Robert Downey Jr. Would Not Have Been Iron Man If This Had Happened Earlier

Try to imagine a world in which Robert Downey Jr. never played Iron Man. If such an idea is inconceivable – or to painful to be granted any space for mental processing – you are not alone. Robert Downey Jr. portrayed Iron Man for over a decade. Kickstarting the MCU, and the entire Avengers saga, he’s widely considered “the face of Marvel.”

Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man have grown intimately connected over the last few years (and multiple Marvel installments). Fans will often say the two are one and the same, as their comedic tendencies align. However, RDJ seems like more of a goofball billionaire, as opposed to the arrogant kind.

Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. | Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

If you’re happy that Robert Downey Jr. got to play Iron Man, you should be grateful that the casting for this movie occurred before 2009. Robert Downey Jr – after some battling from Kevin Feige – was chosen to portray the Iron clad superhero before Disney bought out Marvel. Why does this matter? Disney’s brand image – and its tendency to support all that is clean and right in this world – would not have stood behind Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr.’s reputation in the early 2000s wasn’t too stellar

In the early 2000s, Robert Downey Jr. – in several entertainment circles – was still considered a risky choice. Robert Downey Jr. struggled with severe drug addiction throughout the late ’80s and ’90s. In 1996, Robert Downey Jr. was pulled over for speeding; police found heroin, cocaine, and a pistol in the actor’s car, according to BBC

Robert Downey Jr. was arrested in 1999 for violating probation, which he was placed on proceeding the above-mentioned incident. Following multiple stints in rehab and visits to the slammer, Robert Downey Jr.’s reputation in Hollywood took a major hit. Casting directors didn’t trust him. 

Robert Downey Jr. was just beginning to make his comeback when Iron Man found its way to his desk. However, his public image was still nowhere near the level it is today. Many fans saw him as a drug-addicted actor whose quick rise to fame got the best of him. Kevin Feige had to fight for Marvel to approve. If those over at Marvel were hesitant, there’s no way the home of the Mickey Mouse Club would have endorsed him.

Why Disney would have never supported Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man 

Disney is a family-friendly brand. From its television content to its major motion pictures and Broadway productions, Disney always makes a silent promise to parents. The promise is pretty simple: you will always approve of our choices for your children. 

Robert Downey Jr. – back when Iron Man was cast – would not have aligned with Disney’s image of purity. As much as Disney loves to weave underdog tales, standing behind a real-life one would have been a risky move for the franchise. 

Before Iron Man hit silver screens, Robert Downey Jr. had not yet gained back his highly esteemed reputation; he had not yet won back all the fans he earned following his Oscar-nominated turn in Chaplin. Disney could not stand behind an actor if the public no longer did. Moreover, Disney could not stand behind an actor whom parents wouldn’t want their children reading about. 

Be grateful that Kevin Feige fought for RDJ, but be more grateful that Disney did not acquire Marvel (for over $4 billion) until 2009. Marvel gave RDJ the opportunity he needed to rise from the ashes, and like a Phoenix, he took flame.