RDJ’s Rotten Tomatoes Triumph: Is This the Rebirth After the $251M Box Office Debacle?

Robert Downey Jr. stars in a 2024 show that is receiving rave reviews, proving how tragic it was that one of his past films bombed at the box office.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man.

Robert Downey Jr.’s 2024 project is The Sympathizer, a critically acclaimed show that further proves only one blip exists in the actor’s record in recent years. The HBO historical black comedy-drama series, created by Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar, is based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 novel. The Sympathizer is semi-based on a true story, as it begins with the fall of Saigon and the show’s main character, the Captain, fleeing to the United States and serving as a spy for the Viet Cong. While the protagonist is inspired by a real spy (Pham Xuan An), the Captain is completely fictional.

Aside from Downey Jr., the cast of The Sympathizer includes Hoa Xuande as the Captain, Fred Nguyen Khan as Bon, Toan Le as the General, and Sandra Oh as Ms. Sofia Mori. Together, they give performances that are undoubtedly a highlight of the HBO series and contribute to The Sympathizer‘s raving reviews. Additionally, critics have praised the historical black comedy drama for its complex storytelling, skillful adaptation of Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, direction, and more. But while the 2024 show is being celebrated, one of Downey Jr.’s recent projects was not as well received.

The Sympathizer Means Dolittle Is Robert Downey Jr’s Only Post-MCU Misstep

Dolittle Grossed $251 Million At The Box Office

An image of Robert Downey Jr. speaking into a microphone in The Sympathizer

Since Robert Downey Jr. stepped away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his final outing as Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the actor has only appeared in critically acclaimed projects, with Dolittle being the only exception. The Sympathizer‘s positive reviews and excellent Rotten Tomatoes score reaffirms how successful Downey Jr. has been in the years after his MCU days, and makes his 2020 box office bomb even more tragic. Dolittle is the actor’s only mistake in recent years, but as a result, it stands out on Downey Jr.’s record (without taking away from his achievements, of course).

Dolittle, which starred Downey Jr. as the titular character, premiered on January 17, 2020 (a couple of months before movie theaters shut down due to COVID-19). Despite Dolittle‘s all-star cast, which also included Emma Thompson as Poly, Rami Malek as Chee-Chee, John Cena as Yoshi, Kumail Nanjiani as Plimpton, Octavia Spencer as Dab-Dab, Tom Holland as Jip, Selena Gomez as Betsy, and more, the fantasy adventure film performed terribly at the box office and received negative reviews. Meanwhile, Downey Jr.’s other post-MCU projects (Perry MasonSweet Tooth“Sr.”Oppenheimer, and The Sympathizer) thrived.

What Went Wrong With Dolittle – Negative Reviews & Poor Box Office Explained

Dolittle Has A 15% Tomatometer Score On Rotten Tomatoes

Dolittle Poster Image with Robert Downey Jr Cropped

Dolittle holds a 15 percent Tomatometer score and 76 percent Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is quite a disparity, but the movie is still considered an all-around failure. While audiences’ opinions varied on the film’s quality and entertainment value, critics seemingly agreed that the movie’s humor was supremely lacking and its story was a mess, which is why Dolittle‘s reviews are so negative. Consequently, the 2020 fantasy adventure is one of Robert Downey Jr.’s lowest-rated projects on Rotten Tomatoes ever.

Note: Robert Downey Jr. won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer at the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

In addition to the unfavorable reviews, Dolittle was also a box office bomb. It grossed a little over $251 million against a budget of $175 million, resulting in a reported loss of around $50 million to $100 million for Universal Pictures. Dolittle‘s commercial failure can be attributed to a handful of reasons — the film received terrible reviews; it was released in a historically awful month for movie premieres; and Universal Pictures overspent on the film. However, thankfully for Downey Jr., his projects following Dolittle were exceedingly better and earned him universal acclaim.

Why The Sympathizer’s Reviews Are So Good

The Sympathizer Holds An 89% Tomatometer Score On Rotten Tomatoes

Robert Downey Jr, Scott Ly, Hoa Xuande, Fred Nguyen Khan and Sandra Oh in The Sympathizer

While Dolittle is likely a post-MCU project that Robert Downey Jr. would like to forget about, the actor’s portrayal of four different characters in The Sympathizer seems quite memorable. Downey Jr. stars as Claude, Niko, Professor Hammer, and Ned Godwin in the HBO historical black comedy-drama series, and critics have been praising the actor’s performance (among the rest of the dynamic cast). As of the writing of this article, the show holds an 89% Tomatometer rating, and Screen Rant‘s review of The Sympathizer states:

The Sympathizer is a gripping spy thriller that masterfully blends drama, humor, and absurdity … Robert Downey Jr.’s multifaceted performance creates a commentary on America’s biggest institutions.”

Tip: New episodes of The Sympathizer air on Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO.

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