In one of the most public contract negotiations of the modern era, Robert Downey Jr. has let it be known that he finished his contractual obligations to Marvel and to playing Tony Stark and Iron Man. Which means his future involvement with both 'The Avengers' and 'Iron Man' will depend on how much Marvel is willing to pony up.

Robert Downey Jr. has already said that he got paid $50 million to be a part of 'The Avengers,' though the actual number may be much larger (Deadline is suggesting it could be in the $70-$80 million range), which is a gargantuan figure, and he is looking to possibly make even more with 'Iron Man 3,' which is going to make over a billion dollars worldwide -- and could do so by the end of this weekend. But his salary must be understood in the context of how much money these films make. Yes, he may have made $80 million off of 'The Avengers,' but the film made over $1.5 billion at the box office, and when you add in home video and TV sales (not to mention toys, etc.) it's more than likely the film has made over two billion worldwide, which means Downey saw less than five percent of the film's gross -- which makes it sound much less greedy, or insane, or whatever.

As Deadline suggests, the biggest problem for Marvel in having this cash cow is how paying Robert Downey Jr. looks to the rest of the cast. It's known that Marvel has signed many of their players to multiple film contracts, but at the rate they're making films, those contracts are going to come up, and when you have a number of name players with percentage deals, that's going to eat at the profits if you're giving up thirty percent or so of the top dollar. And though Downey was unquestionably the anchor of 'The Avengers,' it's possible the brand is more valuable than any actor at this point.

But then also, if Marvel shows that they don't respect what an actor brings to the table and wants to keep them at a base salary, then it's going to be much harder to convince someone to sign a multiple film contract if they must do nine films and never reap greater rewards.

But though Hulk has gone through three actors at this point, Robert Downey Jr. (as he's said in the movies) is Iron Man. Though Sony did okay rebooting Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield, it was also the least successful Spider-Man film, and here Downey is an even bigger player than Tobey Maguire. It's possible that audiences will reject a new Iron Man movie without him. The problem for Marvel is that they know an Iron Man movie with RDJ will likely make a billion dollars worldwide, but the production will cost at least $200 million, on top of having to pay Downey $100 Million (and possibly more) for his work. On the other hand, bringing in, say, Zac Efron or Josh Brolin to replace him could leave them with a very expensive flop. As this has played out on the public stage, expect it to continue to be talked about very publicly until either Robert Downey Jr. is in the position to become a billionaire, or he is replaced.

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