The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a theatrical force in the 21st century, but it's hard not to wonder what could have been if The Avengers debuted in the '80s. Everyone loves Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, but who would have been cast to fill the Iron Man suit in the Reagan era? Which '80s action stars might have helped defeat Thanos and save the planet, had Nick Fury assembled them a few decades earlier?
Like actors who turned down Marvel roles, plenty of producers are likely haunted they passed on a comic book movie back when the properties were widely available. The landscape of Hollywood was so different back then, the heroes you love probably wouldn't look anything like they do now. Similar to the myriad possibilities offered by fantasy casting of The Avengers in the '90s, there are fitting choices from the age of excess.
Danny DeVito spent the '80s playing fast-talking, abrasive scoundrels who audiences couldn't help but love. He's essentially Rocket Raccoon come to life without all the cybernetic implants, so it just makes sense to cast him in this role. Beyond his quick-talking demeanor, DeVito would play an essential member of the ensemble. DeVito could always be counted on to keep a scene moving without taking over the whole movie, which is precisely the kind of actor a 20-person movie needs.
In the '80s, Kevin Costner straddled the line between Hollywood superstar and everyman, making him the ideal Clint Barton for the decade. You need a Hawkeye who's going to take his role seriously and add much-needed grounding to the superpowered team. Costner could anchor a blockbuster like The Untouchables or charm audiences with his natural humor like he did in Bull Durham. As the cherry on top, he proved he could handle a bow and arrow in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, even if he didn't try much of a British accent.
The '80s belonged to Michael J. Fox. After his breakout on the sitcom Family Ties, Fox spent the decade portraying boyish underdogs in Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, roles he played with a natural charm that set audiences at ease. Fox would have swung into the role of Peter Parker perfectly. He packed the perfect mix of wide-eyed wonder and quick wit to pull off the webhead's signature quips.
If you were making The Avengers in the 1980s, the limitations of special effects would be a big hurdle, especially with a complete CGI creation like the Hulk. Luckily, there was a ready-made Hulk who just needed a shaggy wig and green body paint: Lou Ferrigno. He played the Green Goliath on TV from 1977 to 1982, so he'd already be prepared for the makeup job every morning during filming.