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Kevin Feige Reveals The ‘Biggest Risk’ Marvel Studios Took, And How It Paid Off

Although Marvel movies have had a consistent presence in our lives for over 20 years now, starting with offerings like Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man, it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that Marvel Studios was able to start making its own movies rather than simply licensing characters and properties out to other studios. Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark still ranks as the biggest risk the company has ever taken.

During an interview with CinemaBlend’s own Sean O’Connell to promote the MCU’s latest movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Kevin Feige brought up how if Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man performance hadn’t been incredibly well-received, the MCU as we know it wouldn’t exist. As Feige put it:

I was lucky enough to be involved in early Spider-Man films and X-Men films. But we wanted to do an Iron Man movie. And I do think, still, the biggest risk -- which seems outrageous to say now -- was casting Robert Downey Jr. It was both the biggest risk and the most important thing in the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without Robert, we wouldn't be sitting here today. I really believe that.

To say that Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark in Iron Man was praised would be an understatement; it certainly was among the many reasons the movie was met with critical acclaim and made over $585 million worldwide. While the MCU would go on to spotlight characters like Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Downey’s Stark essentially served as the primary face of the MCU up until his final appearance in Avengers: Endgame. While the day will surely come when another actor is selected to play Tony in live action, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Downey in the role even two years after his departure.

But you have to remember that at the time Iron Man was being put together, Robert Downey Jr. was reigniting his career with movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night, and Good Luck, Zodiac and Charlie Bartlett, but he was far from the Hollywood heavyweight he is today. And as Kevin Feige noted, Downey didn’t have any experience in the action genre at that point. In Feige’s words:

He was an amazing actor. Everybody knew he was amazing actor. But he hadn't been an action star. He wasn't a marquee star, necessarily. And we quickly realized the risk, I've said this before, was not casting him. And Jon Favreau really had that vision for that movie and for Robert in that role. That decision, and the success of that decision, I think empowered us with further risks and further choices.

Jon Favreau’s insistence that Robert Downey Jr. play Iron Man paid off, and while a shared Marvel universe was already being well plotted out at that point, Downey was integral to why it’s become so popular. With Tony Stark sacrificing his life to save the universe in Avengers: Endgame, his MCU story arc came to a close, and unless Downey decides someday that he’s game for playing a different version of Tony from elsewhere in the multiverse, he’s officially closed this chapter of his professional career. However, the Iron Man legacy lives on through two upcoming Disney+ shows: Armor Wars, which will see Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes/War Machine hunting down technology of Tony’s that’s fallen into the wrong hands, and Ironheart, which will follow Dominque Thorne’s Riri Williams suiting up in her own Iron Man-like armor following Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

As always, stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest updates about upcoming Marvel movies. Those of you following along with Robert Downey Jr’s professional endeavors can look forward to seeing him in Sherlock Holmes 3 and the HBO series The Sympathizer.

Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.