The 2000s

As the new Millennium was offering new opportunity to Rourke, Downey also caught a break: a judge determined that the total stint of prison time the actor had served since his 1996 arrest qualified him for early release, and he was set free on $5,000 bail. A week later he joined the cast of Ally McBeal, playing the love interest of the titular character, a role which brought back the acclaim and awards (an Emmy nom and Golden Globe win) to a career which had long been overshadowed by scandal. The upswing was short-lived, however: Downey was again arrested for substance abuse in 2001, which caused him to be dismissed from Ally McBeal and marked him as a liability with many producers and studios in Tinsel Town.

It was in the new Millennium that Rourke truly stole the screen again, with parts in Steve Buscemi’s prison drama Animal Factory (2000), Stallone’s Get Carter remake (2000) and most notably with a brief appearance as “The Cook” in the 2002 meth-head indie film Spun, which went on to become a cult-hit. That string of minor but important roles in the early 2000s led to a new age of filmmakers re-discovering Mickey Rourke. Soon Rourke was getting bigger parts in bigger pictures, like Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time in Mexico (2003) and Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (2004). The Rourke/Rodriguez bond was particularly strong, and the acclaimed director cast Rourke as the iconic anti-hero Marv in the big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s cult-classic comic book, Sin City.

Rourke as Marv in Sin City

Rourke’s universally-lauded performance as Marv signaled to the world that the down-and-out ’80s icon had clawed his way back. The parts kept on coming thereafter, culminating with Rourke’s Oscar-nominated role as a battered (but not broken) sports entertainer in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008). That close-to-home performance firmly cemented Rourke’s comeback and opened up the lane of blockbuster films to him, most recently as villain Ivan Vanko in the mega-blockbuster sequel, Iron Man 2.

By the mid-2000s, Downey was finally ready to get his life in order. With support from family and friends the actor got serious about rehab – though his return to film was a bit more difficult since so many execs in the industry now considered him a liability. Help came from an ironic source: In 2003, Mel Gibson paid Downey’s insurance bond for The Signing Detective, and after Downey successfully wrapped that film without incident, producer Joel Silver cast him in the Halle Berry thriller Gothika that same year. Soon after Gothika Downey was cast in several independent films, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007).

Downey in Tropic Thunder

As Mickey Rourke was wowing critics in 2008 with The Wrestler, Downey was smashing the box office wide open as the titular hero in Marvel Studio’s big-screen adaptation of Iron Man. That same year Downey was nominated for another Academy Award, this time for the comedy spoof Tropic Thunder. Both Downey and Rourke were major presences at the 2008 Oscars – and although neither man walked away with the trophy they were both considered winners: Hollywood officially had two of its best and brightest back at the top.


By now you should already realize just what an iconic moment it was in Iron Man 2 when Tony Stark (Downey) and the villainous Ivan Vanko (Rourke) battled it out on a Monaco Formula 1 speedway. Even more electric than that CGI-heavy fight sequence was the following scene, where Stark meets Vanko face-to-face in a prison cell.

The scene is brief, but in it we see two of acting’s most gifted, troubled, disgraced and redeemed performers trading dramatic sparks. An interesting note: Downey reportedly “begged” Rourke to join Iron Man 2 – he wanted an actor of serious talent to face off against in the super-powered sequel, and Rourke was supposedly the one name he had in mind. Talk about kindred spirits.

We are fortunate that both of these fantastic actors managed to survive their personal tribulations and demons in order to continue entertaining us with their incredible talents. Despite the problems I had with Iron Man 2, the fact that these two lions shared the screen is reason enough for me to cherish the movie. Truly an iconic moment in cinema.

I’ll leave things there. Below are two clips of Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke onscreen together in Iron Man 2. Enjoy the clips and tell us what you think about this iconic moment in cinema in our comment section.

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