With Marvel Studios' recent announcement of three new -- as yet untitled -- movies in 2020, speculation has been predictably rife as to just what those semi-announced films will actually be. From murmurings of an MCU Fantastic Four movie to a widely cast net of fan speculation, the possibilities for 2020 are seemingly endless.
Into that chasm of speculative possibility, then, it seemed about time to remind ourselves that -- of all Marvel's cinematic properties -- there is, in fact, one more likely than any other to hit the big screen in 2020. Y'see, while Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow, Vision and Scarlet Witch may all be very much deserving of their own solo outings, there's always been one hero who towers above them all (in box-office returns). That's right...
There's a Pretty Good Chance We're (Finally) Going to See Iron Man 4 in 2020
Yup. That Iron Man 4, with that Robert Downey Jr.
Why exactly is that, though, you ask? Well, here are three big reasons to be cheerfully optimistic...
3. The MCU's Overarching Narrative May Demand It
Take a look for a second at the next few years of the MCU. 2016 looks set to introduce a whole lot of dramatic tension to the Avengers, in the form of an actual, factual superhero civil war in Captain America: Civil War, before late 2016 and 2017 largely ignore our established heroes in favor of new introductions, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Asgard.
The reason that matters to Iron Man 4? By the end of 2016, a whole lot of us might just hate Tony Stark -- since he's all-but guaranteed to continue his current character arc of 'arrogant guy who keeps almost destroying the world by inventing murder robots and starting civil wars.' With 2018 and 2019's Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 unlikely to have too much time to spare on Stark, there's a pretty solid chance he won't have had time to redeem himself by the time 2020 rolls along.
Which is why we might just need an Iron Man 4 in which he can do so. After all, the MCU started with Iron Man -- and his path through it is arguably its defining narrative strand. He isn't going to just hang around in the background forever, or wind up a petty bureaucrat -- he's freaking Iron Man, for crying out loud. He'll go out in a blaze of glory, and he'll almost certainly do so in his own, hugely profitable movie. Iron Man: The End, in 2020, anyone?
The only major problem? Robert Downey Jr. sure is expensive...
As it turns out, though:
2. Robert Downey Jr. Isn't Actually as Expensive as He Seems
Now, the fact that RDJ can expect to make $100million-plus from a solo movie (he's garnering a hefty $40 million for Captain America: Civil War, and made substantially more from Avengers: Age of Ultron), what with him being its main identifiable box-office draw, is obviously a limiting factor when it comes to commissioning Iron Man 4. After all, what movie company wouldn't balk at the prospect of spending that much money on a single actor? As such, it's probably the biggest thing holding the project back -- RDJ's possible reluctance to return aside.
The thing is, though, there's a pretty good chance that all of that honestly doesn't matter. Y'see, with Iron Man 3 making $1.2 billion worldwide, and a sequel likely to surpass that (especially with China's growth as a major marketplace), throwing a whole lot of money at RDJ (especially if much of it is in the form of back-end percentages), it isn't actually going to stop the movie from making a vast amount of money.
Or, in other words? There's no reason not to make it, and it would almost certainly be a hit. Under those circumstances, Hollywood doesn't really pass on movies.
The biggest reason to expect Iron Man 4 in 2020, though?
1. It's the Way Marvel Does Business
In many ways, this is actually the one element to factor in to the 2020 calculations that might just trump all the rest: Marvel Studios has a very specific formula for its movie releases...and it might just necessitate an Iron Man sequel.
Specifically, each year of Marvel releases is intended to include one sequel, and one new property, in order to have at least one established brand present to balance out the box-office risk of a newly introduced character. What's more, when the number of releases each year increases to three in 2017, that formula looks set to change (at least in 2017 and 2018) to two sequels and one new property.
With the release schedule seemingly designed to ensure a minimum level of box-office success (riskier options like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were paired with the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, for instance, keeping the pressure low), and no Avengers (or, indeed, Captain America) movie likely to be scheduled for 2020, an Iron Man sequel may well be the only reliably billion-plus-grossing option going.
If Marvel opts for -- say -- a Fantastic Four introduction, and a potentially mid-grossing Doctor Strange sequel (or even another new character), then nothing short of an Iron Man movie is likely to provide the financial comfort blanket that they have up till now centered their long-term planning around.
Which might just make Iron Man 4 as safe a bet for 2020 as you'll ever see...