Though Spider-Man and the X-Men were the biggest Marvel properties for many years, the last decade has brought about a ton of change. Today, there's no question that the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Iron Man. As the center of the Avengers, Iron Man has gone from a B-list hero to a household name. Much of his popularity is due to the unforgettable performance of Robert Downey Jr., who in a few years will have played Tony Stark more times than any actor ever played James Bond.
But all good things must come to end. The grand finale of Marvel's first three phases, the two-part Infinity War, will be arriving in theaters in May of 2018. It stands to reason that when Thanos finally hits Earth and collects his Infinity Stones, he's going to be killing at least a few of the many heroes that audiences have loved for all these years. Could Shellhead's time in the MCU be coming to an end?
Here's 13 Reasons Why Iron Man Could Die In Infinity War.
13 Somebody Has To Die (For Real, This Time)
Nick Fury. Phil Coulson. Pepper Potts. Loki. Bucky. What do all of these characters have in common? You guessed it: each one of them has "died" on the big screen, only to be brought back shortly afterward. There was even a moment in this past Civil War where it appeared that Tony's BFF War Machine had bit the big one, but of course, he pulled through.
The problem with this death/revival pattern is that with every repetition of it -- every time a character "dies" and is brought back -- the audience is thereby trained to be cynical about any deaths they see onscreen, and thus the emotions associated with character deaths become less intense with every film. If there are no stakes, there's no reason to care. The other problem with a "fake-out" death is that it tends to leave the audience feeling manipulated; nobody wants to cry over a death scene only to have it undone a few minutes later.
At this point, fake-out deaths are way too expected. Quicksilver's surprise real death in Age of Ultron was a good start, but at this point, it's time to start showing that major heroes who have been with us since the beginning are actually in danger. Otherwise, the "threat" of Thanos will never seem believable. In order for Infinity War to matter, it has to follow the lead of Captain America: Civil War — a movie which wasn't afraid to tear apart longstanding character relationships — and take it a step further. Major characters have to die.
12 Iron Man Would be the Most Shocking Death Possible
Realistically, Marvel knows that major character deaths are going to be needed if they want Infinity War to have the epic impact it's promising. Considering that Vision has an Infinity Stone in his forehead, his likelihood of making it out of the next movie alive is probably the lowest out of any Avenger. But even though Vision is an important part of the team, his death won't shock the audience on the same level as one of the major players that has been with us since the earliest days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, Captain America also stands a good chance of not making it. The movies have cleanly laid out a path wherein either Bucky or Falcon could pick up Captain America's shield and carry the torch. But even if Captain America — the undisputed heart of the Avengers — does die, there's one figure whose death would have an even bigger impact on the landscape, and that figure is Tony Stark.
11 Audiences Love Major Character Deaths More Than They Think
This might seem counter-intuitive, considering people grow to love their favorite characters, and no one wants to see a loved one die. But ask yourself, what are the most popular television shows of today? Games of Thrones and The Walking Dead are way up there. What these shows have in common is that neither of them are afraid to shock the audience and kill off major characters without warning. Lost was also like this, to an extent.
At this point, the Marvel movies far more closely resemble a blockbuster television series than they do a conventional movie franchise. And one of the things that invests people in a long-running character is when that character is shown to be capable of growing, changing, and/or dying. Often, major character deaths are regarded as the best moments of a series, as devastating as they may be. Audiences care more about a character if they know that the character is legitimately at risk.
10 Robert Downey Jr. Can't Be Replaced
It's hard to believe that back when Robert Downey Jr. was first cast as Tony Stark, it was seen as a risky choice. Iron Man was going to be the first superhero solo film out of the gate for the newly-formed Marvel Studios, and though Downey was always recognized for his fantastic acting talents, his troubled personal history had often overshadowed his on-screen performances. When he electrified the screen in 2008's Iron Man, bringing the armored Avenger to the A-list for the first time, it was a revelation.
At this point, Downey is Tony Stark. He has forever cemented Iron Man's place in popular culture, and his performance has even reshaped his comic book inspiration — a character who has evolved to become closer to RDJ. Recasting Bruce Banner after one solo movie appearance was one thing, but recasting Stark would alienate all of the audience members that have made Iron Man into such a popular character.
9 RDJ's Getting More Expensive Every Day
Behind the scenes, money is also going to be an issue going forward. Though it's obvious how much Downey genuinely loves playing Iron Man and the success that the role has brought him — he actively lives up to his role as a hero to kids around the world, often visiting young cancer patients and just this year launching a new charitable foundation — his popularity is ever-growing, and his paychecks are only getting bigger.
Downey is indispensable to Marvel, and he knows it. That's why he commands the highest salary of any actor in the world, on top of negotiating a portion of each film's back end profits. Downey is inarguably one of the prime reasons for Marvel's success, so it's no wonder he earns so much, but the fact that his casting alone takes a huge cut out of every film's budget is definitely going to be a factor in deciding whether Iron Man continues to be a major presence in the MCU.
8 Iron Man's Death Would Mark the End of An Era
We all know that the first Iron Man movie was the beginning, but the moment where the MCU was truly born was in that movie's final moment, when Tony Stark tells the world "I am Iron Man." His arrival sets the stage for the Avengers, Thor, Ant-Man, and everything that has followed. In the Marvel world, though Captain America operated in World War II, it was only after Iron Man's first appearances that aliens started dropping from the sky wielding hammers, colorful costumes became the norm, and killer robots began lifting cities into the sky. It's been a wild ride, but it all began with Tony Stark getting trapped in a cave with a box of scraps.
We're now in Phase Three. From the end of The Avengers until now, all of these events have been leading up to Thanos. The two Infinity War movies need to be the ultimate culmination of everything that's come before this point. There'd be no better way to mark the significance of this milestone than the final appearance of the same character who first propelled the MCU to stardom.
7 The First Three Marvel Phases Would be Remembered as the Story of Iron Man
If there's been one lynchpin that has tied everything together, it's been Tony Stark. The genius /billionaire/playboy/philanthropist's decision to publicly announce himself as Iron Man opens the doors for every superhero that comes after. Stark funds the Avengers. He makes their costumes and technology. Stark's father was one of the men who created Captain America, and the murder of Stark's parents by the Winter Soldier is the event that lights the fuse for the real battle in Civil War. Stark almost sacrificed himself to save the world in the first Avengers, was responsible for the creation of Ultron in the second, and in Civil War he became the leading proponent of the Sokovia Accords, also rendering him responsible for the subsequent jailing of his fellow Avengers in an underwater prison. He even made Spider-Man's costume!
Tony Stark's struggle with responsibility has been the uniting theme that links almost every Marvel movie. He's made good decisions, but he's also made terrible ones, and everyone else on the planet has had to suffer the consequences. When it comes down to it, Tony Stark is the most powerful man in the world, the guiding force that has changed everything for everyone. This pressure has changed him from a carefree womanizer to a burdened, broken man who just wants to make the world better, but doesn't always get it right.
If Iron Man sacrifices himself to stop Thanos, then all of the first three Marvel phases will forever be linked and remembered as the story of Iron Man's rise, fall, and subsequent redemption. That's one hell of a legacy for a character to have, and would cement Tony Stark as one of the iconic cinematic heroes of all time.
6 For His Character Arc to Have Meaning, This Is The Best Way to Go
Civil War left Tony Stark in a darker place than we've ever seen him before. More raw and vulnerable than ever, so focused on his mission that Pepper has left him, actively trying to conquer his past demons by creating technology that allows him to relive past tragedies — and finally, after feeling betrayed by the man his father raised him to idolize, and then forced to watch that man's best friend kill his parents, Tony is driven to the point of nearly murdering Bucky in a fit of rage.
We've seen Tony go through a lot. The joking, irresponsible Tony we met in the first Iron Man has evolved into a more responsible figure, albeit one that still makes careless, impulsive mistakes because of his massive ego. He's a man with a lot of deep character flaws, trying to redeem himself, but often failing. In order to finalize Tony's character arc without allowing his development to stagnate, his death is really the only route to take.
If Iron Man doesn't die in Infinity War, then in order for stories involving him to remain engaging, the writers would likely have to force him to repeat past failures. This wouldn't be a popular option, as the audience is at this point craving a redemptive arc for Tony's actions in Age of Ultron and Civil War, both of which were motivated by positive ideals, but led down darker paths than he intended. However, even if Iron Man does achieve redemption, retirement doesn't seem like something Tony would ever do. He's not exactly the ride off into the sunset and leave everything behind sort of guy. And because he isn't, the beloved character runs the risk of fizzling out even before RDJ decides to stop playing him. Sacrificing himself to save the universe would allow the man of iron to go out on top instead of fading away into meaninglessness.
5 Tony's Death Would Prevent Audience Fatigue
Audiences love sequels, and they love seeing their favorite characters return. But too much of the same thing is a sure way to lose their interest, which was part of why Age of Ultron didn't light quite the same spark as its predecessor. By the time the second Infinity War movie hits the big screen in 2019, audiences will have seen a little over ten years of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and after that long, the character will have become so familiar that audience excitement may just begin to wane.
Iron Man's death would cause the reverse effect. The tragic loss of many people's favorite Avenger would remind the audience of how much they'd loved the character from the beginning. If anything, it would likely ignite even more popularity for the character, hundreds of YouTube memorials, Twitter tributes, and so on.
4 For a New MCU Leader to Step Up, Iron Man Can't be In the Way
Starting with Phase Four, it seems obvious that a new hero will probably become the face of the MCU. Spider-Man would seem to be the obvious choice, but it's also possible that someone unexpected like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, or Captain Marvel could take over. After all, no one expected Iron Man's popularity until it happened.
Whoever it is, though, Iron Man can't be in the way when that happens. A scene-stealer like Tony Stark casts a long shadow, and his presence will overwhelm that of any new character trying to forge their own path. The character "taking a break" would only serve to minimize the new characters whenever he reappears. For the sake of the MCU's future, Tony's death just makes sense.
3 It Was Set Up in Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron clearly paved the way for Tony's character development in Civil War, but it also teased us with the possibilities for what happens when Thanos comes to Earth. In the movie's opening, Tony experiences a vision courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, where he sees the mutilated remains of his fellow Avengers: a dying Hulk, a dead Thor, Captain America's broken shield, and more. With his dying breath, Cap tells him "You could have saved us. Why didn't you do more?"
Now, while this vision leads Tony to create Ultron, it's likely to have heavy implications for Infinity War as well. If this is a vision of the future, then it could mean that Tony fails to protect the other Avengers, and is somehow responsible for what happens to them. Alternatively, it could mean that Tony will reencounter a similar scene someday in the future — and that in order to prevent the deaths of his friends, he'll have to sacrifice himself.
2 If He Does Die, It's Sure To Become An Iconic Moment In Cinematic History
Assuming that Tony does bite the bullet, one thing is for sure: when and if Marvel breaks their golden egg, they're going to do it in a way that audiences will never forget. Iron Man's near-death in The Avengers was an unforgettable game changer (even though we were well aware at the time that Iron Man 3 was on the way), so his actual death would need to be one of the most epic moments Marvel has ever done. It'll be a heart-pounding tearjerker of the highest order, of this we have no doubt.
And after Tony's death, his legacy would still be a major part of future movies. Since Tony is so involved with every aspect of the entire MCU, from the Avengers to the Sokovia Accords, his death will cause ripples across the entire world, potentially creating dozens of new storylines. What happens to his technology? His company? His armors? This leads us to our final point...
1 Better That We Get a New Iron Man Than a New Tony
As explained earlier, if Marvel does want to keep making Iron Man movies into the future, the absolute worst thing that they could do would be recasting Tony Stark. RDJ is Stark, Stark is not James Bond, and anyone else in the role would be seen as an imposter. However, assuming that Tony does sacrifice himself or is simply killed in Infinity War, it stands to reason that someone else may pick up the remains of his technology, and carry on the Iron Man mantle, birthing a whole new wave of storylines.
The obvious choice is Tony's best friend James Rhodes, aka War Machine. James took over as Iron Man in the comics when Stark relapsed into alcoholism, so it wouldn't be unprecedented. Don Cheadle is an incredible performer who hasn't yet had a chance to stretch his true acting muscles in this role. Now that Rhodey has been rendered paraplegic, his newfound dependence on technology could make for an interesting parallel to the dependence that Stark formerly had with the Arc Reactor, or even his alcohol abuse problems from the comics.
Alternatively, an entirely new character could become Iron Man — perhaps even Harley Keener, the kid who formed a friendship with Tony back in Iron Man 3. Really, the possibilities are limitless, and it'll be exciting to see what happens.
Do you think Iron Man will be killed off in Infinity War? Do you think he should be? Sound off in the comments section.