By virtually any metric that keeps track of this sort of thing, Robert Downey Jr. is the biggest movie star in the world. As the centerpiece of Marvel’s Avengers and Iron Man franchises, he’s basically been printing money for over a decade. With two more Avengers movies on the way, as well as a major cameo in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he’s set to anchor at least several more billion-dollar megahits.
But with no more Marvel movies left on his contract beyond The Avengers: Infinity Wars parts one and two – and a fourth standalone Iron Man not likely – it’s time for RDJ to start planning what he wants to do once he hangs up the red and gold suit once and for all.
Will he chase that elusive Oscar by tackling more serious fare like The Soloist and The Judge? Will he try to carry another franchise, like the Sherlock Holmes movies? Or will he return to darker fare like Zodiac and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, two films that established him as one of our most electric and daring actors before Iron Man made him a Disney poster boy?
Fans hoping for the latter probably shouldn’t hold their breath. On Monday, Variety reported that Downey Jr. is set to star as Doctor Dolittle in an upcoming reboot of the classic film (and the Eddie Murphy version that followed), called The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle. If you’re unfamiliar with the property, it’s basically about a man who talks to animals. This suggests that Downey Jr. is temporarily done taking creative risks, as many of his leading man counterparts often do.
For anyone who’s been paying close attention to his career, Downey Jr.’s aversion to working on anything outside of the big budget studio sphere should come as no surprise. In 2015, when asked if he wanted to return to his low-budget roots, the actor gave a pretty definitive answer, calling indie films “exhausting” and characterized them as “taking the most out of you.” Adding insult to injury, RDJ called those who work on smaller films “inexperienced and lame.”
But as actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and even Matthew McConaughey have proven, you don’t need to go indie to be interesting. All three actors have managed to push creative boundaries while working firmly inside the studio system. Imagine what would happen if RDJ teamed with a director like Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan? Fans of Zodiac (we know you’re out there) would kill to see Downey Jr. reteam with David Fincher on another smoke-black procedural. But if Downey Jr., who at 51 is still relatively young by leading man standards, wants to stay atop the box office for now, that’s certainly his prerogative. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Downey Jr.’s personal problems landed him in Hollywood (and literal) jail, which must make his current position as king of the hill all the sweeter.
So while we shouldn’t panic about Downey Jr.’s current career trajectory just yet, let’s also remember that in a day and age when true movie stars have become disposable commodities, it would be a shame if we lost one of our last true originals.