We got a great look at the villainous side of Robert Downey Jr this year in Oppenheimer, and he was smarmy and chilling in the best way. But we came within a whisker of getting the star’s dark side decades in an earlier blockbuster as one of DC’s biggest supervillains: the malevolent business genius Lex Luthor.
Terminator Salvation director McG was attached in the early 2000s to a DC Universe script penned by JJ Abrams, which was known as Superman: Flyby. It would’ve been yet another origin story – they love making us rewrite our DC movies in order guide over and over – and the plan was to introduce a whole new Superman actor, who might actually have been the future Supes leading man Henry Cavill.
But McG explained to IndieWire in 2012 that it was the identity of his DC villains that was particularly exciting. “We had Robert Downey Jr. locked up to be Lex Luthor, which I think would have been extraordinary,” the filmmaker revealed.
We have to agree. Downey Jr would be perfect casting for the LexCorp boss. After all, who is Tony Stark if not a moderately more pleasant Lex Luthor? There’s definitely a world in which Downey ended up with the other comic book studio, and we have no doubt that he’d have been a very memorable Luthor.
It’s a fascinating alternate history to imagine. We’re not sure the MCU would have gone on to give us some of the best movies in blockbuster history without the success of Iron Man. And much of that success came from Downey’s perfect central performance.
Superman: Flyby never happened in the end, and McG says that was partly his fault. His fear of flying led him to object to jetting off to Australia to film, which stalled the project indefinitely, sending Downey Jr. into the arms of Marvel. Eventually, of course, it was Superman Returns in 2006 that revived the franchise, with Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.
Most recently, Jesse Eisenberg played a much younger version of Luthor in Zack Snyder’s DCEU, showing up for the first time in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We’re unlikely to see him again, though, with James Gunn rebooting the DCU in his Gods and Monsters era.
Superman Legacy will be the first of the new movies in this era and, although David Corenswet has been lined up as the new Superman, we don’t have a Lex Luthor set in stone just yet. There’s a rumored shortlist of three, which features Nicholas Hoult and siblings Alexander and Bill Skarsgård.
Of course, there’s always a chance they make a very big move and return to Robert Downey Jr. It’s not clear whether he wants to hitch his wagon to another big franchise, but introducing him as one of the most famous DC characters would certainly make the biggest of statements.
Downey or not, we’re excited about the upcoming DC movies and the prospect of a completely reinvented universe. Of course, we’ve still got the Aquaman 2 release date to come before then. And for our take on the most recent DC outing, check out our Blue Beetle review. Finally, learn what Nicolas Cage thought of his Superman cameo in The Flash.