It’s safe to say that back in 2008, just before Iron Man was released, nobody was expecting much from the secondary Marvel character, or from its lead Robert Downey Jr., an extremely talented actor who had squandered a great deal of his potential on drink, drugs and visits to the penitentiary. It’s easy to say that you could see how it worked in hindsight, but only Jon Favreau – the director of the first two Iron Man movies – knew it pre-release.
After seeing Downey Jr. in Shane Black’s criminally under-seen 2005 action-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Favreau was convinced that Downey Jr. was his Tony Stark, and went on a mission to convince the Marvel guys. The risk paid off, with Iron Man grossing over $585m worldwide. Downey Jr. was suddenly big box office, and his contract with Marvel included two more Iron Man films and an Avengers movie, which would see the main characters of the subsequent Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk movies join forces.
When The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble if you’re a UK reader) arrived in 2012, it was on the crest of a Downey Jr. and Marvel love wave, and the film smashed box office records, grossing over $1.5 billion and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time behind James Cameron’s one-two of Titanic and Avatar. Now that Downey Jr.’s contract is up after Iron Man 3 hit theatres, Marvel will want to keep the gravy train rolling along as much as possible.
Iron Man 3 is currently sitting at #5 in the all-time biggest films of all time, meaning that Downey Jr. – and the character of Tony Stark – is one of maybe three characters that could possibly generate $1 billion worth of box office. Captain Jack Sparrow and Batman being the other two. The news in the grapevine is that Downey Jr. is negotiating a contract that will likely see two Avengers sequels at least. It is speculative whether or not the Iron Man franchise will bow out at three. If you’ve seen the movie, it does have a fairly neat ending for the Iron Man series at least.
Robert Downey Jr. is said to have earned between $50-80 million for the Avengers movie, and now that he’s holding all the cards in the negotiations with Marvel for future sequels, you can guarantee that it will increase. But it’s not all about greed though, as according to this article in the Examiner, part of the negotiations depend on his co-stars receiving more cash for their roles. For Hollywood, that’s a pretty impressive attitude to have. You can guarantee that Tony Stark won’t be having on-set fights with Captain America and Thor when Avengers 2 starts shooting, if Downey Jr. does sign on the dotted line.
Another ace card that Downey Jr. holds is that Joss Whedon, writer/director of The Avengers and who is expected to do the same on the next two movies, has publicly stated that he would not direct an Avengers movie without a returning Downey Jr. If that doesn’t make Marvel bump up the pay rates of Downey Jr. and the other actors, nothing will. Below is what Whedon said in an interview with the Daily Beast:
“He is Iron Man. He is Iron Man in the way that Sean Connery was James Bond. I have no intention of making Avengers 2 without him, nor do I think I’ll be called upon to do that. I don’t think it’s in my interest, Marvel’s interest, or his interest, and I think everything will be fine. But I know that this is Hollywood and you roll with things. You have to be ready for the unexpected. But I loved working with Robert, and everybody knows he embodied that role in a way no one else can.”
There you have it, Marvel. The ball is in your court now. Do you want Robert Downey Jr., Joss Whedon and a guaranteed $1 billion box office haul, or run the risk of a post-Tony Stark and Whedon-free sequel that could be a box office turkey? It’s pretty obvious what the answer will be, and that is lighter pockets for Marvel when Downey Jr. signs on for an Avengers follow-up. They can afford it, after all.