Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of 2008, a time of financial crises, presidential elections and budding young franchises taking their first steps into the world. Strange though it is to think now, this was a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a risky line of individual superhero films, rather than some kind of omnipotent box office deity.
Iron Man’s debut in that year was probably the most important film release in the MCU’s history. If it had failed, or even underperformed, the studio may never have had the fan-power nor the confidence to keep it going, and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige knew this more than anyone.
Participating in a panel at the New York Film Academy, Feige shed light on the risks behind the first, and biggest, casting decision he ever had to make. You see, he had to get Iron Man right and according to him, it was either going to be a smash or a dud, noting that casting RDJ in the role was a big gamble that would either turn out to be great or a dumpster fire.
“Literally, the first decision I made and was allowed to make and allowed to try to pursue as president of Marvel Studios was casting Robert Downey Jr. and it felt fun to do that because we knew it’d either be great or the biggest dumpster fire ever. There’s very little wiggle room. It ended up being great and I’ve always said ‘No RDJ, no MCU.'”
He wasn’t wrong about that, as the MCU has certainly gone on to be one of those things. I find myself in complete agreement with him on this, too. At the time, Iron Man wasn’t a household name and indeed, the entire universe-building project needed a breakout star to establish itself in popular consciousness.
Robert Downey Jr. may not have been an A list actor in 2008, but his performance was made to make him a star if anything ever did. Fast forward 11 years and a whole-bunch-o box office records later, and it’s like the movies have never been without him, or his absurd roster of colleagues. In fact, my biggest gripe is that his success as Iron Man stuck a third Sherlock Holmes outing in development hell. Though thankfully, that seems to be getting off the ground finally.