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Casting Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man Was Marvel’s Biggest Risk

Casting Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man was a huge risk for Marvel Studios. (Photo: Marvel Studios)


Casting Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man Was Marvel’s Biggest Risk


Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, has disclosed the biggest risk he made when creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was casting Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark or Iron Man. Despite popular perception that MCU films follow a set format, the writers and filmmakers have taken many creative risks over the franchise’s 13-year span.

Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man turns out to be a gamble. While it may sound weird to say now, Feige recently told CinemaBlend while the casting choice was a significant risk, it eventually paid off with the MCU’s popularity, which continues to this day.

Given the mixed status of comic book movies before to 2008, Feige addressed the difficulties of creating the original Iron Man. “I was lucky enough to be involved in early Spider-Man films and X-Men films. But we wanted to do an Iron Man movie. And I do think, still, the biggest risk – which seems outrageous to say now – was casting Robert Downey Jr,” he explained. “It was both the biggest risk and the most important thing in the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without Robert, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. I really believe that.”

Marvel came up with the concept of financing their own films in the mid-2000s so that they could have complete creative control over their productions. They were still cooperating on properties with other companies like Fox and Sony at the time.

When director Jon Favreau campaigned for Robert Downey Jr to be hired as Iron Man in the MCU’s first film, he was notoriously coming off a career slowdown plagued by personal problems. He went on to become one of the highest-paid performers in the world, and he is now semi-retired.

It’s easy to forget now that Downey Jr is one of the world’s most famous performers that he wasn’t well-known at the time. Not due to a lack of ability, but rather due to a history of drug and alcohol abuse.


It seems a little crazy to think that Downey’s casting would be so risky. His depiction of Tony Stark was well-received by both viewers and critics, and it helped drive the MCU forward, with Stark becoming a central figure in the franchise to the point that his death in Avengers: Endgame signaled the end of an era. There’s no way to imagine anybody else playing Tony Stark at this point, with Captain America actor Chris Evans stating earlier this year that he doesn’t believe “anything anyone on this planet could do that would somehow improve upon what Downey’s done.” Even if Downey was great casting, a character like Iron Man wasn’t necessarily something he’d done previously at that point in his career.

Despite the support of director Jon Favreau, Feige observed that the picture was a major departure from Downey’s prior Hollywood performances. “Everybody knew he was amazing actor. But he hadn’t been an action star,” Feige said. “He wasn’t a marquee star, necessarily. And we quickly realized the risk, I’ve said this before, was not casting him. And Jon Favreau really had that vision for that movie and for Robert in that role. That decision, and the success of that decision, I think empowered us with further risks and further choices.”

When it was announced that Iron Man would be their first hero, many doubted their ability to carry out their plans; for starters, the character was regarded as a B-lister in the comics, with little awareness outside of print readers. However, Marvel Studios raised the stakes by appointing Favreau as director and Downey as star, despite the fact that he was mainly recognized as an independent director at the time.

According to CinemaBlend, Jon Favreau, the director of the first two Iron Man films, previously stated, “It was my job as a director to show that it was the best choice creatively… and now the Marvel Universe is the biggest franchise in film history. Everybody knew he was talented. Certainly by studying the Iron Man role and developing that script I realised that the character seemed to line up with Robert in all the good and bad ways. And the story of Iron Man was really the story of Robert’s career.”

In a Rolling Stone interview, Jon stated that Marvel flatly declined to employ Robert Downey Jr. “Under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price,” Marvel said. He even contacted Robert Downey Jr. and told him it was improbable. “I fought, I tried, I did what I could, it’s a pity and a shame, but unfortunately it’s going to stop here,” Favreau told the actor. Downey, however, had persisted, “With your permission, I’m going to hold out hope.”

Marvel Studios is now pushing forward and taking on new challenges. Not only has the MCU brand ventured out into television in a new way with its Disney+ services, but the impending Eternals is another large, but necessary risk for the studio, according to Feige.

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