In the more than 10 years since Iron Man hit theaters, the world of superhero movies has changed. A lot. The 2008 blockbuster was the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it paved the way for all the rest of them—Avengers movies included. The film franchise's success is largely due to actor Robert Downey Jr., who has truly brought the character of Tony Stark to life and set the tone for the Marvel movies to come.
Though Downey proved to be the perfect fit to play the superhero, he was by no means the studio’s first choice. Or even their second. In fact, it took a lot of work to convince Marvel to officially cast him. Though it's hard to imagine the MCU without Downey, here are five other actors who were considered for the role.
1. Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise responded to rumors that he was almost Iron Man, stating in 2018 that while he was considered, it didn’t go beyond that. "Not close," Cruise said of how close he got to the part. "Not close and I love Robert Downey Jr. I can't imagine anyone else in that role and I think it's perfect for him." Cruise's stunt work alone probably would have made him a decent pick.
2. Hugh Jackman
Adam Trafford, AFL Media/Getty Images
This one is a little strange, considering Hugh Jackman already plays the X-Men's Wolverine, one of the world's most famous superheroes. But according to CBR, Jackman was considered for the role of Iron Man. For his part, Jackman has stayed relatively quiet on the subject—except to say that he's dying to kick Downey's a**.
"I actually just asked the other day, I said, 'I don’t know what the legal situation is, but why don’t these companies come together? Why isn’t it possible?,'" Jackman said of his desire to see the X-Men meet up with the Avengers. "Because personally, I would love to mix it up with Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man and kick his a**. It’d be great." (Be careful what you wish for, Hugh.)
3. Nicolas Cage
Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Nicolas Cage has a well-known affinity for superheroes (just check out his legendary screen test for Superman). According to ScreenCrush, Cage expressed interest in taking on the role of Tony Stark back in the 1990s—more than a decade before the film finally came to fruition. Alas, much like the Man of Steel, Cage's time in the Iron suit never came to be.
4. Sam Rockwell
Today, Sam Rockwell is an Oscar-winning actor. But when Jon Favreau initially approached him about playing Iron Man, he was largely known as a character actor (and had played a lot of villains). Though the titular part didn't work out, Rockwell did appear in Iron Man 2—as villain Justin Hammer.
5. Timothy Olyphant
Justified star Timothy Olyphant has all the makings of a great superhero. And, as he shared with Conan O'Brien in 2015, he ended up earning an audition for the role of Tony Stark. But luck was not on his side as it turns out that he actually tested for the role on the same day as Downey. Which just doesn't seem fair for any actor.
Think for a moment about how many private interactions you have on the internet. Saved passwords, credit card information, private conversations, medical records— almost your entire identity. Protect your privacy and identity across five devices for under $40 with a lifetime VPN from KeepSolid, which provides you peace of mind to continue using online conveniences without fear, bandwidth limits, or geographic restrictions.
Daily protection is extremely important when almost every transaction is made online. Groceries, movies, games, bills, and so much more are all paid for online with your personal and accessible information—but the concern doesn’t stop with others’ access to you. What happens when you’re restricted from accessing parts of the internet yourself? KeepSolid VPN Unlimited will also bypass censorship to allow you access to any site you’d like. This comes in handy when you’re traveling abroad in countries that restrict access to sites like Facebook.
More than 10 million customers globally have trusted KeepSolid VPN Unlimited with their internet access, identity, and privacy without compromised browsing speeds or the danger of leaving data exposed to theft and fraud. If the reviews of the general public don’t sway you, perhaps the military-grade AES 256-bit encryption will (that’s cybersecurity lingo for very secure).
While Keepsolid VPN Unlimited can't keep your fingers from accidentally sending that Snapchat to the wrong person (that’s on you), it can protect you from the privacy violations that are out of your control and often go undetected. Add the best VPN to your cybersecurity toolkit at the sale price of $39, and enjoy a massive selection of servers worldwide, a rich variety of VPN protocols, and much more to keep hackers out of your sensitive data for a lifetime.
At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.
While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were considered the apex of the 1980s action movie hero, genre fans found a more graceful alternative in Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Belgian-born actor and martial artist used his flexibility to great effect in action classics like 1988’s Bloodsport, 1989’s Kickboxer, and 1994’s Timecop. For more on the “Muscles from Brussels,” including his competitive fighting background and why he once challenged Steven Seagal to a real fight in Stallone’s backyard, read on.
1. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a ballet “nerd.”
Jean Claude Van Damme attends the Cannes Film Festival.
Francois Durand/Getty Images
Kicking out of his mother’s womb on October 18, 1960 in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, the future Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. (He used the stage name “Frank Cujo” before settling on Van Damme.) A self-described “nerd,” Van Damme studied karate and ballet in his youth, the latter for five years. He said his father encouraged him to take karate in order for the bespectacled Van Damme to be able to toughen up. But Van Damme also said ballet greatly aided his martial arts ability and screen presence.
“I was always attracted to ballet because of the dexterity, the stretching, the grace, and the fact that you are able to control without showing any pain on your face,” Van Damme told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I mixed the grace and the movement with the power of karate. It’s been a big help in my movies.”
2. Jean-Claude Van Damme worked as a bouncer for Chuck Norris.
Van Damme operated a gym in Brussels and had success in bodybuilding and modeling, but he wanted to act. Heading to Hollywood in his early 20s to pursue his dreams of stardom, Van Damme picked up bits parts in films like 1984’s Monaco Forever (he was officially credited as “Gay Karate Man”) and a future GIF-worthy scene in 1984’s Breakin’ while working as a cab driver, waiter, and bouncer, among other odd jobs. Most notably, he bounced for Woody’s Wharf, a bar owned by martial arts icon Chuck Norris. “American people are big people,” Van Damme toldThe Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “I didn’t have any fight, thank God. I was a good schmoozer, simpatico and no incident happened.”
3. Jean-Claude Van Damme got his big break by throwing kicks at a producer’s head.
Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport (1988).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
After a tense shoot on 1987’s Predator, in which Van Damme was cast as the titular alien but was replaced during production, the actor wanted to find a role better-suited to his talents. One day, he found himself crossing paths with B-movie producer Menahem Golan. Seizing the opportunity, Van Damme began launching kicks at Golan, stopping short of connecting. This earned him a meeting in Golan’s office, in which a shirtless Van Damme convinced Golan he was skilled, charismatic, and most importantly, cheap. Golan cast him in 1988’s Bloodsport, a martial arts tournament film ostensibly based on the real-life exploits of Frank Dux. Van Damme helped re-cut the film with screenwriter Sheldon Lettich and Carl Kress, an editor who worked on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Bloodsport went on to make $65 million, turning Van Damme into an overnight star.
4. Jean-Claude Van Damme once threw a papaya at a producer’s head.
The success of Bloodsport led to steady work for Van Damme, who appeared in 1989’s Kickboxer, 1990’s Lionheart, and 1991’s Double Impact. In the latter, he played twins out to avenge the death of their father. But the production was troubled. In 2019, Van Damme told Yahoo! that the producer of the film was attempting to divert funds from Double Impact to 1991’s Stone Cold, an action vehicle for NFL star Brian Bosworth. Van Damme grew so upset that he threw a papaya at the producer’s head. “Thank God he ducked,” Van Damme said. “[It splattered] all over the wall. And he just ran away to the airport. I was crazy at the time. You just don’t touch my movie.”
5. Jean-Claude Van Damme once challenged Steven Seagal to a fight at Sylvester Stallone’s house.
According to Sylvester Stallone, a fight between the two action stars nearly happened off-camera. In 1997, Stallone invited both Van Damme and actor Steven Seagal to a house party at Stallone’s property in Miami, Florida. At some point, Van Damme expressed irritation that Seagal had previously claimed he could best Van Damme in a fight. Van Damme demanded Seagal follow him outside to settle it, which Stallone claimed Seagal avoided. Later, the two were at a nightclub when Van Damme again confronted Seagal, who slipped out “like Houdini,” according to Stallone.
6. Jean-Claude Van Damme knows his film titles can get repetitive.
Many Van Damme films have some variation of “death” or “dead” in the title, a fact Van Damme is well aware of. Promoting his Amazon Prime series Jean-Claude Van Johnson in 2017, the actor joked about the generic flavor of the films. “For a while, I was kind of forgotten there,” he toldRolling Stone. "'OK, Jean-Claude, what’s he doing?' Sudden Death, March of Death, Dead Dead Dead, and Double Dead, and what was the last one? Dead on Dead.” Van Damme's most recent live-action feature was 2019's We Die Young.
7. Jean-Claude Van Damme gave one of Time magazine’s Great Movie Performances of 2008.
At times dismissed for being more of a physical performer than an actor, Van Damme earned critical praise in 2008 for JCVD, a meta film in which he portrays himself dealing with both a bank heist and the torment of self-reflection. In one six-minute monologue, Van Damme lays himself bare. TIME dubbed it one of the great performances of the year.
8. Jean-Claude Van Damme has two statues dedicated in his honor.
In 2012, a statue paying tribute to Van Damme debuted in Brussels, Belgium in front of the Westland Shopping Center. The towering sculpture depicts Van Damme in a martial arts posture, ready to strike. Van Damme also has a second statue sporting his likeness, this one in the country of Azerbaijan. The piece, which features Van Damme doing his trademark splits, is located in the village of Vandam.