Will Robert Downey Jr. ever return as Iron Man?

Is Tony Stark’s time in the MCU really over?

Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark/Iron Man for the final time in 2019's Avengers: Endgame. (Marvel Studios/Everett Collection)
Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark/Iron Man for the final time in 2019's Avengers: Endgame. (Marvel Studios/Everett Collection)

Will Robert Downey Jr. ever return as Iron Man in the MCU? It’s a question that feels as inevitable as Thanos and yet we’re still no clearer to getting an answer to one of Marvel’s biggest mysteries.

As most movie fans apart from Martin Scorsese will no doubt already know, Downey Jr.’s Iron Man was not only the centrepiece of Marvel’s Infinity War saga but also its saviour. This arc finally came to fruition during the climactic final moments of Avengers: Endgame where — spoilers — Stark gave his life to save half of all living things from Thanos’s Infinity Stone-powered finger snap.

Since then, the entire population of the MCU has tried its best to rebuild without Iron Man leading the way - and as far as audiences are concerned, the results have been rocky at best.

With some critics suggesting that the Avengers’ new enemy is ‘superhero fatigue’, the online discourse has frequently asked when Marvel’s metal-headed hero might return to save the day once more.

So what is the likelihood of Downey Jr. ever returning as Iron Man? Let’s take a look…

Robert Downey Jr. holding his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2024
Robert Downey Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Oppenheimer. (Getty)

It’s little surprise that Downey Jr. found continued success beyond his time with the MCU, finally winning an Oscar for his performance in Oppenheimer in 2024. However, now that his Oscar is comfortably sitting on his shelf, it looks like the Sherlock Holmes star might actually be up for donning Iron Man’s helmet again.

Speaking to Esquire in April 2024, Downey Jr. admitted that the character was “too integral a part of my DNA,” despite only five years having passed since Stark bit the big one. “That role chose me,” he continued, “and look, I always say, never, ever bet against Kevin Feige. It is a losing bet. He’s the house. He will always win.”

Robert Downey Jr with director Jon Favreau on the set of 2008's Iron Man. (Marvel Studios)
Robert Downey Jr with director Jon Favreau on the set of 2008's Iron Man. (Marvel Studios)

The outlet's profile of the star went on to suggest that he would “happily” return to the character and the wider Marvel filmography. That said, how exactly Stark’s reintroduction into the MCU might work isn’t immediately clear.

While de-ageing technology certainly exists — and has been used within various MCU features already — it’s still not quite good enough to sustain a fully-fledged prequel movie following a younger Stark. Meanwhile, finding a way to bring Iron Man back to life threatens to undermine and unpick the hefty emotional payoff of the Infinity Saga’s perfectly crafted — and meticulously planned — ending.

Perhaps the studio’s best bet lies in its recent meanderings into the multiverse, a multi-headed narrative thread that has played a big part in the MCU’s post-Thanos-story phases.

The existence of these alternate timelines and worlds, and the characters they house, could mean that another Downey Jr.-shaped Tony Stark could be out there just waiting to save the day from some brand-new evil.

15th Apr, 2019. 'Avengers' press conference The stars of the new movie
Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Brie Larson, and Robert Downey Jr promoting Endgame in 2019. (Yonhap/Newcom/Alamy Live News)

Swiftly after Downey Jr.’s comments made their way online, Infinity War filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo offered their thoughts, squashing any hope for Iron Man’s return harder than a thwack from Thor’s hammer.

“I don’t know how they would do it,” Anthony told GamesRadar. “I don’t know what the road to that would be.” Joe was equally pessimistic, adding, “I mean, we closed that book, so it would be up to them to figure out how to reopen it.”

Interestingly, the pair didn't rule the idea out completely. Instead, they simply struggle to see how Marvel could pull off such a feat in a satisfying and serviceable way.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 19:  Actor Robert Downey Jr.  and President of Production, Marvel Studios and Producer of the film, Kevin Feige attend the
Robert Downey Jr. with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige at the 2011 Captain America premiere in Hollywood. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

These thoughts were seemingly echoed by Marvel boss Kevin Feige, who assured fans that they had no plans to “magically undo” the payoff delivered in Endgame's final moments.

“We are going to keep that moment and not touch that moment again,” Feige explained to Vanity Fair. “We all worked very hard for many years to get to that, and we would never want to magically undo it in any way.”

As it stands, the jury is currently out on Tony Stark’s potential return to the MCU. If the studio’s writers can find a way to do it that is worthy of the character and his history, then it sounds like Downey Jr is up for it. However, until that happens we’ll all have to practice Doctor Strange-levels of mediative patience.

Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 are streaming on Disney+