It took three whole movies to meet the villainous Mandarin but Iron Man 3 threw fans for a spin and instead offered an adaptation of another Marvel Comics character who took the Mandarin idea and identify for his own nefarious purposes. That left the door open for the introduction of the “real” Mandarin down the road, something that the Marvel One-Shot All Hail The King helped clear up.

If The Mandarin is still out there in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he is, then that gives even more reason beyond the box office appeal to make Iron Man 4. The only issue there is getting franchise star Robert Downey Jr. aboard.

Speaking with EW while filming The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the actor was directly asked if he wants to do another Iron Man. After all, he keeps telling you on and off the screen that he is Iron Man…

“It’s down to Kevin [Feige, Marvel Studios president] and Ike [Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment] and Disney to come to us with what the proposal is, and that’s on us to agree or disagree. When things are going great, there’s a lot of agreement.”

Sounds like it’s all down to business for Robert Downey Jr. and his representatives. Since he played the first hero to help launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was before Marvel Studios became notoriously tight on their spending and strict on their long-term contracts. Because of that, RDJ is the the highest earning actor in the business (literally, according to Forbes) thanks to his insanely large paydays on The Avengers and Iron Man 3 which both saw the star earning a slice of the back-end. That’s the type of contract that makes Disney and Marvel execs grind their teeth and one they’ll never give another actor again.

Marvel managed to re-sign Robert Downey Jr. for two more appearances in The Avengers 2 and 3 but after Iron Man 3 banked well over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office and became the 5th top grosser of all-time, Iron Man still represents Marvel’s biggest non-Avengers property. How much are they willing to spend to bring back the actor for Iron Man 4?

The good news is that Downey Jr. explains that he is having a wonderful time with director Joss Whedon on The Avengers: Age of Ultron – which will have a major presence at San Diego Comic-Con this week – and he’s teased more than once that it’ll be hard to walk away from playing Tony Stark.

“It’s that thing of: why give up the belt when it feels like you can barely get jabbed?… Most people are saying that right when they get knocked out.”

Is there any chance that Iron Man 3 director Shane Black was right when he told us he had a good feeling about RDJ coming back for another?

“The future is, as usual, uncertain.”

We wrote a lengthy piece on when Marvel Studios should activate Iron Man 4 and we know from boss Kevin Feige’s words that Iron Man and the character of Tony Stark will continue, with or without RDJ, but that’s more of negotiation tactic at this point. Everyone wants Robert Downey Jr. to keep playing the character and in the comics, Stark continues to play a major role in The Avengers (including this fall’s upcoming relaunch) and crossover events. The only issue, again, is how much they’re willing to pay and that number is going to be high given that he proved he does’t need the other heroes to break world records financially.

With Marvel Studios announcing five more release dates and now having seven features yet to be titled, could Iron Man 4 be one of them announced this Saturday at Comic-Con? It wasn’t on our list of five new movies we want to see Marvel announce but we wouldn’t be shocked if it was.

More: When Can Marvel Studios Launch ‘Iron Man 4′?

Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6 2016, and unannounced films for July 8 2016 and May 5 2017, July 28 2017, November 3 2017, July 6 2018, November 2 2018 and May 3 2019.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie and TV news!

Source: EW, Forbes