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Every Robert Downey Jr. MCU movie ranked

Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark was a centerpiece of Marvel's Cinematic Universe for over a decade. Stark — and Downey by extension — was there at the universe's conception, shepherded it through several of its most critical stages, and was there to close out its first great arc, known as the "Infinity Saga." Right out of the gate, his trifecta of solo films was largely the catalyst that boosted the MCU into the limelight. As a comparison to help drive home the point, Iron Man alone outperformed The Incredible Hulk (both of which came out within months of each other) nearly two to one at the worldwide box office.

After this strong start, the Wonder Boy went on to help form the Avengers. He was on the front lines for Age of Ultron and was also at the center of the team's split in Captain America: Civil War. From there he rose to his ultimate triumph in the final fight against the galaxy-wide threat of Thanos. This last act proved to be his swan song, with the Iron Avenger rising from the ashes of defeat to find that one in 14 million chance of snapping his way to victory over the Mad Titan. From beginning to end, Stark's story has been cinematic gold.

Marvel's man

Of course, an illustrious superhero career like Iron Man's isn't created with a single movie. It takes years of production and hours of screen time to roll out a narrative of this scope and magnitude. So it should come as no surprise that Robert Downey Jr. has made quite a few appearances as Tony Stark in various films over the years — ten, to be precise, not counting mentions or pictures. Each of these has served to develop Stark's character in various ways and has continued to endear him to his countless fans.

The Marvel actor's ability to bring the goods is unquestioned. But now that Iron Man's pivotal role in the MCU seems to have come to a heroic close, a question worth asking is where the high and low points of Stark's story took place. Most would agree that every time RDJ suited up it made for quality cinema, but which appearances were the best of the best?

With that in mind, we've gone ahead and ranked every one of Downey's on-screen appearances as Tony Stark, from Iron Man to Endgame. The list is ordered from decent to absolute best and, though it considers each movie as a whole, specifically takes into account the part played by RDJ/Tony Stark in each film. Enjoy!

The Incredible Hulk

While Hulk's only solo film in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk, is rather disappointing on most accounts, it does have an interesting little credits scene tacked onto the end of it. It opens on General "Thunderbolt" Ross drowning his woes in a bar after failing to contain Hulk throughout the film and then having to deal with the new issue of Abomination.

Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, Tony Stark shows up and starts talking to the tipsy officer about a "team" that he's helping put together. The scene is fun, but it feels just a bit out of place after the serious tone of the film. While it could arguably be categorized as the first major character crossover in the MCU — even if it comes in the form of a credits scene — apart from that, even the rising star of Tony Stark simply doesn't add much to a movie that is already a bit of a low point, so it naturally falls to the last place on the list.

Iron Man 2

The second installment in Stark's personal trilogy, Iron Man 2 was the first sequel and just the third film to enter the MCU canon. An all-around entertaining flick, the movie hails the arrival of important supporting characters like Black Widow and Rhodey and further develops others like Nick Fury and Pepper Potts. It also has the end credits scene where Agent Coulson finds Mjolnir, teasing the first appearance of Thor.

For all the fun worldbuilding, though, the movie features a fairly weak storyline that feels like it's moving all over the place and getting nowhere fast. The villain, Whiplash, is interesting, but he certainly doesn't make the shortlist for Marvel's best baddies, either.

When it comes to Tony Stark, in particular, Iron Man 2 does provide some fun background on the billionaire playboy-turned-superhero. It fleshes out his character through his palladium-induced health woes and provides some background info on Stark's past, especially his father, Howard. However, all things considered, the film starts with Iron Man's compelling origin already in the past and tends to veer off and focus on other subjects and storylines as much as it does its titular character. All of this takes a bit of the shine off and drops it down on a list of well-polished contenders.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a seriously packed movie. It brings the Maximoff twins into the picture, showcases the origins of both Vision and Ultron, and hints at the existence of Wakanda. It also further sets up the Thanos storyline through Thor's side trip to the Water of Sights and the slightly confusing end credits scene where the Mad Titan dons the Infinity Gauntlet in order to "do it myself." Heck, it even has the scene with Captain America budging but "failing" to lift Mjolnir, an event that was vindicated in the fading moments of Endgame.

Even with so much going on, though, Tony Stark's role still manages to rise above the bustle as a salient element that propels the entire storyline forward. For starters, the entire Ultron debacle begins with Tony's desire to create a suit of armor around the world. Stark also has a vivid vision while under Scarlet Witch's influence that largely defines the rest of his arc throughout the MCU. While many of his best movies revolve around his humor and heroics, Stark's vision and the consequent change in his tone after the events in Sokovia make Age of Ultron a critically important piece in his own story arc, as well as that of the entire Avengers franchise. That said, it's was simply too overcrowded to warrant a higher spot on the list.

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a great finale for Tony Stark's trilogy. With the formation of the Avengers in the rearview mirror for the first time in Iron Man's storyline and the Age of Ultron drama just beginning to brew, the film explores a deeper angle of Stark's personal character. The PTSD that the hero struggles with after his role in the Battle of New York is a welcome upgrade from the melodramatically depressed and discouraged Stark of Iron Man 2. In addition, the Aldrich Killian-fake Mandarin duo also proves to be just the right level of villain to keep Stark on his toes. And don't forget that final acceptance that, with or without armor, he is Iron Man. Foreshadowing much?

Probably the best part about Iron Man 3, though, and why it lands above Age of Ultron on the list, is the fact that the film returns to the roots of why Tony Stark is Iron Man in the first place. Early on in the film, Stark has his mansion destroyed and has to flee into hiding. From there, the billionaire is forced to work from what little he has at his disposal to make a comeback and defeat the villains threatening his entire world. The movie showcases exactly why we all love Tony Stark so much. He may be covered with bells and whistles most of the time, but even when you strip those away, he's still a hero underneath all of the armor.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tony Stark's role in Spider-Man: Homecoming is significantly larger than might have been expected. Not only does Stark's presence heavily influence the film's outcome, but it serves to continue to directly draw Peter Parker into Stark's world. While Spidey's first foray into the Avengers' affairs came in the form of his involvement in Captain America: Civil War, it was Homecoming that showed that Marvel was ready to steer into that Avengers-prone skid.

The interesting part when it comes to this list, though, is how the film heralds a new twist in the Stark storyline. After years of slowly tempering the sarcastic, playboy edge of his personality, it's in Homecoming that we finally see "Stark the father figure" emerge in all of his hilariously humorous, genuinely legitimate glory. Stark makes sure that Happy Hogan has a continual eye on Parker at all times, advises his young protege remotely from India, and scolds him from the rooftops after cleaning up the mess with the ferry. Without a doubt, Downey's performance in Homecoming brings a whole new, deeper level to Stark's personality.

Avengers

As already mentioned, Stark has been a key component to the Avengers franchise all along. Whether he was recruiting members in The Incredible Hulk, putting on the brakes during Civil War, or snapping his fingers in Endgame, the Iron Avenger has been one of the movers and shakers of the superhero team. But it's Stark's role in Avengers that serves as the perfect kick-off to his larger role as a hero, leader, and even financier of the superhero collective.

The Starkster had already flirted with the Avengers Initiative when he was vetted and seen as unworthy for the team earlier in his own franchise. The decision to bring him back into the fold ends up being crucial, though, for both long-term and short-term events. It shows for the first time that Stark can flash that pure superhero muscle on a galactic level when necessary. Not only does Iron Man end up playing an important role throughout the movie, but it's specifically his final sacrificial flight into space with a nuclear warhead that ends up saving millions of lives in and around New York City.

Captain America: Civil War

While Stark's heroics in Avengers may have put him front and center in the Avengers narrative, his central position becomes unenviable by the events of Captain America: Civil War. That story sees Stark go head to head with Steve Rogers over the fallout from the events in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While the film is an excellent addition to the Captain America franchise, it's none other than Tony Stark who soaks up nearly as much limelight as the First Avenger himself.

The compelling part about Downey's performance in Civil War comes more from his deviation from the expected than anything else. Gone is the Iron Man of Age of Ultron who had been willing to break the rules if he thought it was necessary. The results of said rule-breaking had left such a colossal mess in its wake that by Civil War, Stark's character took an abrupt turn. Rather than advocating for independence and freedom from government interference, as he had in the past, Stark becomes insistent that the Avengers should be brought under some form of government oversight. This tragic and stressful performance brings an intense level of emotion to the movie and creates a divide that fails to be further addressed until Avengers: Endgame.

Avengers: Infinity War

When you break it down, Tony Stark's story, more than anyone else's, points directly towards Thanos, and when the Mad Titan finally arrives on the scene in Avengers: Infinity War, it creates an opportunity for one of the best appearances of Iron Man in the entire MCU. While the star-studded cross over film clearly has to incorporate a vast number of different characters, few of them prove to be as critical in the struggle as Stark.

The movie begins with Pepper Potts trying to convince the ironclad hero to give up the superhero gig once and for all. Of course, the conversation proves to be a moot point, as Stark is quickly scooped up into the events of the film. As the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly clearer that Stark has a more important role than might be expected. He immediately links the approach of Thanos' army to his vision from Age of Ultron. He's also the first one to draw blood in combat with the Mad Titan and is directly acknowledged by the villain himself, who claims he isn't the only one "cursed with knowledge." Most telling of all, though, is the fact that Doctor Strange literally sacrifices half of the entire universe specifically to save his life.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame brings a lot of closure to the MCU. It wraps up the Infinity Saga, ties up the Thanos story, and ushers out Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff. But, above all, it brings the story of Tony Stark to its ultimate, heroic conclusion. While Stark shoulders a hefty role in the film from one end to the other, it's the climax, in particular, that really pushes this one so high on the list.

With the entire universe at stake, it ends up falling to none other than Mr. Stark himself, prompted by Doctor Strange, to take on Thanos, wrest the Infinity Stones from his possession, and use them to dust the Mad Titan's armada. It's a satisfying conclusion to the villain's destructive plans, but, of course, it came at the cost of Iron Man's life. The multi-faceted part that Stark had played throughout the MCU winds its way to that one moment, that epic conclusion: "I am Iron Man." It's a spine-chilling way to conclude the story of the man that started it all, and it ranks among Downey's top performances in the red and gold.

Iron Man

While Avengers: Endgame provides an incredibly satisfying conclusion to Tony Stark's story, there's one movie that can confidently claim to come before it and sit proudly at the top of the list: Iron Man. The movie that literally started everything, Iron Man introduced us to the man that would ultimately prove to be the linchpin of the entire first 22 movies of the MCU.

However, Tony Stark's sarcastic demeanor and insulting attitude were initially anything but attractive. It was over the course of that first movie that his personality was slowly tempered and transformed, starting with his desperate experiences in the caves of Afghanistan. The most compelling thing about RDJ's performance in Iron Man was that it created a flawed but hopeful character that was worth investing in for the long haul.

The exciting new character drew fans young and old alike into the emerging MCU and showed them what a truly good superhero movie could look like. Movies like Endgame and Civil War expertly developed that narrative, but if it weren't for Iron Man, there would never have been a Tony Stark in the first place. In fact, dare we say it, if it weren't for Iron Man, there may well have never truly been a successful MCU at all. And for that, we say thank you, Robert. We love you 3,000.

Iron Man's MCU Future

Of course, just because Tony Stark passed on in Endgame doesn't mean we won't feel the effects of his presence for a long while to come. For one thing, his impact on the young Peter Parker certainly lives on in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Apart from that, though, there are many other ways that Robert Downey Jr.'s character could be brought back into the mix in the future.

For instance, Avengers: Endgame has introduced new concepts like time travel and multiple dimensions. Naturally, it follows that if the folks at Marvel wanted to, they could always bring Tony Stark, or another version of him at least, back in a few years. This could be in the form of a brief cameo or, if RDJ is up for it, it could involve something more substantial.

There's also the possibility of his appearing in any movies set in the past. And don't forget the fact that the genius could have easily uploaded his personality into the Iron Man armor before he passed. There are plenty of potential options out there to rework Mr. Stark back into the narrative. Chances are, though, Marvel Studios will sit on them at least for a while if they want Stark's sacrificial death in Endgame to mean anything.