get both. Ditto Avatar. The list has its franchises, but it has different ones, ones with divisive fan bases. Except maybe Avatar, does it have divisive fan base factions?

The list is cautious, calculated. Does anyone really remember if A.I. had a good marketing campaign? The argument for The Matrix having one is a little strange; I remember when it was the zeitgeist and it seemed like it was ironic theater-going turned into a sincere regard for the film, not because of marketing. Of course, I only was excited to see it because it was from the makers of Bound.

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in TRON: LEGACY, directed by Joseph Kosinski for Walt Disney Pictures.
Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in TRON: LEGACY, directed by Joseph Kosinski for Walt Disney Pictures. The film was marketed to tech savvy fans of the original film, which unfortunately excluded Homer Simpson, the only person to champion the original.

Tron: Legacy? It had a bunch of cool marketing things, but the movie didn’t hit the way it was supposed to hit. It was quickly forgotten; Disney even cancelled plans for Tron 3. Why’s it on the list? To get hits, because lots of people though the movie looked or sounded cool.

The silliest entries on the list are Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. It’s all the same thing–viral marketing where participating in that marketing is part of the film’s “experience.” Of the three films, Paranormal Activity–which I’ve never heard anyone talk about–is the most successful in the long run. Blair Witch immediately fizzled as did Cloverfield, but nowhere near as spectacularly.

I pruned the list in my first draft–a la George Carlin and the Ten Commandments–and even planned on doing something similar here. I wanted to look at why the movies got cut. But, really, there isn’t a point to it. It’s a pointless list. The goal of this post is, well, put simply, to make points out of pointlessness.

Hopefully, I succeeded. Otherwise, thanks for sticking it out.

The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)

For some inexplicable reason, partway through The Avengers, director Whedon and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, decide to switch over to really bad DV. The entire movie might be DV, but the middle section is painfully obvious. With Tom Hiddleston’s British machinations, it feels like the biggest, strangest (and possibly worst) “Masterpiece Theatre” ever.

While Whedon’s responsible for a lot of the film’s problems–the lousy first act, the utter absence of character development, some of the least ambitious direction in motion picture history–some of the problems came with the project. Sam Jackson isn’t just ludicrous, he’s bad. Scarlett Johansson as a Russian? And a super spy? It’s absurd.

But Whedon doesn’t give his better actors much to do either. Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. meander for the first half, though Evans is a little better (Downey recovers in the second half). Mark Ruffalo does better. Chris Hemsworth barely makes an impression; his appearance feels contractually obligated more than anyone else’s.

The movie does come together eventually though and Whedon does come up with some really funny scenes. He starts the movie incompetently small and then brings in the spectacle. The spectacle works, regardless of his direction, it’s just too bad The Avengers isn’t a cohesive work.

Hiddleston’s pretty good as the only non-CG villain and Clark Gregg does great supporting work. Jeremy Renner’s minuscule presence is inconsequential; Cobie Smulders is terrible.

Alan Silvestri’s score is dreadful.

But, as I said, The Avengers spectacle does entertain. Eventually.



Directed by Joss Whedon; screenplay by Whedon, based on a story by Zak Penn and Whedon and comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, James Chinlund; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Studios.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / The Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Stellan Skarsgård (Selvig), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts).