In the ten years since first appearing as Tony Stark in Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. has portrayed the character in no less than eight MCU films. The role revitalized his career, making him a household name, and kickstarted a movie franchise of unprecedented proportions. Thinking back on it now, one could not imagine a different star donning iconic armor, making audiences fall in love with the eccentric billionaire.
Imagine a timeline where a different actor took the starring role in the 2008 film, and Robert Downey Jr. never snagged the part of a lifetime that gave him his second wind as an A-list celebrity. One would wonder who exactly might fill those shoes, claiming the responsibility of introducing viewers to a cinematic universe they would often revisit in future Marvel movies.
This list will take a look at actors who could have realistically portrayed Stark all those years ago, those who could have played him when they were the appropriate age (if they were too old by 2008), and finally a few that do not fit the part what so ever, but would still be wildly entertaining to think about in the role.
Without further ado, here are Iron Man: 7 Actors Who Would Make A Better Tony Stark Than RDJ (And 8 Worse).
15 Worse: Henry Cavill
Henry Cavill is a magnificent Superman with the perfect look, attitude, and physical form to believably bring the Man of Steel to the big screen. However, what works for one superhero will not work for another, and this idea rings true when comparing Superman to Iron Man.
The two characters are vastly different: Tony Stark is an innovative genius, entrepreneur, and inherited most of his wealth; Clark Kent is an alien, naturally powerful without technology, and was raised on a farm by working class folks from Kansas.
This is not intended to insult Cavill's abilities, as it is just as rational to assume that Robert Downey Jr. would have made for an abysmal Superman. Certain actors just aren't made for some roles.
14 Better: Sam Rockwell
Not to be confused with the legendary American painter Norman Rockwell, Sam Rockwell is a gifted character actor who only just now is getting his due after a phenomenal performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Way back during the casting of the premiere MCU film, Rockwell was in the running for the role and may just have had the right stuff to deliver a stellar performance.
Rockwell possesses a versatile acting ability and often seems to relish the moments when he is able to play snarky roles that make audiences abhor his character.
With this already in mind, it is easy to believe that he would be able to go one step further and eventually make people sympathize with this character, revealing the goodness that was inside him just like Tony Stark's arc in Iron Man. Instead, he took on the role of Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2.
13 Worse: Jared Leto
Jared Leto is very picky when it comes to the film roles he accepts, which often land him in roles that he may not always have the most appropriate chops for. The musician and actor is undeniably committed to every character he plays, employing a strict method acting approach, but consistently coming off as someone repeatedly reminding the audience that he is acting.
Part of what makes the Marvel movies work is the attempt to make a believable world, while never entirely forgetting that all of these stories are based on comic books with sometimes ridiculous scenarios.
Leto's acting style would immediately ruin any suspension of disbelief for the audience and spell doom for the cinematic universe as a whole.
12 Better: Mel Gibson
This one requires a time machine in order to travel back to when Mel Gibson was the appropriate age and still viable as a leading man in a blockbuster -- long before steeping himself knee deep into controversy.
Gibson has the capability to play almost any type of character.
He was the warrior in Mad Max, the unhinged cop in Lethal Weapon, the revolutionary in Braveheart, and even successfully flexed his Shakespeare chops in Hamlet. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine him becoming the narcissistic billionaire turned superhero with ease.
It really is a shame that in Gibson's peak comic book movies were still mostly a joke in Hollywood, otherwise audiences could have been treated to a 1990's Iron Man with Mel in the lead role.
11 Worse: Ben Affleck
At this point in his career, Ben Affleck has played two different superheroes. One is a billionaire much like Tony Stark, while the other is a role that both the actor and audiences would like to forget.
While his turn as Batman has been praised by some, it doesn't quite prove that he would be a good fit for Iron Man.
As beloved as Batman is, the modern incarnation is still a tad unlikable by design. While this works for the DC movies' dark tone, to be Tony Stark requires a much more charming demeanor -- something that Affleck lacks as Batman.
What's more, by 2008, the actor had not yet become the respected star he would eventually be, so the casting would have undoubtedly netted smaller box office returns.
10 Better: Timothy Olyphant
While Timothy Olyphant has been enjoying consistent prosperity on the small screen with a long stint on FX's Justified and now on Netflix's Santa Clarity Diet, the actor deserves to star in his own big budget blockbuster.
In 2008 he may have only been recognizable from his run on Deadwood and his turn as the villain in Live Free or Die Hard, but his acting chops were certainly ready for the Iron Man role.
Olyphant is charming, good looking, and can be a bad boy when need be; all perfect traits for everyone's favorite billionaire turned superhero.
Comic book movies are far from finished, so hopefully the actor will get his chance to play one in the not too distant future.
9 Worse: Nicholas Cage
Nicholas Cage loves acting, always delivering performances that pour out of the screen and onto the floor making a mess everywhere. This method is often times uncalled for, but always a blast to watch, whether it is a good performance or not. The actor is also known to pursue superhero roles, so it is not hard to envision him trying to grab the Tony Stark role all those years ago.
As consistently fun as it is to see Cage on the big screen, his bombastic style would certainly have spelled doom for the entire MCU, forever turning off audiences to the prospect of seeing the character show up in sequels and other Marvel superhero films. With this being said, his over-acting would be perfect for a flamboyant villain.
8 Better: Dominic Cooper
Who better to replace Robert Downey Jr. than one of the actors to portray Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man. John Slattery is a great entertainer for sure, but he is perhaps too old for the role which is appropriate since he plays the older Howard Stark in the MCU films. That's where Dominic Cooper comes in.
The only obstacle Cooper would have faced back in 2008 would've been his age. As of 2018, the actor is thirty-nine years old, which would have only made him twenty-nine by the time of the first Iron Man's release. Even with the age difference, it is easy to see Dominic playing the hero even all those years ago. After all, actors portray people unlike themselves - including people who are older or younger than they really are.
7 Worse: Tom Cruise
SlashFilm reports that Tom Cruise was offered the role of Iron Man in the '90s, but turned it down. In more recent years, Cruise told Jimmy Kimmel he's simply not interested in playing a superhero.
Or perhaps he turned it down because he waiting until the technology was available for them to film the flight scenes in a real Iron Man suit. As evidenced by the Mission Impossible franchise, he doesn't like faking his action movies.
Cruise would have absolutely been a poorer choice than Robert Downey Jr. for the movie.
He is a solid actor in his own right who can hold his own in an action film better than most, but it is difficult to separate his characters from his persona and reputation. No matter what role he is in, one can't help but feel that Tom Cruise is always playing the part of Tom Cruise.
6 Better: Burt Reynolds
Though Burt Reynolds is obviously already far too old to take the lead role of the superhero in 2008, one would again have to imagine these films to be popular in a different decade. This time it would have to be the 1970s -- a simpler time where action stars donned the most glorious mustaches, with the mightiest of all belonging to Reynolds.
Despite his iconic appearance, Reynolds' filmography proves that he can play in any variety of film: from gritty dramas like Deliverance, to action packed comedies like Smokey and the Bandit. This range is exactly what a great MCU performer requires, so it really is unfortunate audiences did not get to see him showcase it in his prime. However, the actor does still occasionally work, so a future appearance in the MCU is not entirely out of the question.
5 Worse: George Clooney
George Clooney is a uniquely talented actor with dashing good looks to boot, but he still would have been a poor choice for Iron Man.
One need look no further than Batman & Robin to see why casting him would have been a mistake.
Clooney took the role of Batman lightly, and thus, turned in a half-baked performance that was lampooned by critics and viewers alike. With the rest of the movie also being under par, his career was seriously damaged and he had to reassess his priorities in the profession.
The seasoned veteran can stun audiences with his acting, but if his heart is not in it, then the whole effort will just be a waste of everyone's time.
4 Better: Leonardo DiCaprio
Moviegoers have seen Leonardo DiCaprio grow up since the '90s with roles in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Basketball Diaries. Even from the beginning, it was evident that the Los Angeles native had a knack for his profession, which explains why he's never been away from the spotlight for long. One role DiCaprio has not tackled yet, though, is that of a comic book hero, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't be perfect for it.
Audiences have already seen DiCaprio play a wealthy man when he was Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. Stark's character is not too far removed from Hughes, so it should not be too difficult for DiCaprio to get into character. As it stands, however, we probably won't get to see DiCaprio in a superhero movie anytime soon.
3 Worse: Mark Wahlberg
Robert Downey Jr. had legal troubles, but they don't compare to Mark Wahlberg's run-ins with the law as a teenager. The Bostonian actor often plays roles that also reflect this behavior.
Even if everyone deserves a second chance if they really turn their life around, it doesn't make Marky Mark as strong of an actor as RDJ.
When trying to be tough, the actor often comes off as whiny -- a trait that irked audiences in 2008's Max Payne, but was played for comedy in 2010's The Other Guys.
The magic of the debut Iron Man film was making moviegoers like a rich, egocentric billionaire who, on paper, sounds dreadful. Wahlberg simply lacks the charm to pull this off.
2 Better: Don Cheadle
Having been Tony Starks' second fiddle since 2010, it is perhaps time to take a moment and appreciate how skilled Don Cheadle is when it comes to acting. Even in films where he is only given a supporting role, he manages to command attention, always delivering a memorable performance. While his part as James Rhodes is fantastic, he could deliver something special if he was given the chance to play Tony Stark himself.
Cheadle's career spans more than thirty years and he has starred in several movies that have been released to critical acclaim and audience approval. However, in the right role for the right film, Cheadle could easily lead a blockbuster all on his own, and Stark would have been the perfect opportunity for him.
1 Worse: Danny Trejo
Yes, casting seventy-three (or sixty-three in 2008) year-old actor Danny Trejo would have been a worse idea for the studio, but it absolutely would have made for an infinitely more entertaining movie, even if it did go against all of the source material.
Tony Stark and Trejo could not have come from more different backgrounds, with the billionaire growing up the son of a successful weapons developer and the Californian actor spending his youth in and out of prison before starting his prolific film career.
Trejo's unique charisma would have made for a fascinating, albeit nonsensical, portrayal of the character. Ultimately, Trejo can take any role and make it his own while taking audiences for an unadulterated joy ride, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not.
What are your picks for actors who would make a better or worse Iron Man than RDJ? Let us know in the comments!