Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone. Kate Winslet as Rose Dawson. Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. Sometimes an actor or actress embodies a role so perfectly — Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool — it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. In a bold proclamation equipped with a hefty bit of back-patting, Marvel Cinematic Universe architect Kevin Feige has voiced the opinion that Robert Downey Jr’s iconic casting as everyone’s favorite metal-headed superhero Iron Man ranks up there with some of the greatest Hollywood decisions of all time.
To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the iconic first film in the MCU, Iron Man, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige engaged in a candid conversation (posted to Marvel’s official website) with the film’s director Jon Favreau. The two reminisced about the early days of the franchise they helped spearhead, and talked up one decision that would forever change Hollywood: the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the charismatic Tony Stark. It’s no secret that the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang star was not Marvel’s first choice for the role, but according to the mega-producer, without Downey, there probably wouldn’t be a Marvel Studios. Recalling the profound impact the actor had on the studio, Feige said:
Reflecting on their first meeting, Favreau vividly remembered the moment he knew Downey Jr. was the perfect fit for the role. The filmmaker said his life “got easier” once Robert was locked in (but not loaded), saying:
In retrospect, the casting of Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a genius inventor who constructs an extraordinary suit of armor with a box of scraps while trapped in a cave, seems like a no-brainer. The choice elevated the 2008 film to new heights and set it on a trajectory toward greatness. Interestingly, it was revealed in the 2021 book “The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” that Downey Jr. was initially considered for an entirely different Marvel project. The Chaplain actor could have been the evil Doctor Doom in the 2005 Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four in another universe. Luckily for us, we live in a timeline where this didn’t happen, and Robert landed the role after entering general auditions for Iron Man–which you can watch.
The collaboration between Favreau and Downey Jr. extended beyond filming, as they would stay up late after wrapping for the day, meticulously refining and reworking scenes. The actor’s commitment to achieving greatness and refusal to settle for anything less than exceptional left a lasting impression on Favreau. The director continued:
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand (there are tons of upcoming Marvel movies and upcoming Marvel tv shows around the corner) and captivate audiences worldwide, it is undeniable that the decision to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man set an unprecedented standard for superhero performances. His embodiment of Tony Stark’s wit, charm, and vulnerability revolutionized the genre, paving the way for the interconnected universe we know and love today. And though the beloved actor and character tragically departed the MCU in Avengers: Endgame, co-star Mark Ruffalo thinks a return is possible at some point. Here’s hoping.
Those who want to check out Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic take on Tony Stark, which will forever be etched in the annals of Hollywood history, can stream past MCU movies in order using a Disney+ subscription.