In recent years, Robert Downey Jr. has consistently been one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. For the most part, that's because he was at the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man. Downey helped launch the franchise, so it's not exactly a surprise that they paid him well to continue appearing in films.
Now that he's done with the Marvel universe, though, where will Downey's career go from here? His first attempt at a movie outside the franchise didn't go all that well.
Downey followed up "Avengers: Endgame" by playing Dr. Dolittle in "Dolittle," and the movie wasn't exactly a huge success at the box office. Given the film's reported $175 million budget, it seems the Universal, the studio behind the film, could end up losing quite a bit of money on the project.
Now, there are many questioning whether Downey has the star power that usually draws people to the box office. Of course, "Dolittle" may not be the ideal vehicle for any actor.
Still, there are plenty who think that what ultimately matters is whether or not Downey is putting on the Iron Man suit. In a column for Forbes, Scott Mendelson suggested that this might be the case, writing "There’s a lot that went wrong with 'Dolittle,' but chief among them was spending MCU money (and giving Downey Jr. an MCU paycheck) for playing anyone other than Iron Man."
In today's franchise-drive movie business, the ability of any star to draw people to theaters is limited.
This didn't used to be the case. There was a time when actors mattered quite a bit toward a movie's performance at the box office. During that era, stars like Will Smith and Julia Roberts could open almost anything to a good return.
Now, we live in an era where the characters people play matter much more than the actors playing them. As a result, stars like Downey end up in movies that don't turn a profit because too much was invested in them.
This likely doesn't mean the end of Downey's career, but it does make it tougher to imagine a world where a studio takes another risk like this on one of his projects. The safer bet would likely be to invest in more modest projects with smaller budgets.
Downey was a great actor before he got involved in the MCU, and he can still turn in great performances. Cast him in a smaller movie, and let him prove that he's still got what it takes.