Would the “Iron Man” films and the character’s involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe be just as good with an actor other than Robert Downey, Jr. playing him? That’s a question the U.K.-based Sunday Times dared to ponder over the weekend, and it swiftly worked MCU fans and Downey’s passionate defenders into a tizzy.
The Sunday Times tweeted this hot take Aug. 1, daring to ask if any other Hollywood leading man could have stepped into the role of Iron Man and made the films just as memorable.
“The big titles of the past decade are brands and franchises established in numerous prequels and sequels. Robert Downey Jr is a leading man, but his Iron Man could be played by almost anyone with wit; the character is more important to audiences than the actor,” the Sunday Times wrote on its official Twitter account.
The replies immediately flooded in, with many people pointing to MCU architect and Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee’s remarks that he thought Downey was born to play the role. “I think of all of them, when Robert Downey Jr. played Stark, he was just great,” Lee said at Rhode Island Comic-Con in September 2017. “That man was born to be Iron Man, you know? He’d be on the top of the list.”
Actually, another Hollywood household name came close to playing Iron Man. Tom Cruise was considered a solid bet given his tenure as an action star already, but he turned down the role and it ultimately fell to Downey to portray billionaire playboy and tech genius Tony Stark.
And fans are oh-so happy about that, standing in defense of Downey and push-backing on The Times’ suggestion.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn quickly shot down the idea that Downey wasn’t the man for the role and said Sunday afternoon, “I’ve seen the screen tests. This is bulls—.”
Another fan (and Harvard University lecturer) Christopher Rhodes noted, “this take ignores that much of the ‘wit’ and other specifics that made Tony Stark/Iron Man so compelling and popular were innovations of Robert Downey Jr. A different actor might be able to mimic his Iron Man now, but they wouldn’t have come up with it in the first place.”
Even if Downey wasn’t Marvel Studios’ first choice, it doesn’t matter now, as his face and portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man were entertaining enough to make the Iron Man franchise one of Marvel’s most lucrative, ever. Since effectively launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Jon Favreau-directed “Iron Man” in 2008, Downey has reprised the role in two sequels as well as appeared in eight other MCU films, including all “Avengers” movies. Securing Downey as Iron Man brought with it some big checks for Marvel — the first film grossed over $585 million worldwide and “Iron Man 3” grossed over $1.2 billion globally.
Check out more reactions to the Sunday Times’ take below.