Robert Downey Jr. Tried To Play Batman Villain For Christopher Nolan

During the casting stage of Batman Begins Robert Downey Jr. met with Christopher Nolan about the possibility of the villain Scarecrow. 

By Jacob VanGundy | Published

Robert Downey Jr

Somewhere in the multiverse instead of starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. was part of Christopher Nolan’s iconic Dark Knight Trilogy. The actor met with Nolan during the casting of Batman Begins to discuss the role. Of course in our reality, Nolan went with Cillian Murphy for the role instead. 

Downey Knew It Was a Dead End

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Robert Downey Jr. shared the story in a Q&A released on X by Griffin Schiller, in which the actor discussed the ill-fated casting meeting. Though he got a meeting with Nolan, it seems that Downey Jr. was unlikely to get the role based on his description of the meeting “…he was polite and all that but you can tell when someone is kind of like, ‘It’s not going to go anywhere.’” 

Instead Of A Supervillain, He Became A Superhero

robert downey jr

Of course, things turned out well for the actor, despite not landing the role. Robert Downey Jr. was free to star in Iron Man in 2008, kicking off the massive media juggernaut known as the MCU. It’s a career-defining role that made Robert Downey Jr. a household name, irrevocably linked to the character of Tony Stark. 

For over a decade, Robert Downey Jr. brought his signature charm and charisma to the role of Tony Stark. He kicked the franchise off with a bang and endured as a fan favorite until his final role in Avengers: Endgame. Unfortunately for fans of the actor, he has claimed he will never return to Marvel

The Dark Knight Trilogy Soared

Things also worked out for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Beings and the films that followed it. Rather than Robert Downey Jr., the Scarecrow role went to Cillian Murphy, who delivered an iconic performance, appearing in all three films of the highly regarded Dark Knight trilogy. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role now. 

Cillian Murphy’s Career Is Better For It

Much like Robert Downey Jr.’s career was changed forever when he starred in Iron Man, Cillian Murphy’s career as an actor would likely look very different if he hadn’t played Scarecrow. His relationship with Christopher Nolan has been a major boon for the actor, the two working well together. Most notably Murphy starred in the 2023 blockbuster hit Oppenheimer, also a Christopher Nolan film. 

What If…?

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That fateful meeting could have completely shifted the careers of everyone involved and completely changed movies in general, and the superhero genre in particular. Robert Downey Jr. was the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years and it feels downright sacrilegious to imagine a world where he’s known for a role in a DC movie. It’s also hard to imagine the Marvel franchise becoming the pop culture monolith it is today without the quick-witted charm of Robert Downey Jr. 

It’s tough to think how different the movie landscape would look if that meeting between Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. had gone the other way. Would playing Scarecrow have reignited the actor’s career in the same way playing Iron Man did? Would the Dark Knight trilogy have been a massive hit without Cillian Murphey’s phenomenal performance? We’ll never know, but it’s fun to imagine.