Before the MCU boom of the 2000s, comic book readers spent countless hours arguing about which actors should play their favorite characters in film adaptations. Since then, over a 18 MCU films have been released, and the cast has remained relatively consistent throughout. Many people feel the chosen actors are perfect for their roles, so it can be hard to imagine anyone else stepping into the suits.
While Robert Downey Jr. fully embodies the role of Tony Stark, it’s still fun to think about who would play Iron Man in the '90s. Depending on the '90s actor chosen, the resulting film would undoubtedly be much different than what we're used to. If Nicolas Cage became Tony Stark, the billionaire would almost certainly be a raving lunatic. If Tom Hanks were Iron Man, then the hero would be bumbling and sweet. Some '90s actors were actually considered for the lead role in 2008's Iron Man, and if things had played out differently, the name Tony Stark would be associated with Tom Cruise's face.
Tom Hanks isn't the first guy you think about when the phrase "billionaire in a robot suit who fights a bio-engineered sentient computer to save the Cosmic Cube" comes to mind. But that's okay, because everyone loves Hanks. He's a relatable goof who grounds his work in a wholesome reality that makes the audience believe everything is going to be fine. If he'd been given the chance, he would have turned cocky science playboy Tony Stark into an endearing simpleton, and that's what the world needed in 1997.
A decade after the untimely death of Pepper Potts, a bumbling Tony Stark learns to love again when his son teaches him it's okay to give his heart away. When Stark realizes his newfound love works at Stane International, he has to choose between romance and getting into fist fights with other robot suit-clad billionaires.
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Brad Pitt's roles from the 1990s can be split into two categories: "hunky sad guy with long hair," and "hunky angry guy with short hair." His turn as Iron Man would have brought together all of his short-haired angry roles to produce the greatest outraged hunk in comic book history.
Pitt could have worn his tuxedo from Meet Joe Black, tossed around some nihilistic jokes from Fight Club, and brought in his on-screen love of Gwyneth Paltrow from Se7en to form a potentially good movie.
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Mel Gibson's output of crowd-pleasing action films in the late '80s and early '90s is unparalleled. From Lethal Weapon, to Bird on a Wire, to Air America, much of Gibson's work strikes a balance between epic conflicts and goofy good times, so it's safe to assume he'd have nailed the role of Tony Stark. If Lethal Weapon writer (and Iron Man 3 director) Shane Black had been on board, the movie could have ushered in the MCU 20 years earlier.
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No one thinks of Kevin Costner as an action guy. After filming Waterworld, Costner probably doesn't even think of himself as an action guy. However, if you wanted a '90s star to write, direct, and act in a film about a hero who's upset with his station in life, then you'd definitely hire Costner.
Between 1987 and 1995, Costner had an iron grip on the film industry. During that time, he made The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood, JFK, and The Bodyguard. None of those movies have anything in common, aside from Costner's role in the production. In short, Costner was a money printing machine for Hollywood.
Costner's Iron Man would have been three hours long, and when it inevitably aired on TBS with commercials, it would have taken up an entire afternoon. The movie would not have featured a specific villain, and Tony Stark wouldn't turn into Iron Man until the last 20 minutes. The first part of the film would have detailed Stark's journey to learn the importance of iron while portraying zero redeeming qualities.
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