Retro-Casting Iron Man: 10 Actors Who Could"ve Played Tony Stark In The MCU If It Wasn"t RDJ

  • Robert Downey Jr. was a massive gamble for Marvel Studios in casting him as Iron Man, but it paid off.
  • Several other actors, including Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, and Hugh Jackman, were considered for the role of Iron Man.
  • Other potential candidates for Iron Man included Timothy Olyphant, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sam Rockwell, Johnny Depp, Jon Hamm, and Rob Lowe.
It's hard to imagine anyone else playing Iron Man other than Robert Downey Jr., but the esteemed actor was far from being the only valid choice for the role. Today, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is fondly remembered for being the Marvel Cinematic Universe's flagship character for years, not to mention one of the greatest superhero casting choices of all time. It's easy to forget that in 2008, casting Downey for Iron Man was a massive gamble for Marvel Studios, one that luckily paid off.
Related Kevin Feige Says Casting Robert Downey Jr Was MCU's Biggest Risk After more than 13 years, Kevin Feige believes that Marvel Studios' biggest risk is still casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man. Considered a possible optics risk at the time, Robert Downey Jr. wasn't the only one the Marvel Cinematic Universe had their eyes on to establish as Tony Stark. Earlier iterations of the Iron Man script had previously circulated as far back as the 90s, with several big name actors either attached or screen tested at various points in time. Beyond these close casting calls that nearly resulted in a different Iron Man, there were a handful of stars in 2008 who may have worked just as well, though they were never officially in talks for the role.
10 Tom Cruise Was nearly signed on to a different Iron Man script Close Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe had even been conceived, an earlier version of a script for Iron Man was circulated circa 1997, co-written by Stan Lee himself. The pre-MCU standalone movie approached Tom Cruise, whose ability to convey a fast-thinking and charismatic hero has already been well-documented in the Mission Impossible movies. While Cruise ultimately bowed out of the project, being unimpressed by the story as a whole (via, his trademark intensity and proclivity for death-defying stunt work would've made for an interesting take on Tony Stark.
9 Timothy Olyphant An underrated choice for Tony Stark Of all the actors to be considered for Tony Stark, Timothy Olyphant was one of the contenders to have gotten the closest. Iron Man director Jon Favreau auditioned Olyphant for Tony Stark, only for his performance to be blown out of the water by Robert Downey Jr., who also auditioned on the same day. Olyphant was known at the time for his strong, silent character on the TV Western Justified, but his comedic and action chops demonstrated since on shows like Santa Clarita Diet and Favreau's own The Mandalorian suggest a powerful, quippy Iron Man performance was possible.
8 Nicholas Cage Nearly got the chance to channel his passion for comics Having long been a passionate fan of comics, Nicholas Cage's very name is a Marvel reference, making him an obvious contender for a major Marvel role like Iron Man. Despite being in talks to take over for Cruise in the 1997 Stan Lee script, Cage's commitments to playing a different hero, Ghost Rider, ultimately got in the way of his time as Iron Man. It would've been interesting to see Cage channel his trademark eccentric mannerisms and clear devotion to comic books into a more major superhero role like Tony Stark.
7 Hugh Jackman The Australian movie star could've been two important Marvel heroes at once Close In the world of superhero movies, Hugh Jackman's storied career as Wolverine is a hall-of-fame performance that needs no introduction. But the Australian actor was nearly attached to an Iron Man movie, only turning it down due to the already enormous commitment of playing Wolverine in the X-Men films. That being said, his experience with playing showboat performers in films like The Greatest Showman and The Prestige might've been great inspiration to draw on for the often egotistical and self-aggrandizing Iron Man, a stark contrast to the gruff, no-nonsense Wolverine.
6 Matthew McConaughey Would've had range to spare for the complicated Tony Stark Matthew McConaughey may not have ever breached the conversation in Hollywood for an Iron Man actor, but in 2008, the lauded movie star could've been a natural choice. Despite not typically gravitating to Blockbuster tentpole films, McConaughey has displayed an incredible range of acting skills that could've each come together for a different aspect of Tony Stark. His performance as the aggressive capitalist Mark Hanna in The Wolf of Wall Street would do wonders for Tony Stark's billionaire playboy side, but his quiet maturity in films like Interstellar would balance out his Iron Man with genuine moments of raw emotion.
5 Leonardo DiCaprio The prestige cinema darling could've supercharged the MCU Close When 2008's Iron Man was still in its earliest phases of development, Leonardo DiCaprio was yet another name to be floated by the nascent Marvel Studios. While his involvement never got much further past the ideation phase, just like McCougnahey, his work in The Wolf of Wall Street could've translated excellently to the corporate giant Tony Stark. With "Leo-mania" still being a fresher phenomenon in 2008, a mere ten years after Titanic, the MCU could've harnessed DiCaprio's centerpiece performance as Iron Man that could've made the franchise even more popular than it is today.
4 Sam Rockwell Showed flashes of Iron Man promise as Justin Hammer Despite being beaten out in the end by Robert Downey Jr.'s unimistakably phenomenal performance, Sam Rockwell as a personal favorite for Favreau for Iron Man. Even if he missed out on being Tony Stark, he got to enter the MCU as Justin Hammer, in many ways the character's villainous, if still charismatic and comedic, dark reflection. Rockwell's infectiously fun performance as Justin Hammer is one of the most underrated MCU villains, and it's easy to see how he could've tweaked it for a surprisingly effective leading role.
3 Johnny Depp No stranger to carrying franchises with a standout role Johnny Depp is a veritable chameleon in Hollywood, able to tweak his sensibilities from quirky to serious to downright charming at the drop of a hat. Depp proved he could carry a franchise with his unforgettable Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, without which it's safe to say the seafaring series wouldn't have had nearly as much success. If 2008 wasn't the height of the Pirates series, it's not hard to imagine Depp being able to carry an early MCU as a lovably cocky Tony Stark, layering the character with the actor's trademark odd neuroses.
2 Jon Hamm Essentially did play Tony Stark for years While Jon Hamm has yet to enter a major superhero franchise, his most well-known character is a dead ringer for Tony Stark's messy, goal-oriented, business executive misgivings. Hamm played Don Draper, the charismatic lead of Mad Men, as unnervingly vicious and self-satisfying while still tenderly sympathetic. There's no denying that Hamm's ability to demonstrate suave sophistication alongside a sense of underlying danger would have made him a great prospect for Tony Stark, had he been able to balance Marvel with Mad Men.
1 Rob Lowe Might've been able to take the spotlight from his former classmate Interestingly enough, Rob Lowe and Robert Downey Jr. were classmates at Santa Monica High School, but that's far from the only thing they had in common. Rumors of Rob Lowe's name being mentioned for Tony Stark as early as the set of 2005's Fantastic Four had circulated in the past (via EOnline). While Lowe isn't much of a movie star, his dashing good looks, comedic timing, and surprisingly intense intervals of serious delivery on TV shows like Parks and Rec and The West Wing suggest he could've been an excellent Iron Man.


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