Could Marvel Replace Robert Downey Jr. With A Black Female Iron Man?

A couple weeks back, Marvel Comics revealed that a black teenager named Riri Williams would be replacing Tony Stark as Iron Man in the comic books. But could Marvel Studios replace Robert Downey Jr. with a young black actress in Disney's Iron Man movies? I know what you're probably thinking, this is only the comics — they kill off characters all the time and they often take on storylines that would probably never make it to the big screen. But could they? Will they?

The Avengers: Infinity War Part II

Infinity War Will Result In Huge Changes

I believe we're in for some EXTREME changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming out of the Infinity War films in 2018 and 2019. Marvel Studios executive and producer Jeremy Latcham previously told us that that Infinity War will act as a conclusion to the Avengers as we know them:

I think it definitely is an end to some version of the team that we've come to know as The Avengers. Who knows exactly what is going to happen yet in that film, but I think this version of that team—and I think we start to hint at it at the end of Age of Ultron—will be evolving. One of the things we love from the comics is that the roster is always changing and new people are coming onto the team, and you can pick up an Avengers book 10 years later and you don't recognize the people on the cover. But the ideas and ideals and things that make the Avengers the Avengers still exist, and I think that's part of what this culmination will be. We're seeing this version of the team doing this thing to save the universe, the galaxy, however you want to put it, and we'll kind of see where that goes. It's not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think that it is the end of part of it for sure. We're still trying to sort out that point.

Marvel head Kevin Feige has also said very similar things teasing what we might expect from Phase Four:

I think there will be a finality to moments of Phase Three, as well as new beginnings, that will mark a different, a very different, a distinctively different, chapter in what will someday be a complete first saga made up of three phases.

Feige often talks about phases and formats which brings us to...


The Trilogy Format

Kevin Feige has talked many times in the past about trilogies. It seems like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a blueprint that includes a trilogy of films for each of its characters. Feige recently said that Captain America: Civil War is very much "the completion of a Captain America trilogy."

I think one day you'll look back and watch — Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War — and it'll be one of the most unique and different trilogies ever around a single character.

I think this statement is very telling. The only thing he didn't say was that the trilogy of films is about Steve Rogers.

It's my belief that Marvel is planning, like the comics, to bring other characters into these iconic superhero roles. Captain America in the comics is not just Steve Rogers but a bevy of other characters who have taken on the uniform, including: Isaiah Bradley, William Nasland, Jeffrey Mace, William Burnside, Bob Russo, "Scar" Turpin, Roscoe Simons, John Walker, Sam Wilson, James Buchanan Barnes, Dave Rickford and in alternate universes: Scott Summers, Danielle Cage, Kiyoshi Morales, Roberta Mendez and Samantha Wilson.

That's a lot of people and a lot of possible stories for Marvel to tell. Is Marvel Studios done with Steve Rogers? Who knows. A character like him could be killed off in Infinity War or could stick around to mentor a new generation of heroes following in his footsteps. Same with Tony Stark.


Could aNew Actor Become Iron Man?

Marvel believes that their characters are the stars of their movies, and Marvel head Kevin Feige has been very up front that Iron Man could be played by someone other than Robert Downey Jr. In April 2012, it was unclear if Downey would re-sign with Marvel for more movies and Feige explained that they could go the James Bond route with the character:

I think Bond is a good example. Let's put it this way: I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn't, and I'm still here making these movies, we don't take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it.

There are previous examples of that in the current MCU: Don Cheadle replaced Terance Howard as James Rhodes/War Machine and Mark Ruffalo replaced Ed Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk.

Of course, this was after Iron Man 3 had finished filming and Downey was playing hardball about coming back to appear in more Avengers films. Feige had a gameplay that included Captain America: Civil War and the two-part Infinity War finale. These are plans that weren't announced until two years later. I think if you asked Feige today it would be a different story. I still don't think they'd reboot the series entirely, retelling the origin story of Tony Stark with a new actor, but I do believe they could bring a new actor as a new character in to take over the Iron Man suit and legacy.

Iron Man from Captain America: Civil War

Does Robert Downey Jr. Want to Leave the Iron Man Franchise?

It sure seemed like it for a while. As I mentioned, the big announcements at San Diego Comic Con 2014 were held up because Downey reportedly was playing hard ball in signing a contract extension. As far as we know, Downey is currently only signed on to return for the two-part The Avengers: Infinity War films and a small appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Earlier this year Downey expressed doubt about the prospect of a fourth Iron Man film, saying that Iron Man 4 wasn't in the cards. A month later he said, "I feel like I could do one more."

Of course there is a huge financial incentive. Its been reported that Downey's Captain America: Civil War appearance earned the star $40 million upfront with backend participation. Another report claims that the actor will get paid $200 million for his appearances in The Avengers: Infinity War Part I and II – one-fifth of the total projected $1 billion budget for the event films. Who knows if any of those figures are actually true, but if they are you can see how it's getting expensive for Disney to have Robert Downey Jr. involved. This especially if the company actually believes that Iron Man is the selling point of the franchise and not the star himself (although I think a good amount of that is posturing on the part of the mouse).

Even with Downey's "one more" comment, it seems like his time inside the suit will not last too much longer. So regardless of whether Tony Stark survives the upcoming Infinity War or not, the question is...

Iron Man 3 Ty Simpkins

Who Could Replace Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man?

It's possible that Marvel could replace Robert Downey Jr. with another charismatic actor we have not yet seen in the MCU. But could it be possible to replace him with a character we have already me?

In the comics James "Rhodey" Rhodes assumed the role of Iron Man after Stark lost his fortune and became an alcoholic (a storyline we won't likely see in the Disney-produced films). Other out of chronology series have featured other characters in the role, like Arno Stark was Iron Man 2020. So unless they are going to have Don Cheadle's Rhodey pick up the mantle after the events of Infinity War, we'll probably see a new character step into the suit.

Another option that's been floated around is Ty Simpkins' character Harley Keener from Iron Man 3. The Insidious/Jurassic World star was a kid inventor when Tony met him in the last film, but but the time Infinity War ends the actor will be 18 years old.

Before Tom Holland was cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, I once pushed the idea of having Ty play Marvel's version of the webslinger as I really liked the idea of Spidey being a kid amongst heroes. Marvel did go in that direction, but a little older. I'm not sure if Ty Simpkins could carry Iron Man by himself, but the moments between him and Stark in Iron Man 3 were great. It could be interesting to see Stark train and mentor the kid as the plot for Iron Man 4.

Riri Williams as iron man

About Riri Williams

And then of course there is the thing that started this entire discussion, Marvel Comics' storyline which has a black teenage MIT student named Riri Williams take over the Iron Man legacy. The character was discovered by Tony Stark after she built her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room. We don't really know much about how or why she becomes Iron Man – that's a story to be told by the current volume of Invincible Iron Man by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mike Deodato. But would Marvel Studios adapt this storyline for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

That much is unclear. We do know that Marvel seems intent on adapting stories and situations from their long history of comic book stories. So far they have been adapting mostly stories that have widely connected with their fanbases, stories like Infinity War, Civil War and Age of Ultron. This story might be too new at this point to be in consideration.


Diversification of the Characters

The comics have done a great job of diversifying the cast of characters of the Marvel Universe. Over the last decade we've seen the introduction of a black Spider-Man, a female Thor, a Muslim teenage Ms. Marvel, and a black Captain America. And if you asked me five years ago if a movie studio would hand over a major superhero franchise to someone other than a white male, I would have (sadly) been skeptical.

Hollywood is notorious for whitewashing and still is. But the last few years have taken major advancements in this area. While it was once assumed that people of color couldn't top a major franchise, we now live in a world where a new Star Wars movie was released with a very diverse cast and one of Universal's top-grossing franchise's (The Fast and Furious movies) is proof that people want to see characters that more accurately represent the look of the real world.

And the last eight years have seen a huge change in how Hollywood approaches female roles. It was once believed that a woman couldn't shoulder a big action series and sell tickets, but oh how things have changed so quickly. It now seems like every studio in Hollywood is trying to get a piece of the action. Not only does Star Wars have a female lead, but Ghostbusters has an all female cast and this is just the beginning.

Riri Williams as iron man

But Will Riri Williams Replace Tony Stark as Iron Man in the Movies?

Could I see Marvel Studios adapting this storyline? Possibly.

Again, it would need to be a really good story (this is yet to be seen) and it would need to really connect with fans (also a TBD). And let's not be cynical, it's not all about capitalizing on audience trends – Marvel and Disney want to tell new and interesting stories. But we still haven't seen the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man or the female Thor, or a Muslim Ms. Marvel on the big screen yet. And who knows if we will see them any time soon.

I am convinced of one thing: we will see a new Iron Man in the movies within the next decade, if not the next 5 years. Its just a matter of who, what, where and how. Who do you think might replace Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!