Robert Downey Jr was paid more than 50 million dollars for the first Avengers movie? BUT WHY?

Ever thought why was fan favourite Robert Downey Jr (Ironman) payed more than any other Avenger for the first Avengers movie? The movie earned around $1,519,557,910 and a huge amount of share went into the pockets of RDJ! Let’s try to understand what was the situation of Marvel studio than!

“Marvel went bankrupt in 1996. They sold off the rights to some of their most prominent characters including the likes of Spider man, X-men and Fantastic 4 to Columbia and 20th century fox to save themselves from bankruptcy. Except for the first and the second Spiderman movies, none of the super hero movies made a splash owing to poor scripts and flawed direction. Failure of movies like Daredevil, Hulk and Electra only added fuel to fire. The X-men franchise was doing well, then Brett Ratner went crazy with the Last stand and screwed it all up. People had almost lost interest in comic book movies. Nobody got excited about them any more. To make things worse 2007 Spider man 3 was a disaster, by Spider Man’s standards (Financially the movie was a success, collecting over $800 Million).

Movies like Daredevil and hulk reboots were hugel setbacks for the Marvel studios

Enter Kevin Fiege, colossal nerd. He was hired as an associate producer on X-Men, purely due to the fact that he was a nerd and knew the Marvel universe inside out. In 2007 Marvel decided to make him President.

In the meanwhile, he along with Avi Arad and John Favreau was busy trying to buy back the rights to Iron man (Which was with New line Cinema). Once the production started, they needed a face for Tony Stark. Initially they wanted to go with a fresh face. The script was pretty straight forward. Had essence of drama and comedy. But they had to get their “Pompous A**hole” right for the movie to work. This is when Robert Downey Jr fell into Favreau’s radar. Here was a star who had it all, had famously messed up in front of the public eye and was experiencing a resurgence off late owing to decent performances in sleeper hits like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Zodiac”. Favreau felt Downey could not only make Stark a “likable asshole,” but also depict an authentic emotional journey once he won over the audience. He was hired and setup an office next to Feige’s. His involvement in the scripting processes is said to have given the movie a deeper sense of humor. He, Feige and Favreau basically created the character that is Tony Stark.

Iron Man 3 Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2013
Iron Man 3, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Film Frame, ©Marvel Studios 2013

The next part of this story is probably the most important part of it. Promotions. Marvel had bet big on Iron Man and badly needed for it to work. An investment of 140 million dollars on a dying genre at that point was a huge risk. RDJ basically lived as Tony Stark through out this duration. People got a glimpse of what they were in for if they went for the movie. His antics brought attention to the movie. Finally the movie released in 2008, and it blew up. The script was good, but the character was phenomenal. People fell in love with RDJ. The final battle between him and Jeff Bridges was not really all that great. No body even rememberes who the villain was when they left the theaters. You know what they did remember, RDJ declaring to the world “I am Iron Man.” Boy did that leave an impact. (A Quora user Harikrishnan G Nair, answered this question).

The movie made $ 545 Million dollars. Now that might seem like a small amount for a super hero movie to collect. But what that movie did is that it gave Marvel credibility as a production house. It gave them the confidence to work on movies like Thor ($450 million) and Captain America ($360 million). It gave them the confidence to cast the likes of Scarlet Johansson, and Samuel L Jackson. Marvel doubled up their investment in Downey. His salary for Iron man 1 had only been $500,000. For Iron Man 2 he was paid $10 million. Iron Man 2 despite only being a decent film, hit it out of the park. The collections were up to $623 million.

Thor and Captain America were decent movies. But both their lead actors despite being drool worthy hunks were not able to catch the fancy of the crowd. Then came the Avengers. And boy did it change the game. It was a well written, well directed and well acted movie. BUT, the movie was sold on Downey. It was a multi-studded cast. But none of the actors (save Johanson and Sam L Jackson, but they were a part of the supporting cast) had any traction with the audience. Avengers went on to be one of the biggest hits in the history of world cinema. It was the third highest grossing films of all time with a whopping collection of $1.5 Billion dollars. This took Marvel to the big leagues. It became one of the biggest media houses of the world. People would watch anything with Marvel’s name on it. They started working on the sequel.


Now again at this point you have to realize that the only two people who gained more credibility as stars from Avengers are Tom Hiddleston and RDJ. No one else was irreplaceable. They could have replaced any one of the Avengers, no one would have given a sh*t, but replacing RDJ would have hurt them bad. The fans would have gone crazy. RDJ realizing this raised his game and asked for a $ 50-80 million pay check for Avengers 2. Marvel had to grudgingly agree to the fee.

But realizing that they cant keep paying him ludicrous amounts of money, Marvel started underplaying Iron Man. This was a genius tactic on their part. They made him less interesting. They knew that even if he was not very interesting people would go watch Iron man 3. The movie was a disaster and it still ended up collecting $1.2 billion.

Captain america WInter soldier and GOG became the hit faces of Marvel Cinematic universe

But then something happened. Marvel managed to pull off Guardians Of the Galaxy and Captain America Winter Soldier. They had 2 new huge stars. Chris Evans and Chris Pratt. This weakened the Downey stronghold. They slowly started the process of writing Iron man out of the universe. They used this during the negotiations to show him that the MCU could go on without him. Downey could not agree to do Iron man 4 at a salary lower than what he was already being paid, so he decided to take a pay cut for a movie which required lower screen time than Iron man 4 and agreed to be a part of Civil War (He is being paid $40 million).

But this is when Chris Evans started hinting at leaving the MCU universe as his contract is coming to an end. Chris Prat is still a growing star, but he is a two film (GOG and Jurassic World) wonder. If GOG2 failed, marvel could take a big hit. This is what is making them question their stance on the RDJ play. They have huge movies like Dr Strange, Spider man and Black Panther in the pipeline. But all of them are unexplored territory. They are once again at a cross roads. They have also started facing competition from DC who have manged to get Affleck (Who seems like he could be a good batman). So would they want to let go of their best hitter at this point. That is the question.

Both the Infinty war movies and Civil war are most anticipated marvel movies!
Both the Infinty war movies and Civil war are most anticipated marvel movies!

There are now talks that he may be paid $400 million for the two Infinity War movies. The move is being criticized by a lot of the pundits. But both of those movies are bound to be making more than a billion dollars and even with the amount of money they are paying Downey and the 100 million they are spending on the cast, they still have $ 300 million to spend on each of those movies. Also each of those movies are bound to earn more than $ 1.3 billion dollars. Marvel still ends up making a hell of a lot more profit than any studio can expect to make from two movies.

Also, to answer the question as to weather he deserves it. He literally made Marvel who they are today. If Iron Man had been made with someone else, Marvel would still be a bankrupt studio. So he probably deserves to make some money out of it.

If that’s not fair, neither is the fact that one of the richest men in the world got there by running a media consumption company, which doesn’t own any of its own media (Facebook). Or the fact that one of the newly minted billionaires got there by running a taxi company that doesn’t own any taxi (Uber). People make money by betting on their talent and ability. Fortune some times favors them and they make it big. If you cant handle it. Tough luck. That is just the way the world is.

Also, don’t forget, HE IS IRON MAN.”