Speculation around Avengers: Infinity War has reached fever pitch with less than a week to go before its release. There is a clear sense that Infinity War will mark the end of an era in the Marvel Extended Cinematic Universe (MECU). Worlds will collide. Old grudges will come to a head. Dangling plots will be tied up. And, it’s very likely that some characters are going to die.
There has been rampant speculation that beloved characters will be killed off in Infinity War. Many Marvel fans have been reading the tea leaves contained within the previous Marvel films and the immense library of comic book content to figure out which superhero is not long for this universe.
It might be more effective to look at our own universe if you want to determine which actors won’t be returning to subsequent Marvel films. These superheroes are played by actors after all, and these actors have contracts, other projects, and career goals that may not cleanly intersect with the goals of the MECU. Specifically, a number of the Avengers will have satisfied their contractual obligations after the as yet untitled, “Avengers 4,” which is already in production and due to be released in 2019.
This means that we could see some fates sealed in either Infinity War or “Avengers 4.” Let’s think about who might be looking to go out in a blaze of glory and onto the rest of their career. Let’s guess which film is most likely to be each hero’s swan song and how likely it is that they will exit the MECU in the course of the next several films.
Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)
Odds of Leaving: 90% Likely Last Film: Infinity War
“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. I just want to hang up my jersey before it's embarrassing."
Those were Robert Downey Jr.’s words to an Australian news outlet when asked about the right time to leave the MECU. For Downey, it doesn’t seem to be an issue of growing a dislike for playing Tony Stark, but an acknowledgement that like cowboys and star athletes, you don’t run into too many old superheroes. He has gone back and forth on the possibility of an Iron Man 4, on several occasions. As the elder statesman of the MECU, he may feel it is time to move out of the way.
It would make a lot of sense if Infinity War or “Avengers 4” marks the end of Downey’s relationship with Marvel. When he entered the MECU, he was in the midst of a critical renaissance with performances in films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night and Good Luck, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and Zodiac. Compare this to his recent work.
Out of his last 15 IMDB credits, eight are MECU projects, two are Sherlock Holmes films, and one is a forthcoming reboot (and potential refranchise) of Dr. Dolittle.
At age 52, it might be a good time for the shift to a new stage of his career and take the kind of character actor roles that have distinguished actors like Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, and Gene Hackman as they edged out of middle age. If Robert Downey Jr. was ready for a change in direction, no one would blame him.
Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye)
Odds of Leaving: 70% Likely Last Film: “Avengers 4”
Jeremy Renner narrowly missed a best actor nomination for his turn in Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut Wind River. While his performance as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife service agent looking to solve a murder on the Wind River reservation was widely acclaimed, the movie got lost in the awards season shuffle. This wasn’t Renner’s first close call with Oscar glory. He has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Town and The Hurt Locker, and was a key part of Arrival’s Academy success.
If Renner feels like his Hawkeye duties are getting in the way of his prestige dreams, he might shed the wings so he can really fly. That being said, he has been able to balance a number of critically acclaimed projects while cashing his Marvel checks. With only two films left on his Marvel contract, including “Avengers 4,” and little public demand for a Hawkeye stand alone film, Renner might be nearing the end of his relationship with Marvel.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
Odds of Leaving: 20% Likely Last Film: “Thor 4” or “Thor 5”
Under the direction of hilarious New Zealander Taiki Waititi, Thor: Ragnarock changed everyone’s expectations of what a Marvel movie could be. Chris Hemsworth enjoyed his experience on the film so much that he is reportedly interested in extending his contract to include a “Thor 4” with Waititi at the helm.
Hemsworth is one of the actors who will be done with his initial Marvel contract once “Avengers 4” wraps up. But, comments he made to USA Today seem to confirm that his exit would be a reluctant one. “Contractually, right now -- yeah, this is it. I’m done. I won’t be playing the character again.” he told the paper. “It’s sort of a scary thought. This really seemed like this never-ending thing. And now its potentially finishing.”
Comments Hemsworth made on the set of “Avengers 4” were in the same vein. The actor reportedly remarked that, “this is going to be the last time we get to hang out like this.”
Hemsworth’s career trajectory points to a continued relationship with Marvel. Where Mark Ruffalo or Robert Downey Jr’s natural tendencies as actors don’t necessarily fit cleanly into the superhero box, Hemsworth is a leading man, and he knows it. His recent and upcoming credits are generally similar roles in films like the Men in Black reboot, another Star Trek, 12 Strong, Ghostbusters, and Snow White and the Huntsman.
Hemsworth knows what he has in Marvel. Marvel knows what they have in Hemsworth. Expect him to grab the hammer at least one more time after the Avengers saga wraps up.
Chris Evans (Captain America)
Odds of Leaving: 90% Likely Last Film: “Avengers 4”
If Chris Evans appears in “Avengers 4,” it will mark his ninth appearance in the MECU. Evans has made no secret that he’s feeling a little superhero fatigue. It has been widely reported that he would like to try his hand at directing once he hangs up Captain America’s shield.
It seems these long-simmering rumors about his potential exit were all but confirmed in a recent New York Times profile:
“Last year, [Evans] filmed back-to-back the final two Marvel movies for which he is under contract — Avengers: Infinity War due in April, and a sequel planned for next year. For now, he has no plans to return to the franchise (‘You want to get off the train before they push you off,’ he said), and expects that planned reshoots in the fall will mark the end of his tenure in the familiar red, white and blue super suit.”
Evans in currently appearing on Broadway in a staging of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, a play about a security guard at Manhattan apartment building. If Evans were trying to get as far away from the Marvel aesthetic as possible, this would be the way to do it.
Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)
Odds of Leaving: 10% Likely Last Film: “Black Widow Solo Series”
Though we have the least clarity on Johansson’s contract of any of the Avengers, Johansson very likely isn’t going anywhere. She told Collider that her contract has “morphed” and “mutated” in recent years, but the realities of her career and the trajectory of the Marvel universe mean that an early exit by Johansson might leave a lot of money on the table.
Following the success of Black Panther and Wonder Woman, the appetite for superhero movies that aren’t anchored by white men is clearly insatiable at the moment. A Black Widow solo movie feels like the logical choice for a female led Marvel feature. Red Sparrow made $50 million on top of its budget while Atomic Blonde brought in almost triple its $30 million budget worldwide. While the project sits on IMDB with the ever vague “announced” status, it’s hard to imagine it not happening at this point.
While serving her Marvel duties, Johansson has still managed to maintain a varied film career with appearances in films like Isle of Dogs, Rough Night, Ghost in the Shell, and Hail, Caesar. Clearly her career isn’t suffering from Marvel fatigue.
Mark Ruffalo (Hulk)
Odds of Leaving: 35% Likely Last Film: "Avengers 4"
Given his penchant for character acting and progressive politics, you might expect Mark Ruffalo to take his talents to an environment where he isn’t painted green. But, so far, his contract hasn’t stopped him from doing other work because Marvel hasn’t asked all that much of him, relatively speaking.
Like some of the other actors, Ruffalo is on a six-film deal. Unlike some of these actors, he hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to work off that contract, as cameos don’t count towards his deal. This means that after “Avengers 4” he will still be under contract for a couple more movies.
Ruffalo’s Marvel commitments haven’t hindered his more serious output. His work in Foxcatcher and Spotlight yielded two of the most acclaimed performances in recent memory. His time in the MECU also hasn’t stopped him from being an active Bernie Sanders surrogate or supporting causes close to his heart like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
With only a nominal commitment on both sides of this contract, it seems like there isn’t much to lose for Ruffalo or Marvel by having him stick around. Though Ruffalo tweeted about his “final exit” earlier this year, it just doesn’t quite add up.
The most likely way Ruffalo and Marvel part ways is if Marvel decides they want a Hulk with a greater level of commitment. Ruffalo has said that a solo Hulk movie starring himself is highly unlikely. Though Ruffalo looks great for 50, it’s hard to imagine too many teens having his poster on their wall. Unless we start hearing rumors of a massive Hulk reboot, expect Ruffalo to remain the big green man, at least for a little while longer. As long as Hulk is a supporting role, Ruffalo and Marvel are likely to maintain the status quo.
Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
Odds of Leaving: 20% Likely Last Film: “Thor 4” or “Thor 5”
Villains are people too. And the actors who play them also have contracts. Hiddleston’s situation is fairly similar to Hemsworth’s: after appearing in a creatively fulfilling project that was also a big hit like Thor: Ragnarok, a repeat performance is tempting. Unlike the other Avengers, Loki is not necessarily slated to appear in “Avengers 4,” and if he is on the same six film contract as his co-stars, he will still owe a film after Infinity War.
Villains often get more acting cred than heroes, and as such, Hiddleston’s career has not been hindered at all by his time playing the trickster god. He took home a Golden Globe for his performance in The Night Manager opposite Hugh Laurie, and he has played Henry V, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Corialanus, and Hank Williams in recent years.
If Hemsworth reprises the role of Thor, expect Loki to be right there with him.
For more movie news, check out the early reviews for 'Avengers: Infinity War'.