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What Tom Cruise Has Said About Why He Turned Down Playing Iron Man In The MCU

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick.
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

From the beginning, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been loaded with incredibly talented actors playing its most iconic superheroes, as well as those unforgettable and nuanced villains. That all started back in 2008 when Iron Man blasted its way into theaters and launched the franchise, while also giving its star, Robert Downey Jr., a shot an even bigger career. Even though Downey’s Tony Stark has become one of the most beloved heroes in superhero movie history, another icon of the industry was once attached to portray the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist…and that man was Tom Cruise.

The story of Tom Cruise’s involvement with the MCU goes back nearly 20 years, well before Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios changed the superhero movie landscape, and even longer before the Top Gun: Maverick actor was rumored to be playing Supreme Iron Man in the cameo-heavy Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. With all this history, some might be wondering what Cruise himself has had to say about one of the biggest “what ifs” in cinematic history. Well, look no further…

Tony Stark suited up as Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Before Robert Downey Jr. Took On The Role, Tom Cruise Was Long-Rumored To Play Iron Man

The list of actors who almost played Marvel characters is full of some of today’s most recognizable faces (and voices), and at the top is Tom Cruise. Back in 2006, we covered some of the speculation surrounding the ageless actor portraying Tony Stark in the yet-to-launch Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to multiple reports at the time (most of which have been lost to time in the ever-changing internet since then) Cruise was rumored to have been interested in playing Iron Man as far back as 2004, when Jon Favreau first came aboard to direct the movie. 

With Paramount Pictures producing the film, it made sense to have one of the studio’s biggest stars front and center. However, it just wasn’t meant to be and the role went to Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in the MCU.

(Image credit: Marvel)

Tom Cruise Expressed Doubts At The Project Working At The Time

Even though there was speculation that Tom Cruise would be leading the Iron Man movie in 2006, the actor expressed his doubts about the project over a year earlier when he was asked about the long-rumored project. During a visit to the War of the Worlds set in February 2005, IGN asked Cruise about the prospect of playing Tony Stark and if the movie would ever come to fruition, to which he replied:

[Marvel Studios] came to me at a certain point and, when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it's gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way.

Later on in the interview, Cruise explained that he has never made a movie just to make a movie and that he needed to be interested in the story. When it came to Iron Man he said it just wasn’t “panning out” as of yet. But this wouldn’t be the first time Cruise was attached to portray Iron Man nor was it the last time he would speak on the matter.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Tom Cruise Later Said He Was ‘Not Close’ To Playing Iron Man

The speculation surrounding Tom Cruise and his involvement with the Marvel Cinematic Universe would continue to creep up in the years following those initial reports and comments, including in April 2018, in an interview with ComicBook.com. When asked about how close he was to playing Tony Stark before Robert Downey Jr. came into the picture, Cruise had this to say:

Not close, and I love Robert Downey Jr. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role, and I think it’s perfect for him.

In addition to sharing praise for his Tropic Thunder co-star, Cruise said he wouldn’t “rule anything out” in terms of showing up in a superhero movie at some point in the future.

Doctor Strange and Wong in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Screenwriter Originally Wanted Tom Cruise’s Iron Man In The MCU Movie

The buzz surrounding the whole “Tom Cruise as Iron Man” business died down somewhat over the years, but reached new heights in the lead-up to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with rumors circulating that the Mission: Impossible star would be playing “Supreme Iron Man” in the mind-bending MCU movie. A lot of the speculation came from a scene in the movie’s trailer that showed Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) being escorted by Ultron sentries, which fans believed could only be built by Tony Stark. Those rumors were squashed by screenwriter Michael Waldron in a May 2022 Rolling Stone interview where he revealed that this was never the case:

Yeah, that was totally made up. I mean, there’s no cut footage of Tom Cruise! But I love Tom Cruise, and I said to [Marvel Studios president] Kevin [Feige]  at one point, I was like, 'Could we get Tom Cruise’s Iron Man?' I remember reading about that in Ain’t It Cool News back in the day, that Tom Cruise was going to be Iron Man.

Though he knew Tom Cruise’s Supreme Iron Man would not be making an appearance in the movie, it’s easy to see that Waldron was excited even thinking about the prospect of the character showing up.

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise speeding dangerously in a Fiat in Mission:Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One.

(Image credit: Paramount/Skydance)

Tom Cruise’s MCU Debut Wasn’t An Option Because Of Availability

In the Rolling Stone interview mentioned above, Michael Waldron was asked if anyone pitched the idea to Tom Cruise in the early development stages, to which he replied by saying Tom Cruise was shooting Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One and Part Two at the time, which made the whole situation tricky:

I don’t believe so. I just don’t think it was ever an option, because of availability.

With Cruise’s schedule being all out of whack with the various Mission: Impossible movies and the May 2022 release of Top Gun: Maverick, it’s easy to see how getting him to show up for a brief cameo would have been a tall order.

Even though Tom Cruise has yet to show up as Iron Man, it doesn’t mean the prolific actor won’t make an appearance in some shape or form in one of the many upcoming Marvel movies. With the likes of John Krasinski, Patrick Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds having either already appeared or being slated to show up in the MCU at some point in the future, anything can happen, right?

Philip Sledge
Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.