Marvel needs Robert Downey Jr. and the cast of The Avengers more than they need Marvel
With the billion dollar success of IRON MAN 3 (click the link to read the review) and the inevitable talk around THE AVENGERS 2, conversations have come up regarding the contract situations for the cast of the original Avengers. To recap; Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner are not signed on to future Marvel films. The lone signee is Chris Evans, who presumably made his deal for THE AVENGERS 2 when he signed on for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. What makes negotiations a little more unsettling is Marvel’s traditional stance of low-balling their actors and refusing to pay them what they would normally get for a movie.
The cast of THE AVENGERS knows they were underpaid for the film and although Robert Downey Jr. got $50 million for the film, keep in mind the movie made well over a billion dollars in ticket sales and probably just as much on DVD and Blu-ray, not to mention toy sales and other merchandising. But the other stars took in between $2 and $4 million. I don’t think the cast is expecting to get eight figures for their roles, but they do deserve their normal fee since the sequel is all but guaranteed to make as much money or more than the first. Basically, there’s a lot of pie to go around and the actors want a bigger piece, which is understandable. You and I would want more money if our companies started making more.
It has been reported that Robert Downey Jr. is acting like the ringleader for the group (this reminds me when Lisa Kudrow became the negotiator for the cast of ‘Friends’) and he’s demanding his cast mates get paid fairly before he signs on for any more films. The negotiation has already started, with Downey publicly insinuating that he’s done with Iron Man and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige commenting that anyone can play Tony Stark, ala James Bond. Its nice posturing from both sides, but when all of the crap is cleared out, what we know is that Marvel needs the cast of the Avengers more than the cast needs Marvel. If Robert Downey Jr. is successful in uniting the cast, then Marvel will have no choice but to pay them what they want. THE AVENGERS 2 could work with a single different actor playing someone like Hawkeye, but it has no chance of working with different actors playing Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Nick Fury and The Hulk.
Marvel’s cheap stance works great on actors that need another chance (Robert Downey Jr. in the first IRON MAN), actors that are right on the brink of super-stardom (Chris Evans), or actors that clearly have a lot of potential and just need their big break (Chris Hemsworth). But Marvel has done something with THE AVENGERS and their standalone films by creating a connected, intertwined movie universe. THE AVENGERS worked so well because we recognize the faces and know the characters. It’s why the Justice League film makes fanboys so nervous; Warner Bros. hasn’t established most of the characters and a grand summer blockbuster is not the time to introduce popular, new characters. To put it clearly; Marvel was right to low ball the actors to get them on board, but now that they’re all superstars, they have to pay them.
Replacing Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth is not going to be as easy as Marvel is letting on. Iron Man works so well because of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth made THOR watchable because of his charm and screen presence. These are two A-list superstars that carried their respective films. Without doing a complete reboot, I don’t see any way for Marvel to seamlessly insert new actors into these roles. And if they do, they’ll need A-list caliber actors, which will command the same salaries as RDJ and Hemsworth anyway. The other stars are important and I’d have a hard time imagining other actors in those roles, but they’re not quite as pivotal as Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth. Marvel has created a monster so to speak and they don’t really have a good way out.
I feel confident that when all of this is said and done, the entire cast will return for THE AVENGERS 2. The film has already been committed to by the CEO’s of Disney and Marvel to their shareholders and even if they take a hit financially on salaries, Marvel has to make the film. But that’s where my confidence stops. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth did their standalone follow-ups (which supposedly involved very contentious negotiating), Robert Downey Jr. did IRON MAN 3 and so Phase 2 for Marvel is pretty much complete. But after THE AVENGERS 2, I don’t feel so optimistic. My guess is that Phase 2 will be the end of the Marvel franchise as we know it and in 2016, most if not all of the characters we know will be recast. That’s a sad thought, but we should be thankful for what Marvel gave us with Phase 1 and 2 and hope that they can duplicate that success with a new cast for Phase 3.