Sam Rockwell Almost Played Iron Man Instead of Robert Downey Jr.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the iconic role of Iron Man other than Robert Downey Jr. Since taking on the role of Tony Stark in Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man, Downey Jr. has reprised the role multiple times including in Iron Man 2Iron Man 3, and multiple movies in the Avengers series.

The entire Iron Man role has widely been heralded as Marvel’s biggest and most successful risk

That’s why it’s interesting to discover that Robert Downey Jr. narrowly scored the role and was almost bested by Sam Rockwell. 

Sam Rockwell almost got the part of Iron Man

Sam Rockwell on the red carpet
Sam Rockwell | Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images for Turner

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These days, Marvel fans are in suspense wondering if Downey Jr. is finally done with the role and wringing their hands over who could possibly replace him.

Back when the casting for the original film was taking place, however, according to CinemaBlend there were other actors in consideration for the part. Jon Favreau, an executive producer for the films, approached Sam Rockwell about the part. Apparently, the two were pretty far into talks and Rockwell was about to do an audition. 

Before Rockwell could get to the audition, however, Downey Jr. absolutely nailed his own stab at the role. Fans often pass around a video of Downey Jr.’s screen test to showcase just how clearly the part fit the actor. Rockwell, who never got a chance to perform his audition, went on to other projects, leaving a mystery surrounding just what his performance in the part would have looked like. 

Jon Favreau returned to Sam Rockwell

While Rockwell’s role as Iron Man didn’t pan out, he had obviously impressed Favreau enough to stay on his mind. When Iron Man 2 was cast, Rockwell ended up in the part of Justin Hammer.

Designed to be a sort of darker mirror image of Iron Man, it’s almost like Rockwell did end up getting to play the part in some ways after all. Fans nearly universally approved of Rockwell’s performance — even though the film itself got lackluster reviews — and even expressed hope for a reprisal in the future. 

Rockwell’s ability to play dark characters has been well established. His performance as the twisted “Wild Bill” Wharton in The Green Mile was haunting. He has also demonstrated himself to be a versatile and incredibly nuanced actor. In fact, he has earned two Academy Award nominations and took home the 2018 Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his work in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

Rockwell’s acting chops are well-established and span more than 100 credits since his 1988 role on the TV series The Equalizer. 

Would Sam Rockwell have been a good Iron Man?

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We’ll never know for sure what Rockwell’s Iron Man would have been like, but fans are convinced he would have done a good job.

In a Reddit thread on the topic, one fan said that Rockwell was “Probably the only other person [besides Downey Jr.] that could have pulled it off.” Many people wondered if he would be able to play a good guy, noting how much they enjoyed his performance as villain Justin Hammer. 

Commenters were quick to point to Rockwell’s charisma and humor as qualities that he would have been able to bring to Iron Man.

All in all, fans seem convinced that Rockwell could have pulled off the iconic role, but they certainly recognize how well Downey Jr. fit the bill and aren’t disappointed by the outcome. Rockwell has gone on to many other projects that have showcased his skills, and now there is always the possibility that he will pop up somewhere else in the MCU.