At this point in history, it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. could ever be Tony Stark on the big screen. The lines have even started blur between the character and the actor. But after the smash hit that was ‘Iron Man 3’, we might have to start considering other options as his contract with Marvel Studios has run his course. Despite Joss Whedon’s claims that RDJ is his Iron Man in ‘The Avengers 2’, that casting choice is still up in the air because nothing has officially been set in stone yet.

However, thanks to a new report from Heat Vision, it appears that Downey and Marvel have now entered into negotiations for a new contract to lock in the veteran actor for more Marvel movies including ‘The Avengers 2’ and ‘The Avengers 3’. But one thing that definitely wasn’t part of the conversation was more stand alone Iron Man films such as ‘Iron Man 4’ or beyond.

Earlier this week, important people such as Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, Disney Studios head Alan Horn, and ‘Iron Man 3’ director Shane Black joined RDJ and his wife/producing partner Susan Downey at a private dinner for 20 to celebrate the success of their latest hit, which drew in a total of $678.9 million worldwide after only 10 days. Amidst the celebration, talks of a renegotiation brewed in order to have one of the biggest stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe remain in the family.

But doing so won’t be very cheap. Every Marvel movie that RDJ appears in trumps the ones that he isn’t in at the box office. For example, ‘Iron Man 2’, which is considered by many to be the worst modern Marvel Studios film, outgrossed ‘Thor’ by 39% and ‘Captain America: The First Avengers’ by 69% globally. The actor’s payday from ‘The Avengers’ alone was in the ballpark of $50 million. So to keep him around after he’s been in two record-breaking movies in a row is going to cost the studio a pretty penny, which will be a huge blow considering that they’re notoriously known for being frugal when it comes to paying talent such as actors or directors.

As history shows us, Marvel is willing to replace it’s stars. They did it with Terrance Howard. They did it with Edward Norton. And there’s word going around that they talked about doing it with Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Evans. But Robert Downey Jr. is different. The feeling is that the loss of arguably their biggest key player would affect box office numbers and overall morale among their audience, which is definitely something that Marvel and Disney are not looking forward to.

Regardless of if they lock in the actor to another contract or not, Iron Man and the Avengers will move on. The studio has already established that they’ll just pull a James Bond or a Batman and just continue with a new actor if they have to. And frankly, if Robert Downey Jr., who has said that he’s still open to playing the part if they could come to some kind of agreement, were to go out after ‘Iron Man 3’, that’s one hell of a high note to go out on.

Do you think that Marvel should spend the extra money to keep Robert Downey Jr. around? Could you even imagine an appearance from the Armored Avenger without the actor under the helmet? And what are your thoughts on the studio’s practices when it comes to paying (and low-balling) their talent? Share your thoughts in the comments below.