On Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter broke a story about a dinner party at Spago in Los Angeles, CA where Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man 3 director Shane Black, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige, and Disney Chairman Alan Horn were all in attendance. In addition to celebrating the massive opening weekend for Iron Man 3, the gathering was also characterized as a step in the negotiations for Downey to sign on for more Marvel films, reprising his role as Tony Stark. Downey has already satisfied his contractual obligations to Marvel and is a free agent.
THR’s sources claimed The Avengers 2 and The Avengers 3 were on the table for discussion, but there was no mention of a fourth Iron Man film, fueling speculation that Downey may not want to carry another solo outing. In truth, the ending of the third film does not exactly setup a need for a fourth film anyway and it’s not difficult to imagine Tony Stark only being interested in fighting global threats when his services are absolutely needed. Marvel may already have five individual franchise films in Phase 3 prior to The Avengers 3 (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, third films for Thor and Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2), leaving no room, or no great need for Iron Man 4. The biggest money is in the teamup films and Downey would not have to work as much in those, making deals for only The Avengers 2 and The Avengers 3 a win/win for both sides.
A report from Deadline Hollywood, however, suggests a much more contentious series of negotiations for the entire Avengers assembly. Their sources cite the historical frugality of Marvel Studios CEO (and the third largest Disney shareholder) Ike Perimutter becoming a roadblock as Downey and his castmates seek raises for a sequel to a film that outperformed the expectations the original negotiations were based on. It is not exactly clear who has a contractual obligation for The Avengers 2, but Marvel plans to enforce all of its contract options. Downey, though, is a free agent and Deadline reports that Chris Hemsworth’s Thor contract does not cover The Avengers 2.
Robert Downey, Jr. made at least $50 million for The Avengers due to profit-sharing clauses and box office bonuses added to his contract after Iron Man in 2008. No one else in the cast made anywhere near that, nor should they when looking at how their individual films performed compared to Downey’s Iron Man films. Downey is not expected to take a pay cut and might even be leading his superhero teammates to better deals for the sequel. If all of the main cast bands together, it will become much harder for Marvel to deem any of them expendable. Still, it is possible that some of the cast may not be returning.
As difficult as this information may be to read or hear, there is no need to hit the panic button at this time. These negotiations should have been expected after The Avengers made $1.5 billion. Everyone wants to get paid and, frankly, they all deserve at least a little bit of a bump. Even though Deadline states that Disney does not wish to get involved in the negotiations in hopes of allowing Marvel to retain its autonomy, the presence of Alan Horn at that Spago dinner suggests that may not be entirely true.
Marvel has allowed people to walk in the past, like Terrence Howard and Edward Norton, but it is hard to imagine Disney idly standing by and watching any of its big stars walk over a few million dollars the studio can easily afford to pay. There is too much money to be made in The Avengers 2 to risk recasting a major role like Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor. Ultimately, these deals will probably get done and any hard feelings will blow over.