Marvel Studios has taken plenty of risks since the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, but for studio head Kevin Feige it's the first risk that remains the biggest one the company has taken. That risk turns out to be casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man. Feige recently told CinemaBlend that while it seems strange to say it now, the casting choice was a huge risk, but it ultimately resulted in a huge reward with the success of the MCU that continues to this day.
"I was lucky enough to be involved in early Spider-Man films and X-Men films," Feige said. "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."
It does seem a little wild to consider that Downey's casting would be such a risk. His portrayal of Tony Stark was extremely well-received by both audiences and critics alike and did help propel the very idea of the MCU forward with Stark becoming very much the center of the overall franchise so much so that his death in Avengers: Endgame marked the end of an era. There isn't even any real imagining anyone else in the role of Tony Stark at this point, with Captain America actor Chris Evans even saying earlier this year that he didn't think there's "anything anyone on this planet could do that would somehow improve upon what Downey's done". But even though Downey ended up being perfect casting, at that point in his career, a role like Iron Man wasn't necessarily something he'd done before.
"He was an amazing actor. Everybody knew he was an amazing actor," Feige explained. "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."
Now, Marvel Studios is pushing forward and taking new risks. Not only has the MCU franchise branched out into television in a new way with their Disney+ offerings (and blown open the multiverse in the process), but the upcoming Eternals is a film that Feige has previously described as another big, but necessary risk for the studio.
"It is a very big movie. It is a very expensive movie," Feige told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. "And we are making it because we believe in [director Chloe Zhao's] vision and we believe in what those characters can do and we believe we need to continue to grow and evolve and change and push our genre forward. That's a risk if I've ever heard one."
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