Of all the superhero movies to hit theaters the past decade, no actor is as synonymous with their character as Robert Downey Jr. is with Tony Stark, but that pairing may soon come to an end. Downey has played Stark in a number of successful movies, including the first three Iron Man films and the first two Avengers movies. He also appears in Captain America: Winter Soldier, which is expected to be the biggest movie of the summer. Downey will then appear in the next two Avengers movies slated to come out in 2018 and 2019.
Those will likely be the end of the road for Downey for a couple of reasons. As The Master Herald notes, Downey has hinted he’s a little tired of playing the character. By the end of the Avengers movies, Downey will have played Stark in at least eight separate films. That’s a lot.
Of the three-standalone movies, all have been well received, especially the first as it boasts a 94 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even Iron Man 2, which would be the lowest rated with a 72 percent on RT, is well loved. That’s apparent in looking through the titles on online gaming site Galabingo, which features three different games based squarely on Iron Man 2. The other films in the series get some love, too, but three? It really goes to to show that even when Iron Man is at his worst (we use that term lightly here), he is still well received.
In announcing the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company left three release dates open in 2020 for undisclosed movies. There is speculation that one of those could be for Iron Man 4, but that has yet to be confirmed. Downey will return for that, surely, if the payday is big enough, but he’s also getting up there in age. He was 43 when Iron Man debuted in 2008, meaning he’ll be 55 in mid-2020. He’s getting to the point where he either looks believable as a superhero or maybe lacks the physicality as an actor to handle the part.
When you factor all of these things together, it adds up to a fourth Iron Man installment being unlikely. There is some talk that after the last Avengers movie, Iron Man could be recast with a different actor. That seems like a tough sell, though. It’s hard to imagine an actor bringing more charisma, humor, and general awesomeness to the part than Downey who saw the franchise revitalize his career. The only option would be to take the series in another direction. One option would be a Christopher Nolan-type gritty reboot, adding some darkness to the Iron Man franchise. Just picking a new actor, especially someone who is known, would be difficult. The only alternative might be picking an unknown and hoping fans accept them, but that also seems tough. It seems there are no easy answers here.
And perhaps that’s what is Downey is getting at. By hinting he is tired of playing the character, he just may be building leverage for another multi-movie contract. That makes sense for him, and honestly, makes the most sense for the series. Downey has done such a good job at being Tony Stark, it’s nearly impossible to think of anyone else playing the part, let alone bringing the same personality and charm.