Robert Downey Jr. Hints At Leaving Iron Man Franchise – Who Could Replace Him?

By April 16, 2013

Now that The Avengers has become the third highest-grossing film of all time and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is starting its Phase Two with Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers 2, it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, the concept of bringing the first Iron Man to life was a risky proposition. The film languished in development starting in 1990 with guys like Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage up for the title role before Marvel Studios finally found the perfect match with Robert Downey, Jr., and the first brick in the path toward The Avengers was laid.

Downey has played Tony Stark four times now (five, if you count a post-credits tag in The Incredible Hulk) and he’ll certainly appear in The Avengers 2 when that’s released in 2015. But he’s 47 years old, and he can’t play this part forever. He basically said as much in an interview with GQ when he discussed an ankle injury he sustained while filming Iron Man 3:

“It got me thinking about how big the message from your cosmic sponsor needs to be before you pick it up. How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun? Because, as quiet as it’s kept, I come from a family of very innovative writers and directors and actors and artists, and the circle of friends they were in were the people I heard having pun-offs playing poker at two in the morning, and it was just the most comforting aspect of my childhood. So there’s this kind of legacy of souls from what I consider to be a very particular time in entertainment, and I’m sensing a return to that—it’s what me and the missus are doing next…I don’t know. Right now I don’t have a contract to do anything, and I did for the last five years…Here’s the thing. At whatever point I’m done with this, I’m going to have a bit of a crisis, because I probably haven’t even fully ingested how much I’ve enjoyed it, how much it’s meant. It so came out of kind of relative obscurity as this second-tier character from the Marvel universe, and I feel I was part of making it something more.”

While none of that quote explicitly says, “I’m done playing this character,” it sounds very much like he’s ready to move on to other creative endeavors. It’s tough to blame him. The guy made $50 million from The Avengers alone (which is totally ridiculous and insane, by the way), but I can see why doing the same thing for 10 years in a row would get a little monotonous for an artist.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige knows that the end is coming at some point, and when Badass Digest asked him last year about how they’d handle it when Downey eventually decided to stop playing the part, Feige said that James Bond was a good cinematic equivalent. They’d recast instead of rebooting, and move forward from there. So with that in mind (and also the fact that Downey hasn’t officially left the role yet), let’s have a little fun and think about who might be able to fill out that armor when RDJ finally does step away for good.

Joel Kinnaman

Remember: when the first Iron Man film was released, Robert Downey Jr. was far from a household name. Kinnaman – who audiences might recognize from his starring role on AMC’s “The Killing” – is still an up-and-coming actor, but he’s about to get a boost in popularity playing another sort of metallic hero when he takes the lead role in the remake of Robocop that’s set to hit theaters in early 2014. He was terrific in a Swedish action film called Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money) playing a low class thug attempting to be a gangster, and he has the right combination of attitude, slickness, and good looks necessary to pull off a turn as Tony Stark.

Idris Elba

Yes, yes, I know  – this is a controversial choice. But have you seen this dude act? (If you haven’t, check out “The Wire” immediately.) He’d have no problem filling out Tony’s stylish business suits or kicking ass with repulsor beams, and he has the same sense of class that Stark loves to emanate (at least, when the character isn’t being a total dick, which Elba can do with ease). Elba is already technically part of the Marvel Universe (he plays Heimdall in the Thor films), but hey – if Chris Evans can be The Human Torch and Captain America, why can’t Idris Elba play both of these heroes, too?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

If he doesn’t end up taking on the role of Batman in some form down the line following The Dark Knight Rises, JGL might be on the hunt for another comic-book related role one day down the line. If Downey bails after The Avengers 2, this will give JGL a few years to age into the part of Tony Stark, and he has that unattainable X-factor that is necessary to make Tony work on screen. He’s charming and witty, and though his off-screen persona doesn’t quite match the character as well as Downey’s does, let’s face it – that’s because Robert Downey, Jr. might actually think he really is Tony Stark at this point. If anyone could step in and fill that part, JGL could make it happen.

Ben Barnes

Here’s another “unknown” choice that I think would actually be really great for this part. Barnes broke out with The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and had a good supporting role in the little-seen The Words last year, but he’s young, has a very polished presence, and can handle action sequences really well. He wouldn’t bring a lot of baggage to the role, and he’d be an excellent choice if Marvel Studios thinks about aging everyone down a few years. Roger Moore was 58 when he left the role of Bond, and Timothy Dalton was 42 when he replaced him, so weird age jumps between the same character have been known to happen before.

Those are our suggestions. Downey would certainly be a tough act to follow, but who do you think is up to the task of taking on the role of Tony Stark after him? Sound off in the comments below.

The following two tabs change content below.
Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at,,,, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.