After over 10 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr.'s time as Iron Man could be coming to an end when Avengers: Endgame debuts on April 26. There's more than one way this could happen — if it happens — but let's look at one option in particular: What happens if Tony Stark dies in Avengers: Endgame?
One major reason this seems like a possibility is because Downey's contract with Marvel is up after Endgame. His co-star Chris Evans told Good Morning America last year, "A lot of our contracts are through. Myself, [Robert] Downey Jr., [Chris] Hemsworth, we all started roughly at the same time, and I think we all through Avengers 4 kind of wrap it up. I don't know what's next — but by 2019, that's it."
For his part, Downey has said that he would continue with the role as long as it made sense and felt right. "I just never want to blow it for the last six or seven (MCU movies) I have done by dropping the ball because I decided to go do it one more time, he told Australian site News.com.au in 2017. "I just want to hang up my jersey before it’s embarrassing."
And now is the time that makes the most sense to do that, because Endgame also marks the end of the MCU's Phase 3 of movies.
So, if Tony dies in a way that makes sense for the film (for example, Game Spot puts forth that it would make for a satisfying arc if he died through a form of sacrifice) and sets Downey free, then what? Well, the MCU would continue on to Phase 4 with other superhero stars. This could mean that eventually there's another Iron Man who isn't Tony Stark or that another character takes on the sort of role he held in the universe while not being literally Iron Man.
In comics, there have been other characters who have worn Iron Man's suit, but usually just briefly. Notably, this includes Rhodey, aka War Machine, who is played in the MCU by Don Cheadle, so that doesn't really add up. But, there are some other suggestions for a new Iron Man that would switch things up in a very cool way.
Some fans believe Shuri should be a new Iron Man, because, like Tony Stark, she's a genius with technology. There's also another young black woman character, who could fit: Riri Williams. She made her comic debut in 2016 and is a super intelligent teen who built her own version of the Iron Man armor. As a superhero, she goes by the name Ironheart.
If a new Iron Man doesn't happen, another option is, obviously, just for the movies to continue totally Iron Man-less. An article on Vox called "Marvel bids farewell to the original Avengers by introducing new, vaguely similar ones" explains that Iron Man's place could be filled by Doctor Strange in Phase 4 (there is a second Doctor Strange movie coming up) because he "has the snarky ego and snappy one-liners of Iron Man" and because their first, introductory movies are similar. (The article also argues that Captain Marvel would be filling the spot left by Captain America and that Black Panther would effectively be taking over for Thor.) But even if you don't agree with this matchup, the point is that the movies would go on without Tony, but with newer additions to the MCU.
One thing that's not currently an option is that the entire character is totally replaced with a new actor. "There is nobody who can take over Iron Man from Robert. I don’t think the audience would accept that," Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame director Joe Russo said in a group interview in 2018, according to the Hindustan Times. He added, "He never mentioned to us about leaving Iron Man, but it will happen at some point of time."
All of this said, Tony dying is not the only option for Endgame and the end of Downey's time as Iron Man. Some fans on Reddit think he could retire as Iron Man and then possibly still pop up as a mentor or leader of some sort. Others believe that he could be sent to another reality. But regardless of what happens with Tony at the end of Endgame, we could get a new Iron Man (or Woman) down the line. Or, really, even another Tony Stark decades from now when this whole thing ends up getting another reboot.