The folks at Marvel are no doubt celebrating the massive opening weekend for Iron Man 3—which currently stands as the second highest of all time behind The Avengers—but the studio still has a very large question mark lingering over its future. With the release of Iron Man 3, star Robert Downey Jr. fulfilled his contract with Marvel. He is not contractually obligated to appear in any more Marvel films, and thus has a rather sizable amount of leverage over Marvel going forward given that he is, to the moviegoing public, the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man is the most recognizable character in Marvel Studios’ roster, and the character is now synonymous with Robert Downey Jr.
As such, everyone has been wondering whether RDJ will be back and if there are any more standalone Iron Man films in the future. The negotiations have now begun, and things are, well, a bit complicated. Hit the jump for much more.
The folks over at Heat Vision report that Downey and his wife/producing partner Susan Downey put together a dinner on May 6th that included Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, Disney Studios head Alan Horn, and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. While the dinner served as a celebration for the success of Iron Man 3, it also kicked off the renegotiation phase for Downey and Marvel.
Apparently Downey has entered negotiations to reprise his role as Tony Stark in The Avengers 2 and The Avengers 3, but the prospect of Iron Man 4 has yet to be discussed. It seemed inevitable that Downey would return for The Avengers 2, given that writer/director Joss Whedon has already been busy developing and scripting the film for a May 2015 release date, but Downey’s future with Marvel beyond that was unclear. The 48-year-old actor appears to be keen on returning in the two ensemble films, for which he wouldn’t have the burden of carrying the entire picture, but Iron Man 4 still remains a major question mark.
The ending of Iron Man 3 very much felt like a period on the Iron Man series instead of a question mark, as the conclusion of the film wrapped up Tony’s character arc that began with the first Iron Man film in 2007. It would be very easy for Downey to walk away from the standalone films at this point, and Kevin Feige has already said in the past that Marvel would not be averse to implementing the James Bond model of having different actors play the same character. However, Iron Man is the most successful film franchise in Marvel’s bag and the studio would likely much rather have an Iron Man 4 starring RDJ in Phase Three than not. As I said, Downey is Iron Man, so it will be tough to sell the franchise to audiences with a new actor in the role.
Marvel isn’t exactly known for being generous when it comes to contract negotiations with actors, and negotiations for all of the Marvel stalwarts—Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo—have apparently become quite heated as of late, given that they didn’t exactly receive the same hefty $50 million payday as Downey did from the $1.5 billion grossing The Avengers. Heat Vision’s article notes that the studio isn’t averse to threatening recasting, as we’ve already seen them do with Terrence Howard’s Rhodes and Edward Norton’s Hulk, and they apparently used those tactics previously with Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Evans.
With the sequel to one of the highest grossing films in history on the horizon and a slate of follow-ups to fan-favorite characters in the pipeline (in addition to untested originals like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange), Marvel is certainly at a turning point. I’ll be interesting to see how things progress moving forward, but it all begins with Downey’s contract. Will he sign on for more Iron Man films or is Iron Man 3 his standalone swan song? Time will tell.