The End of an Empire – The 11 Year Legacy of the Tony Stark Cinematic Universe

Taken from

Finn Hogan, Chief Editor

ATTENTION: This article is ENDGAME SPOILER FREE. There is no need to worry about being spoiled if you haven’t seen it.


Marvel’s newest movie, Avengers: Endgame, surpassed $2.188 billion in the less-than-2 weeks it’s been in theaters. This makes Endgame the fastest movie to ever reach the $2 billion mark, surpassing Avatar, which reached $2 billion after 47 days.

Without getting into specifics as to why (no spoilers y’all, don’t worry we know the drill), Marvel fans are saying goodbye to their heroes as the movie contracts of the original Avengers end. Among those leaving is Robert Downey Jr., the man who started the MCU. Marvel fans have seen Tony Stark grow and change over the course of 11 years, through 10 movie appearances, and countless one-liners. Without RDJ’s influence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know (and love) would not exist.

The road to creating Iron Man, which was released in 2008, is every bit as interesting as the movie itself. Originally, when Marvel had decided to bring it’s comics to life, Iron Man wasn’t even on the list of possible movies. Once the rights were reverted back to Marvel from New Line Cinema, Tony Stark shot to the top of the list.

According to Kevin Feige, Marvel’s president since 2007, the concept of Iron Man was a big risk on Marvel’s part, while The Incredible Hulk was supposed to be a hit.

In an interview with the New York Times, Feige talked about the decision to make Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man:

“I have a distinct memory of being in this bullpen area of our production office, kicking around ideas with [Jon Favreau], and Robert’s name came up. We both stopped and looked at each other, like; ‘Oh, that would be awesome. But nah, you can’t do that. Anyway, who else?’ And we kept coming back to that.”

Getting Downey on board with the project wasn’t the issue. The issue was getting everyone else on board with Downey. Before Iron Man, during the 1990s and early 200s, RDJ had a severe drug addiction that got him in frequent trouble with police, and even got him sentenced to prison for 3 years in 1999. Despite his acting prowess, no one wanted to hire Downey because of his reputation. It was actor Mel Gibson who got Downey into another film, when he cast him in The Singing Detective. “Everybody was set to write the guy off, and it was hard to watch, because he’s so f*****g talented. And so you think, What’s happening there?” Gibson told Vanity Fair in 2014. “And you know he’s his own worst enemy. He’s flawed. We’re all flawed. My God, I’m more flawed than he is! It’s something you recognize and have empathy with, but the guy made this amazing bid for life that’s nothing short of astounding. I admire him. He’s done it himself. Nobody else can do it for you.”

By the time Iron Man was in the works, Downey was clean and eager for a 2nd chance. Jon Favreau, who not only plays Happy Hogan, but also directed the first two Iron Man movies, spoke to Vanity Fair on RDJ’s tenacity in the face of opposition:

“Even when there was resistance, Robert said, I will do whatever it takes, will hang in there, fight for this thing. It came down to Robert offering to do a screen test. And once we rolled the camera it was inarguable. There was nobody who could say he was not Iron Man.”

RDJ got the part of Tony Stark. He recalled that the day before filming, the movie’s team had a BB gun fight that Robert called their “comic book D-Day”.

The movies famous ending, where Tony Stark announces to the world that “the truth is.. I am Iron Man”, wouldn’t have happened if not for Downey. The famous line wasn’t written into the script, and was something that Downey decided to do during one of the takes. Feige loved the idea so much that he decided to scrap the original ending and leave the improv line in the movie.

Since the movie was released on May 2nd, 2008, Robert Downey Jr. has appeared as Tony Stark in at least 9 other Marvel films, including his newest appearance in Avengers: Endgame. Without spoiling anything, this contract-ending performance as Iron Man is one of mixed emotions for fans and stars alike. The films directors, the Russo Brothers, admitted that they consulted Downey on possible outcomes for his character: “We certainly wanted to make sure Robert was comfortable with it, just because of his enormous contribution to the MCU.” Downey agreed to his character’s arc with mixed emotions.

As Marvel moves on from the original six Avengers towards other projects like Spider-Man: Far From Home, fans and actors look back on the incredible legacy left behind by Robert Downey Jr. and his take on Iron Man.

Downey once said that, before filming Iron Man, he and crew had a feeling that they “were about to start something that could wind up being culturally significant.”

Congratulations, Mr. Stark, you did just that and changed the world forever.