Let's face it, Iron Man is the most popular character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The iconic superhero kicked off a long string of on-going films for the comic book movie studio and is firmly at the center of The Avengers film franchise. Iron Man seems to be getting more and more popular with every new movie released from Marvel Studios. The most recent, Iron Man 3, grossed more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. With it's success as a big name brand and film franchise, it's clear that Marvel Studios should make an Iron Man 4, just based on how much money it made back in 2013, but where can the character narratively go after Iron Man 3?
The end of Iron Man 3 seemed pretty narratively definitive to me. Tony Stark realized that's he's more than just a man in an iron suit and that he could bring down a big threat without it. He had the arc reactor taken out of him, as he seemingly moved from Southern California to New York City to live in Avengers Tower. While Tony Stark and Iron Man will appear in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Avengers 3, can his story be continued in a standalone movie?
The man inside of the iron suit, Robert Downey, Jr., is only contracted to be in two more Marvel movies, which will be the next two Avengers movies. It is believed that Marvel has no plans to sign Downey, Jr. to another long-term contract because it would cost the studio millions. Downey, Jr. had a back-end deal for The Avengers and it was reported that RDJ made upwards of $50 million for the superhero movie. Marvel isn't looking to make that mistake again with any of its actors, which is why actors are signed to multiple-picture contracts. Make no mistake about it, Marvel is more concerned with the bottom line than keeping Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. If need be, the comic book movie studio will re-cast the role if Downey, Jr. won't come back at a lower price.
At the moment, Marvel is launching new franchises like Doctor Strange. Producer Kevin Feige has expressed an interest in possibly releasing a sequel to established franchises like Thor, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy, then releasing a new franchise in the same year. Just look at the upcoming years, we're getting The Avengers: Age of Ultron in May and Ant-Man in July 2015 and Captain America 3 in May and (a rumored) Doctor Strange in July 2016. This could be the new model for Marvel leading up to 2019, which is believed to be The Avengers 3 and the last date the comic book studio announced in their slate of "Untitled Marvel Movies." Looking at those dates, I don't see any room for a possible Iron Man 4 release date, unless Robert Downey Jr. won't appear in The Avengers 3 and opts in for Iron Man 4 instead.
[Iron Man 4](movie:886190)could be based on the very popular and influential story line "Demon in a Bottle." The story takes Tony Stark to a darker place, as he realizes that he's an alcoholic, while battling Justin Hammer and Whiplash. It's also very action-packed, but deals with very adult themes, which might not be suitable for younger audiences. Of course, Iron Man is now a family-friendly property, so the "Demon in a Bottle" story line might not fly with the people at Disney. It's just something to consider as the character evolves and matures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Marvel could also "James Bond" the role and hire a new actor to take over for Robert Downey, Jr. Imagine someone like Jon Hamm, Patrick Dempsey, or Mark Wahlberg taking over to play Tony Stark, this could breathe new life into the franchise (not that it needs it). If Marvel doesn't want to pay RDJ, then re-casting the role is a very realistic option.
In closing, we mostly will get an Iron Man 4 movie in the future, but it's unclear when. Will Iron Man 4 come before or after The Avengers 3? Will Robert Downey, Jr. still play Tony Stark in Iron Man 4? I think that Iron Man 3 perfectly ends Tony Starks story arc and I can see him still dealing with the events of Iron Man 3 in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Avengers 3. Needless to say, Marvel and Disney have plenty of options on where to take Tony Stark and Iron Man. I just have a feeling that what we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe will change after 2019.
What do you think? Where Do You See Iron Man 4 Going? Who Will End Up Playing Tony Stark?