Iron Man 3 marked the end of Robert Downey Jr’s contract with Marvel Studios, and the actor nearly quit the franchise in 2013 itself.
In a 2012 interview, studio president Kevin Feige hinted at a future without Downey. He said, “I think Bond is a good example. Let’s put it this way: I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn’t, and I’m still here making these movies, we don’t take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it.”
Downey reacted to Feige’s comments in an interview to Empire, and said, “It would probably be the best thing in the world for me. You know, ego… but sometimes ego just has to be smashed. Let’s see what happens. I take the audience very seriously – I feel bad when I see folks doing movies and the audience is like, ‘Don’t do that anymore.’ I don’t have to overstay my welcome…”
Downey spoke to GQ in a 2013 profile, and didn’t confirm that he was on board for more Marvel movies. He said, “Fortunately I’ve been around the block enough—I’m not ill-prepared. And I love change. I love it when a lightning bolt hits the genny and you’re down for two hours on the set. Now, this isn’t a lightning strike, this is like the warning of a gathering storm.”
He reasoned that he would soon be too old to play a superhero, and said that an on-set injury on Iron Man 3, “got me thinking about how big the message from your cosmic sponsor needs to be before you pick it up. How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun? Because, as quiet as it’s kept, I come from a family of very innovative writers and directors and actors and artists, and the circle of friends they were in were the people I heard having pun-offs playing poker at two in the morning, and it was just the most comforting aspect of my childhood. So there’s this kind of legacy of souls from what I consider to be a very particular time in entertainment, and I’m sensing a return to that—it’s what me and the missus are doing next.”
The actor eventually signed a lucrative new contract through which he didn’t appear in solo Iron Man films, but played supporting roles in various other Marvel adventures, beginning with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. It was reported at the time that Downey stood up for his co-stars when they were renegotiating their contracts for Avengers 2.
About his decision to appear in smaller roles in the MCU, particularly in Civil War, Downey told Empire in a 2015 interview, “They said to me, ‘If we have you, we can do this, or Cap 3 has to be something else.’ It’s nice to feel needed. And at this point it’s about helping each other, too. I look at it as a competition and I go, ‘Wow, maybe if these two franchises teamed up and I can take even a lesser position, with people I like and directors I respect, maybe we can keep things bumping along.”
The actor finally retired from the MCU in 2019, after Iron Man was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Although recent reports suggest that he might return in some capacity in Black Widow.